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Aaron Davis '14 integrates his passions - classics, performance and athletics - in unique research project

Aaron Davis '14 combines diverse interests into a unique course of study. (Photo by Miguel Salcedo '14)
Aaron Davis '14 combines diverse interests into a unique course of study. (Photo by Miguel Salcedo '14)

Aaron Davis '14 combines his love for classics, performance and athletics with a focus on culture and a global perspective into one unique independent research project, "Queering the Classics." This summer, he is comparing performance and views of sexuality in classical antiquity - specifically in ancient Greek and Roman cultures - to that of today.

"At Connecticut College I know I don't have to pigeon-hole myself into the role of an athlete, a dancer or a classics scholar," Davis said. "I can combine all of these interests in an interesting, eclectic and academic way."

Davis is based on campus this summer as he conducts research in Shain Library that will be complemented by short trips to New York and California to further his study on dance and identity. "I want to see how performing masculinity is seen throughout cultures," he said. "As a dancer and a runner, I see my education through the body and in a very physical way. I hope to learn through the use of my body, and want to expand my knowledge of how this use has changed over time."

His summer research and travel is funded through The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) program, a comprehensive initiative to increase diversity among college and university faculty in the United States. Davis is one of five students in the Class of 2014 selected recently to be a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. The program provides mentoring and funding for research and research-related travel. Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows are encouraged to pursue PhD programs after graduation.

"Aaron is driven and passionate about his love of both classics and performance studies. As a freshman at Connecticut College he started off in classics at the 300-level and his emerging interests in performance studies stems from his love of dance. This combination of passion and academic achievement make him emblematic of the kind of student MMUF is designed for," said Armando Bengochea, dean of the College who recently accepted a position with the Mellon Foundation as program officer for diversity initiatives and director, MMUF.

Davis purposefully planned his summer research as a step toward internationalizing his double major - in classics and dance - through the College's Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA). As a CISLA scholar, Davis will spend the fall semester in Peru and will return to Peru next summer for a College-funded international internship. He says Peru is the perfect setting for his CISLA-related project, "Dance as a Cultural Agent for Black Minority Groups."

"I hope to study other cultures through athleticism and dance and look at how cultures perform masculinity and transcend sexuality, whether it is in a positive or negative way," he said. "Eventually I want to look at how people promote culture or masculinity through performance by looking at art, literature, dance and the cultures themselves. I feel like what I am doing is lifetime work."

Davis was inspired to study dance and Peruvian culture after learning about Susana Baca, the Afro-Peruvian folk singer recently named Minister of Culture in Peru, and the first black Peruvian ever to be named a cabinet minister in the country.

"Her main agenda is to revive the history of black Peruvians through music and performance to get the culture up and running. I listened to her music and immediately started thinking about how I could become involved in the campaign, finally realizing I could connect to her through dance," he said.

Though Davis is not biologically connected to the Peruvian people, he is committed to the revitalization of black culture in Peru. "I would love to choreograph across cultures and help with the campaign to revive black Peruvian culture, which makes up only 4 percent of the Peruvian population."

Davis contacted two Connecticut College professors with personal ties to Peru for advice. Leo Garofalo, associate professor of history, and Maria Cruz-Saco, professor of economics, both mentioned Peru Negro, an Afro-Peruvian musical ensemble that has been appointed by the Peruvian government as "Cultural Ambassadors of Black Peru." Davis, interested in the premise, made it his goal to become a "trans-national liaison" by proposing a connection with the ensemble for his CISLA internship in Peru next summer.

A New London native whose sister, Tiana Davis, graduated from Connecticut College in 2004, Davis grew up with a keen awareness of the College and the opportunities available here. As he looks forward to his junior year, he is leveraging those opportunities and pursuing an education that is uniquely his own.

- By Bailey Bennett '14

June 6, 2012