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Educational Studies doctoral candidate Mara Johnson receives a 2024-2025 Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship Award

May 21, 2024

The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship seeks to support students working on dissertations that are unusually creative, ambitious, and impactful.


Mara Johnson, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Educational Studies, is a recipient of the 2024-2025 Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship Award. The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship is one of the most prestigious awards granted by Rackham Graduate School. Doctoral candidates who expect to graduate within six years since beginning their degrees are eligible to apply, and the strength and quality of their dissertation abstract, publications and presentations, and recommendations are all taken into consideration when granting this award. Johnson is the only student from the Marsal Family School of Education to receive an award in this year's class.

The abstract for Johnson’s dissertation "Living Authentically: Black Queer Girls' Agency in School Contexts," a phenomenological exploration of how they engage with themselves, each other, and what matters most to them, follows:

"Much of the small body of research documenting Black girls’ and queer youths’ school experiences privileges narratives of homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and racism. Knowing and sharing these realities is imperative to counteraction; however, portraying Black and queer youths’ lives only in relation to violence is profoundly myopic and promotes the misconception that they cannot thrive in schools. More, telling stories only about oppression preserves the power of dominant forces—even in our intellectual pursuits—and indicates an unwillingness to imagine anything beyond victimization for those living beyond normative bounds. In response, this study centers Black queer girls’ agency—how they work individually and collectively to live authentically in schools given the limits and restraints they encounter in educational spaces. Through semi-structured interviews with Black queer girls attending high school, I document their everyday lives, how they make meaning of their intersectional lived experiences, and the myriad ways they alter school spaces to facilitate their agency and center their subjectivity."