by Bonnie Butcher
Sam McCracken recently attended the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) Conference
in Chicago. Last semester in his course Research and Methodology, Sam wrote a research
exposition titled, “Partitions: Escapism and Calculated Sexuality in Min’s Red Azalea.”
In his paper, Sam attempts to read Anchee Min’s 1992 memoir Red Azalea from the model
of gender performativity outlined in Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble.
Red Azalea is a story of the author’s life under Chairman Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China. It is told about her life from childhood, to her escape as a young adult. The memoir begins describing how Min’s early life was mostly influenced by Maoist philosophy, resulting in a limited sense of identity and ideals.
As far as Red Azalea is concerned, Mao's China thrives on a system of social surveillance. To uphold their leader's strict social order, Mao’s more devoted followers report when other citizens deviate from the status quo--and are rewarded for it. Interestingly, Min’s recollections involve some members of this society who rebel against the socially acceptable way of living, particularly through their expressions of sexuality.
In Butler’s Gender Trouble, she explores how people’s identities develop through complex ways, and are then learned and performed. Culture has a deep influence over these identities, including how we respond to performance of gender. Butler’s theoretical explanation of identity is demonstrated in Red Azalea.
Sam explored how certain people of China in Red Azalea rebelled against Mao’s principles to follow their own forms of sexuality rather than the socially sanctioned guidelines being imposed.
Sam’s insightful interpretation of this literature is what led him to his presentation at the NCHC.
“I'm incredibly grateful to the Honors’ College, as well as my faculty sponsor, Dr. Gregory Fraser, for putting me in contact with the NCHC. I never imagined my ideas might be conference-ready, and I definitely hadn't anticipated anything like this--Chicago!” Sam said.
At the NCHC, Sam participated in a discussion panel amongst students from across the nation. This opportunity allows students to share their ideas, learn and interpret others’ research, and make connections in their fields.
Sam took part in a Student Interdisciplinary Research Panel titled, “Gender and Racial Studies in Literature and Art: Rushdie’s Shame, Creole Art, and Chinese Memoir.” On the panel with two others, Sam shared his research.
Amidst Sam’s academic achievements, he is always eager to further develop his thoughts and ideas.
“If I were to expand this paper, I would likely incorporate more critical backing to support my claims,” Sam said. “A class I'm taking right now just briefly mentioned Michel Foucault's theories concerning panopticism, for instance, and I think they would fare nicely here.”
Sam’s experience at NCHC was only the start of his academic journey sharing his thoughts and ideas. He enjoyed it so much he said, “I am already in the process of applying to other conferences.”