One student stands before parents and her peers to argue that African American authors perpetuate a narrow image of black motherhood similar to that found in sociological studies, which portray these women’s experiences as inextricably linked to violence and suffering. Another student contends that the legal language of sexual assault cases from the late twentieth century reveals a bias against rape victims that is mirrored in novels with corresponding dates of publication. A third researcher highlights literature’s romanticization of adolescent depression, comparing contemporary young adult fiction to the ways in which psychological studies narrativize mental health and its treatment.
These students’ ambitious contentions reflect the interdisciplinary research that unfolds during the completion of the Senior Thesis, a long-standing capstone to the Ellis student’s English education. After three years of preparation in the English classroom, students are invited to apply their analytical skills to an argumentative research project with a scope that extends beyond individual pieces of literature or a single author’s works.
While reading a substantial body of self-selected literary texts in addition to scholarly articles, students explore how literature both influences and reflects the ways in which other fields represent our society’s notions of gender, age, race, class, sexuality, ability, and other markers of identity. Recent projects have also considered such national developments as policies on gun control or the emergence of artificial intelligence.
Students thus learn to read across secondary texts for this interdisciplinary project, analyzing the conclusions not only of literary criticism, but also the language and narrativizing used in legal studies, ecocriticism, art history, bioethics, sociology, or other relevant fields of scholarship. By requiring them to occupy the role of scholars, the assignment pushes students to exercise their own voices in dismantling harmful or hitherto under-analyzed representations central to their own lived experiences or interests.
This year, seniors also have the option to craft a creative thesis specifically based on a social justice issue. Like the research-based thesis, the creative thesis begins with a student-generated reading list of literary works that serve as models of effective social justice writing. Students then draft a creative work (a series of poems, short stories, or essays) that both explores their topic and demonstrates the impact of their reading upon their craft. A subsequent analytical essay accompanies this creative work, reflecting upon these outside influences, which may also include interviews, field studies, or other self-generated materials.
In offering students the opportunity to deeply examine the world around them during their final year at Ellis, the Senior Thesis models how each Ellisian can extend her English education beyond the classroom walls.