Livia Karoui (C’20) and Wilder McCoy (C’20) present their Biehl International Research Fellowship summer experiences

Wilder McCoy (C’20) and Livia Karoui (C’20) in Snowden Hall on the day of their presentations. Photos by Lucy Wimmer (C’20).

By Luke Gair and Sydney Leibfritz 
Executive Staff
Staff Writer 

Though some may refer to Sewanee as an isolated environment, offices, programs and professors across the campus ensure opportunities for undergraduate students that promise success in their respective fields of study. The Biehl International Research Fellowship is, as the name implies, a social science-based research fellowship that serves to pose “a challenging or broadening immersive experience, whether through language, culture, or environment,” according to the Career Center’s website. 

In undertaking such a venerable task, fellows complete their program with not only a deeper understanding pertaining to the chosen subject, but a world view that goes beyond the Domain. This year’s fellows, Livia Karoui (C’20) and Wilder McCoy (C’20), researched in Accra, Ghana and Jendouba, Tunisia respectively. The two students presented their research to the Sewanee community on September 19; each desk in the small Snowden classroom was filled and latecomers resorted to sitting on the floor. 

Assistant Provost for Global and Strategic Partnerships Scott Wilson began the talk by noting that “the [fellowship is] one of the outstanding kinds of opportunities students have at Sewanee have.” He emphasized that through such a formative experience, students learn presumed budgeting and planning but the program also “steers students” toward being entirely independent in their studies.

McCoy’s presentation “Ethnohydrology of Potable Water in Jendouba, Tunisia” explained his research surrounding what he described as “equitable access to potable water” in an area significantly ignored in the greater political sphere. He elected to interview those who have difficulty accessing drinkable water, namely those living in rural communities, and through doing so he was able to paint a larger picture of the issue. 

In conducting these interviews in mostly French, he mentioned that on occasion that posed language barriers. He shared the experience of approaching people for interviews as a tall, white man in an area with almost no tourism: upon finding out about his research and what his project was about, he said that “[they] were accepting and [wanted] to have that conversation.”

According to McCoy’s research provided by the School for International Training Study Abroad at SIT Digital Collections, “SONEDE, who is in charge of building the water infrastructure in some parts of the governorate of Jendouba, doesn’t have the capital to [provide water to homes in rural areas] because the GDA, a cooperative of farmers, does not pay them.” In realizing such issues, he gathered that “the crux of this issue” is cooperation and responsibility. 

In terms of resolution, the GDA offers what McCoy describes as a “glimmer of hope” for the overarching issue of water access. He went on to explain that a localized approach to sourcing water would eventually adapt to challenges.

McCoy presents his research to a full classroom in Snowden.

Karoui followed McCoy with her presentation: “Framing Gender Quotas: Successes and Challenges from Ghana.” Her research focused on how prominent Ghanaian political actors have framed the issue of women’s representation and the potential for instituting gender quotas within the national Parliament. 

Specifically, Karoui’s research centered around a current bill that would mandate political parties reserves at least forty percent of the available positions for women, thus aiming to expedite the process of increasing women’s representation within Ghana’s political institutions. 

In her approach to examining the stagnancy of the bill over time, Karoui looked to how the issue of women’s representation was framed by its proponents. She conducted thirteen interviews with members of parliament, non-governmental organization leaders, and advocacy coalitions to understand the strategy behind their messages and gauge their successes or challenges.

Her analysis found the frames used to garner support both play into and challenge gender norms within the culture as different tactics are used to influence different types of the bill’s adversaries. Karoui suggested this may be due to intercoalition disunity or their efforts to tailor the message to different types of adversaries. As she offered conclusions, she also posed the questions her research led her to consider, possibly in future research opportunities. 

“We want students to learn things not just in the classroom, but take what they’ve learned from methods and theories and apply them to research,” Wilson concluded, “[and] in many ways, it enlivens what they are doing in the classrooms and helps them think pragmatically about how to carry on a project.” 

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