Hannah Clarke (Class of 2019)

photo of Hannah Clarke

  • senior English:Creative Writing, Classical Humanities, and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies triple major
  • from Oxford, OH
  • President of Spectrum (LGBTQ student organization)
  • member of the Dean's Student Advisory Council
  • 2018 Undergraduate Summer Scholar who did research on formation of queer youth identity and its relation to ancient history and mythology, as depicted in epics like Homer's Iliad
  • 2018-19 Geoffrion Family Fellow (Miami University Humanities Center)
  • Published a debut trilogy of YA novels with Erewhon Books (February 2019)
"Although it's sometimes hard, it's important that everyone can make a home at Miami by being vocal, visible, and adamant about their inclusion — and reminding others that all of us deserve acceptance even if we don't wish to assimilate."

Why Miami?

"Ive lived in Oxford since 7th grade, so I've always seen Miami from a very different perspective — a socially centered campus where students often wore formal clothing and conformed to certain cultural norms. Despite my initial apprehension, Miami has turned out to be a really great school, providing me with the environment I need to pursue my interests. I've especially been really fortunate to find faculty to help me customize some of the course curriculum into independent studies and research projects.

"Aside from my studies, my time at Miami has been very focused on student activism. This wasn't something I'd anticipated at first, but I feel that Miami has been very comfortable with allowing me to focus on activism in a way that perhaps other schools would not. Faculty members and students have encouraged my development, empowering me to be as queer and strange as I wish to be. My unique differences have become a point of pride, and I'm very grateful to be accepted and loved as I am.

"My first year at Miami was an important catalyst for my activism. I lived in Thomson Hall, where the Social Justice Living Learning Community (LLC) was housed. All of us had little whiteboards on our doors, where people would often write supportive, relatively innocuous political messages — which, nevertheless, drew negative attention. We decided to take a stand together to help create a safe psychological space for those who do not or cannot conform to dominant standards. This strong show of support gave me an increased sense of solidarity from my fellow students, and I felt encouraged to become a stronger advocate for social justice on campus."

Best Miami Experiences

"I tend to be frank with people, and I have no problem being the loud queer person in a room — that's how I feel out the temperature of everyone else to see if it's safe. And when I'm interested in pursuing something academically, I am very direct in asking my professors. For their part, I've been very fortunate that they remind me about all sorts of available opportunities. This has encouraged me to be even more independent, to the point where I've been able to work with professors on designing classes and projects that are more focused on my interests.

"For example, University Distinguished Professor of English Mary Jean Corbett, who taught an excellent course on LGBTQ literature during my freshman year, was strongly supportive of my desire to talk to various professors about arranging further studies related to the coursework. Another influential class was one on queer theory, taught by associate professor of English and Asian/Asian American studies Anita Mannur, which has inspired me to write my own queer theory and engage in it for the rest of my life.

Hannah Clarke at the Pride Parade

"Virtually everyone in the Department of Classics was helpful in putting together my 2018 Undergraduate Summer Scholars (USS) project, which was about the formation of queer youth identity in the context of their views of classic texts in mythology, such as Homer's Iliad. I was connected with associate professor of educational leadership Lisa Weems, who sponsored my research project for summer 2018 and was a great mentor. [Learn more about this research in the May 2018 CAS press release CAS students embark on extraordinary summer adventures: humanities.]

"On top of my academic pursuits, I've been privileged to be part of a growing, more active social justice scene at Miami. There have long been different cliques of marginalized students, all pursuing their own rights and interests but not necessarily collaborating and stepping up for each other. This has been changing for the better, especially since the 2016 presidential election, such as when Miami students held a rally against white supremacy and the LGBTQ student organization Spectrum partnered with other groups like the Black Student Action Association (BSAA) and Black Women Empowered. We're all taking care of each other and forming a stronger, more open community. It's this network of support that has encouraged me to take on a leadership role in Spectrum — I'm currently the president."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"I'm looking at a career in academia after I graduate, specifically focused on gay literature and its history, and I feel that a liberal arts education is an essential part of critical reading and thinking. Now, more than any other time in my life, it's very important that we have this ability to process information that is given to us and form our own arguments, instead of just internalizing an argument and taking it at face value.

"This need for interpretive understanding is central to all three of my majors: creative writing, classical humanities, and women's, gender, & sexuality studies (WGS). Classics is the foundation of the Western literary tradition, essentially looking at a series of artifacts to draw conclusions about an ancient society. It can become a fascinating yet bizarre scavenger hunt in which you know that some of the steps will be gone, but it's really helpful for thinking about the way things mirror each other and how we form our individual and cultural identity. WGS provides a modern basis for understanding queer theory, examining how we see and understand ourselves as individuals with physical bodies who interact with other people. And creative writing, which determines what literature will look like in the future, provides a valuable tool for me to externalize my interpretations — I believe that scholarship and activism should be very closely intertwined.

"It's very useful for me to think of my majors as using similar mechanisms, because they really tend to feed each other. This is what I love about them and about the liberal arts in general. I've been able to carve out a queer studies focus among my majors, almost blending them into a queer studies major itself. And although I always take a good 18 credit hours per semester, I wish that I could take even more!"

Life as a Student Activist for Social Justice and LGBTQ Rights

"It's hard to separate my academic and social interests within my life – they are one and the same for me. I remember going through the Miami digital news archives for a class I took on the history of the English language, and I was interested in seeing how the words 'gay,' 'queer,' and 'homosexual' had been used. I found that the year of the Stonewall Riots, 1969, was the first year after a 20-year hiatus of never mentioning any of those words — there had been a very long, stifling silence. There used to be a real sense that people were not allowed to talk about such things. Fortunately, Miami has a strong student activist population that is growing larger and more vocal.

"The fact that Spectrum, which has been around under various names since the early 1980s, held a pride event in 2017 speaks to a willingness for LGBTQ student to remain visible. Now Spectrum is significantly more diverse and activist driven, and even in my four years at Miami I've seen a lot of positive change. We do really good work on this campus, empowering everyone to pursue their degree to the fullest, uninhibited by any form of bigotry.

"After my freshman year I joined Spectrum and became the education chair. A year later I ran for president and won. As president I began taking on something of an older sibling role with a lot of students, many of whom were living at college away from families that were not accepting of their lifestyle. I feel very humbled and privileged to be someone who can provide resources for those students: arranging rides to Cincinnati, recommending other student clubs, spending as much time as possible in the Women*s Center/LGBTQ+ Inititiatives room in Armstrong Student Center to give people someone to talk to. Certainly, Spectrum is not the only org on campus that does this sort of thing, but we've become a unique family that we make for ourselves. And as the student liaison with 1809 LGBT Alumni, a network of gay alumni from Miami, it's interesting to see how the family that is made here carries on after we graduate!

"Although it's sometimes hard, it's important that everyone can make a home at Miami by being vocal, visible, and adamant about their inclusion — and reminding others that all of us deserve acceptance even if we don't wish to assimilate. I am very easy to spot from a distance, and I believe that leading by example is a wise move. Being visible is always something that I was, and it's important that I use it as an opportunity to look out for other people. And teachers always remember my name after the first day of class, even if it's a lecture with 75 students!"

Advice to Students

"I highly recommend getting involved with extracurricular clubs and finding people quickly. Find lots of different people. You don't need to be best friends in the world with everyone you meet, but it helps you in class and other venues, especially if you're different, if you come to recognize some friendly faces early on.

"Do not be afraid to embrace exactly who you are. You do not have to speak for any particular community or be a living representative — it's ridiculous to ask this of marginalized students. Just embrace the opportunity to explore things that really interest you, and if those things have to do with your identity I would own that. Being open and genuine with your professors, your classmates, and everyone else you meet across campus will push you to go even further.

"All in all, I graduate this spring with the knowledge that Miami was different when I came four years ago, and I hope it will be different four years after I'm gone. I hope that the connections that I've made, some with people that will do three times the work I've done, will last and grow. And I hope that people who I like to think that I've helped will take all of their gorgeous potential and use it to make Miami even more of an amazing place. We've come far and we still have a ways to go, so I'll be looking forward to visiting every once in a while!"

[February 2019]