Bound by June: Black Identity, Hacking Amazon, and Looking Beyond Medicine| Mar 2, 2018
This week the Street is featuring a new column, “Bound by June,” by Carson Clay ’19 that will highlight senior theses projects in the spring and other projects of students and professors in the fall. Inspired by deeper probing into some of her senior friends’ projects in an attempt to learn a bit more than the one-sentence byline that is often given by seniors, Carson will share a glimpse into some of the amazing senior theses that are being written this spring. Feel free to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of seniors working diligently on projects that the Princeton community should know about.
This January, Abby Jean-Baptiste directed the play “Etched in Skin on a Sunlit Night” for her theater department certificate final project. The story follows a black woman who exiles herself to the very homogenous setting of Iceland, where she marries a white man. In the midst of Obama’s election back home in the U.S., she realizes that her husband doesn’t actually understand her identity as a black woman. The play uses this complex dynamic to address expectations of blackness head-on. Now, for her senior thesis in the English department, Abby is taking a scholarly approach to her play. She’s adding her own voice and her experiences as a director to the scholarly conversation of black womanhood, black identity on the stage, and negation in contemporary theater. Theater, she reminds us, is more than just entertainment. It’s a way to actively think about life outside the theater — whose bodies are on stage, whose stories are worth telling, and which plays are glorified and advertised. By bringing this into the academic conversation, she is simultaneously imploring producers and directors everywhere to think critically about these questions. I, for one, can’t wait to see how she reshapes the world of theater in years to come!
Gudrun Jonsdottir is hacking Amazon’s Alexa for her computer science department senior independent work. You read that correctly — she is using machine learning and network traffic analysis as if she is an “adversary” in order to find potential security issues in the small, talking robots that many students have in their dorm rooms. Amidst an interest in news stories of Russian hacking in the 2016 U.S. election and cybersecurity threats to large companies, Gudrun’s obsession with the topic was sparked by a course she took last year in the COS department called Information Security. She explained that most people assume smart devices are safe, and sometimes even more secure than their human counterparts, but we really have no idea if that’s true. But don’t worry, there’s no need to unplug your Alexa just yet — Gudrun praised Amazon’s very secure encryption of information. We have our own computer science major Jeff Bezos ’86, founder of Amazon, to thank for that!
Elena Tsemberis is analyzing the racial disparities in medicine, specifically in premature birth and low birth rate for her senior thesis in the African American studies department. She is looking specifically at the language medical journals use to theorize about certain conditions — for example, the CDC’s description of premature birth lists “black race” as a risk factor. Other journals emphasize individual qualities such as diet or genetics instead of looking at a systemic, multi-faceted explanation. As an aspiring doctor, Elena wanted to look into something that would apply to her future career as well as include her current academic interests: “Medical school doesn’t include classes on the social determinants of health yet. My patients will come from many backgrounds, so I wanted to learn about factors I will need as a doctor — beyond the medicine.” Through interviews with mothers, critical analysis of media, and close readings of medical journals, Elena is doing just that.