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UB grad student wins prestigious AAUW fellowship

By BERT GAMBINI

Published May 7, 2015

“Fellowships like this enable me and other women in all disciplines to get the support needed to finish our projects in a timely manner.”
Marion Quirici, recipient
AAUW American Fellowship award

Marion Quirici, a PhD student in the Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences, has received a $20,000 American Fellowship award from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

The American Fellowship, one of six categories offered by the AAUW, supports women scholars who are finishing their dissertations, planning research or preparing research for publication. The award for 2015-16 funds Quirici for her final year of dissertation writing.

For doctoral candidates like Quirici, the award provides two valuable resources: the time to write and the finances that allow them to focus exclusively on that task.

Because their funding packages often are exhausted before a dissertation is complete, many students will teach to support themselves during the process. But time spent in front of the classroom is time taken away from writing.

“I’m very fortunate,” Quirici says. “Fellowships like this enable me and other women in all disciplines to get the support needed to finish our projects in a timely manner.”

Quirici’s award is among the 241 fellowships and grants totaling more than $3.7 million presented by the AAUW for the award year beginning July 1. The awards fund scholarship, research and action that empower women and girls in the U.S. and around the world.

Award recipients have a comprehensive portfolio that, in addition to their specific projects, includes examples of leadership, teaching, mentoring other women and service to their professions and to their universities.

In fact, Quirici’s dissertation topic derives directly from her UB experience. She had a previous background working on Irish literature, but discovered disability studies shortly after coming to UB.

“Historically, prejudice against disability or the belief that disability signifies a kind of biological inferiority has been used to motivate other kinds of prejudice against women and other minorities,” Quirici says.

Her dissertation, “Fitness for Freedom,” borrows its title from a phrase used in anti-abolitionist arguments, but one also used to argue that the Irish were unfit for freedom and incapable of self-governance. Quirici looks specifically at how 20th-century Irish writers responded to that fictional heritage.

“I’m interested in ways that discourse on gender and nationality comes together in the Irish national story and the formation of Irish identity,” she says.

She mentions the popular revivalist play “Cathleen Ní Houlihan” by Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats as an example, a supernatural story that symbolically presents Ireland as fit, capable and brave. But her work also explores modernist writers like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett who craft what Quirici calls “a more purposeful disability aesthetic.”

“For these writers, disability is something universal that transcends national, racial and gender boundaries. Disability is inevitable, a natural human experience,” says Quirici.  “Whether it’s age or infirmity, Beckett would often phrase it, ‘as was only to be expected.’  Disability is a universal idea that should unite human communities, rather than separate them based on something artificial.”

She says the award is an honor she couldn’t have achieved without campus resources like the Mark Diamond Research Fund, the Center for Disability Studies, the Modernisms Graduate Group and the Gender Institute’s Dissertation Writers’ Workshop.

“I’m also grateful for my dissertation committee,” she says. “I couldn’t have achieved this without Joseph Valente, UB Distinguished Professor of English and Disability Study; Damien Keane, associate professor of English; and Michael Rembis, associate professor of history, director of the Center for Disability Studies and president of the Society for Disability Studies.”