Honors College Student Attends
Graduate Conference in Latin American Studies
March 24th, 2014 (Jupiter, FL)—When Fernando Varela arrived at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University, he was already looking forward to immersing himself in the rich research opportunities available to students and faculty on the Jupiter campus. Varela wasted no time in taking advantage of those opportunities, and at the end of his very first year at the Wilkes Honors College, he is already preparing to attend and present at two academic conferences, something that many undergraduate students can only dream of.
Varela’s academic interests are many, but his main research focus is the examination of queer studies and gender theory in Latin American literature. “Literature helps me to understand life’s paradoxes, and gives me a greater perspective on the many ways to view the world around me and myself as an individual,” Varela explains. His individual research interests led him to enroll in an independent study course under the direction of Professor Mauricio Almonte, in which he had the opportunity to examine the work of Latin American authors also interested in explorations of what it means to be queer in a Hispanic context. It was Professor Almonte who first encouraged him to submit an abstract to the 12th Annual South Florida Latin American and Caribbean Studies Graduate Student Conference, which is held yearly by students and faculty from Florida International University, the University of Miami, and Florida Atlantic University. This year the conference will be hosted by Florida Atlantic University on the Boca Raton campus. However, the conference is designed for graduate students to present their original research, and Varela was at first uncertain that he would be given the chance to attend. Shortly after applying though, he was informed of his acceptance to the conference. “I was very, very happy,” states Varela, “Not just because it’s a graduate conference, but because I’ve never had the opportunity to talk about queer studies in a highly academic context.” His presentation entitled “Ethnic Hyperheterosexuality, Hegemonic Displacement, and the
Transgendered Latino Body in 'Puti and the Gay Bandits of Hunts Point' by Charles Rice-González,” focuses on a short story about three young transsexual Latinos who struggle to find a niche in the face of racism within U.S. mainstream culture and the hyper-masculine culture of their Hispanic neighborhood. Varela credits Professor Almonte with facilitating his research by helping him contact Charles Rice-González himself. “It was an honor to communicate with the author,” says Varela. “He seemed really excited to hear that someone was doing research on his writing, and was very humble.”
Varela hopes to continue to communicate with Rice-González either via email, or by meeting with him in person to conduct an interview. “Right now I’m looking for available funding to travel to New York to speak with him over the summer,” says Varela. In the meantime, his current research will be showcased not only at the Latin American Studies conference in Boca Raton, but also across the country at the University of California, Berkeley. Varela was recently informed of his acceptance to the UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Symposium which will be held this May, and is overjoyed at the opportunity to attend. “For that conference I’ll be presenting a paper on Chicano writer Gloria Anzaldúa, who uses poetry as inserts in her prose to explore the perspective of a writer who identifies as lesbian, Chicano, and mestizo,” explains Varela. Needless to say, the next few months will be very busy for Varela as he prepares to present in front of some of the great minds in his field.
Varela insists that the opportunity to engage in research was one of the main reasons he chose to come to the Honors College. “I was impressed by the intimate environment of the college, as well as the research-intensive program,” he recalls. “I thought it would be perfect for me because I want to go to graduate school, and I thought the research opportunities would help me prepare. You really get to know your professors, and they get to know your research, and sometimes they even are willing to publish with you,” he explains. He encourages other Honors College students to take advantage of the research opportunities available to them as undergraduates. “The fun part about conferences is that whatever you wrote can be appreciated by others in the same field, and you can get really useful feedback about your work. It helps you to be in touch with the discourse community in your area of research,” he explains.
As Varela prepares to make his first foray into the academic spotlight, he is excited that he still has one more year of study at the Honors College, in which he hopes to keep researching, writing, and exploring in the area that he is most passionate about. If his first year as a member of the Honors College community is any indication, he will not let the remainder of his undergraduate career go to waste.
About Florida Atlantic University: Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of three signature themes – marine and coastal issues, biotechnology and contemporary societal challenges – which provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu