Gaudino WS Fellowship Leads to Senior Thesis on Refugees in Berlin

Embracing ‘moments of confusion and discomfort’

Of her 2017 Winter Study Gaudino Fellowship in Berlin, Juliet Kelso ’18—who this spring completed her thesis under the guidance of former Gaudino Scholar Professor Robert Jackall—wrote, “Thanks to the Gaudino Fellowship, I was able to carry out a project in January examining the ways that people who work with refugees describe and represent the refugee experience, as well as the ways they and others living in Berlin consider and interact with refugees in daily life. The core site for this project was a Notunterkunft (emergency shelter) in the Lichtenberg neighborhood of Berlin. I helped out weekly at Reinigung Gesellschaft organization’s ‘Atelier Global,’ a volunteer-run open art workshop for children as well as adults living in the shelter. I also volunteered twice a week at Kreuzberg Hilft, a neighborhood organization that collects and sorts donations and sends specific items to shelters so they can distribute exactly what they need. Otherwise, I visited exhibits, attended community information sessions, conducted interviews, and read news articles on the topic—noting observations both on site and in the city as I conducted the project every day.”

Juliet Kelso ’18 studied depictions of the refugee experience in Berlin on a Gaudino Fellowship.

Although the initial goal of the project was to “examine how others describe and represent refugees,” Kelso says she also came to question her own assumptions and expectations, “the ideas I take for granted that stem out of my own upbringing and education,” an experience she connects with Gaudino’s pedagogical legacy.

“The Gaudino Fellowship also helped me decide upon a senior thesis project,” Kelso says. Her thesis research focused on multiple art workshops in Berlin providing aid to refugees, examining the philosophical lenses through which the organizations approach their missions. As she started her senior thesis project, Kelso noted that she hoped to do so “in a way that embraces moments of confusion and discomfort, as well as moments of closeness and familiarity,” an approach that deliberately echoed Gaudino’s theory of uncomfortable learning. Having now come to the end of that project, Kelso says such learning was an essential part of its success.

“I chose not to write about refugees themselves,” she says. “If I were to do more with it I would address that. It’s the heart of what’s going on. But the scope was to examine these workshops themselves. But I do get a lot of questions about, why not? A lot of people are more interested in reading about that. There’s the discomfort on the level of, ‘Am I doing this in the right way?’ And also kind of pushing back on people who know a lot more than me. It’s like, ‘I know you want to read about this, but I don’t think that is the heart of this project.’”

Another way Gaudino’s ideas guided Kelso’s approach was in the way she approached her subjects. She says that to really get to know them as people, she sometimes had to resist the conventional academic habit of maintaining intellectual distance.

“Sometimes by sitting around and writing a lot and analyzing and critiquing—which is very important in many ways, I’m a college student, obviously I do believe in that—but you can lose some of the human elements to learning about a place,” she says. “Sometimes it feels wrong to not be doing intellectual analysis at every moment. But sometimes [not doing so] is the heart of the project. Sometimes that’s the exact work.”

Next year, Kelso will be teaching on a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany. There, she says, she’ll have the opportunity to “further challenge these questions that Gaudino helped me start asking, which are, what can I gain in an academic framework, but also, what kinds of things do I think are missing there that can be found in moments of individual connection, in casual conversation, and in collaboration? In moments of sharing that give rise to new questions and ideas.”