English Ph.D. Candidate Wins Prestigious Fellowship

Alicia Cox is one of 19 recipients of the UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship, which may lead to tenure-track faculty position

Alicia Cox

Alicia Cox has won a prestigious UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2014-15.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Alicia Cox, a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of California, Riverside, has won a prestigious UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2014-15.

More than 500 applicants competed for 19 fellowships in a program that encourages outstanding women and minority Ph.D. recipients to pursue academic careers at the University of California. Approximately three-fourths of UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellows receive tenure track faculty appointments.

“This highly competitive, prestigious award is a huge honor,” said Deborah Willis, chair of the Department of English. “Hundreds of applicants apply from all over the country, and only scholarship of the very highest order is recognized by this award. We are very proud of Alicia and the great work she is doing.”

The fellowship will provide a salary, benefits and research funding during a residency at UC Davis that will enable Cox to complete a book manuscript based on her dissertation, “Autobiographical Indiscipline: Queering American Indian Life Narratives.”

It also will put Cox on the path toward fulfilling a decade-old dream of teaching and mentoring college students, a dream that began on a study-abroad program in Great Britain in summer 2003. “We were visiting museums and reading literature in the context in which it was produced,” recalled Cox, who was then an undergraduate with no specific career aspirations at the University of Kansas. “I was so inspired and awakened to the possibilities for myself.”

The first in her family to attend college, Cox began working in a Kansas grocery store at age 14 to pay for voice lessons and later to support herself while she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. At UC Riverside she has worked as a graduate researcher and teaching assistant while earning her M.A. and Ph.D. She also mentors LGBT students at UCR and volunteers with the Riverside-based Cherokee Community of the Inland Empire, where she currently serves as Council secretary.

Her dissertation focuses on the autobiographies of three Hopi Indians who attended either Sherman Institute in Riverside or Phoenix Indian School in Arizona between 1906 and 1909. The autobiographies are written in the as-told-to genre, with individual oral histories recorded by non-Indians.

Cox examined the autobiographies for what they reveal about how gender roles worked as a primary mode of colonial disciplining at these boarding schools, and how tribal and family relations suffered in the effort to force assimilation of Native American children into so-called mainstream American culture.

“Looking at the autobiographies of Hopi students away at boarding school helps me see how colonial disciplining of gender roles contradicted what Hopi children learned at home,” she explained. “For example, weaving and textiles were men’s work at home. At school, they were assigned to women. These children were forced to do things counter to gender practices at home. The schools attempted to indoctrinate them with the belief that the patriarchal, nuclear family is the pinnacle of social life, that they should leave home, start their own family, and live a civilized life in this social structure.”

Hopi society is matriarchal, however, where women own their homes and husbands move into their wives’ homes. Hopi families live as multigenerational groups, and are known for adopting orphaned children, including those from other tribes, she added.

The UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship will enable Cox to expand her dissertation as a book manuscript by writing an additional chapter on the queer temporality of so-called mixed-race Indians.

“According to settler colonial temporality, time is structured as a chronological line, and Native peoples are positioned as primitive, or behind the supposedly more developed Europeans on the timeline of human evolution,” she explained. “Following this logic, Native peoples would disappear through assimilation with the dominant culture or ‘breed out’ through miscegenation with European people.

“However, mixed-race Indians who identify as Native refuse this logic of Indian elimination. Instead, we adhere to a queer temporality in which the past lives on in our present through memories, stories, and traditions that do not vanish — even when they change to accommodate the new. The queer temporality of mixed-race Indians champions Native futurity in the face of colonial attempts to erase us.

“I see myself in these stories of alienation from home and family, of schools as both havens and places that have sought to destroy Indian identity,” she said.

UC Riverside changed her life, she said. “I feel like a completely different person. I am more confident, productive and happy. The research that UCR English professors are doing is revolutionary, cutting-edge work, and their enthusiasm is contagious. I am excited about this amazing opportunity, but I am very sad to be leaving UCR. I have built a community and a family here.”

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