Dear UF Imagining America Community,


It is with great excitement that I write to share that Laken Brooks, PhD Student in the Department of English, has been awarded a 2019-2020 PAGE (Publicly Active Graduate Education) Fellowship from Imagining America. As you may know, PAGE is Imagining America’s network for publicly engaged graduate students in humanities, arts, and design. PAGE enhances the praxis and pedagogy of public scholarship; fosters a national, interdisciplinary community of peers and veteran scholars; and creates opportunities for collaborative knowledge production. You can read more about the program here:


Laken has generously allowed me to share her personal statement in applying for the PAGE fellowship, which I do below. I invite you all to reach out to Laken with congratulations and to make any connections to your public scholarship and/or work with the Gainesville community.


Best wishes,




Sophia Krzys Acord, Ph.D.

Associate Director, Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere

University of Florida

#UFIntersections – Exploring Grand Challenges through the Humanities



Laken Brooks

PhD Student, Department of English

University of Florida

2019 Imagining America PAGE Fellowship Proposal Personal Statement

[log in to unmask]

Before we can preserve history and work toward a better future, we must reflect on the past communities and connections that shape us. Every story begins with a name. I was named after my grandfather, a sturdy Appalachian dowser who dropped out of the third grade to help his family maintain their farm. Once in graduate school, I grounded myself with the following question: would Papaw understand my writing? 


While academia often excludes, it also has the power to promote interdisciplinary work that connects scholars to public historians, nonprofits, librarians, and activists. I aim to use my research for public good. As a Scholar in Residence at the engineering and design nonprofit iGIANT, I convened the organization’s first international roundtable about accessible classroom design. I also oversaw the Student Ambassador program. My mentees facilitated initiatives in their schools about gender bias and technology. Now, I intern with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a group with a similar ethos as IA: “Save the past. Enrich the present.” In this role, I research, publish, and preserve the hidden LGBTQ+ narratives across presidents’ homes to gay bars. As part of this public humanities research, I visited Woodrow Wilson’s home (saved by the National Trust). There, I contemplated a Syrian art exhibit. In the garden, visitors painted kitchen tiles and played croquet. The design of this space welcomes transnational, transtemporal, and transgenerational engagement. These experiences inspired me to encourage my colleagues to adopt a praxis-based approach to academia and outreach. 


Currently, I am writing a thesis on blindness and the production of children’s literature. I am a seeing, albeit chronically ill, white graduate student at the University of Florida. Now more than ever, I am learning to build fellowship and allyship through my research. I visit archives in attic spaces or basements that are often inaccessible (physically or financially) to disabled or other marginalized individuals. Therefore, I confront my own privileges by working alongside activists with disabilities and learning Braille. Finally, I posit book design options that will help spark tangible, positive change by encouraging blind children to read. 


I have cultivated a student career in academic advocacy, but I have yet to completely fulfill this professional potential. My small conference stipend and my illnesses have limited my ability to travel. Furthermore, many of my projects -- while ambitious -- have remained local in impact rather than attracting broader traction. When I saw IA’s upcoming conference theme, “Designing and Fostering Belongingness in America,” I knew I had to apply for PAGE. Many graduate students hear about how young scholars should engage in self-care, but I rarely hear institutions encourage community care. IA, unlike many other professional groups, encourages individual and communal care by hosting wellness spaces. As my short-term goal, the 2019 conference will help me learn about event accommodations that I can enact when I help plan local symposiums. I am excited to learn more strategies to dismantle barriers between academia and public access as I use remote technologies for webinars and converse with new colleagues about their institutional resources. Furthermore, my graduate community provides few opportunities to directly engage with disabled populations. Albuquerque hosts unique organizations, like lifeROOTS, that will enable me to collect more data on student learning in my own classrooms. As a long-term goal, I hope that my new network of civic-minded scholars and activists will provide a platform for my future growth in the field and for my research to impact more people across different institutions and localities. 


When I recently interviewed activist and professor Loretta Ross for Lambda Literary, she said, “Social justice shows us that no one is disposable.” To me, public humanities use academic resources and community organizing tactics to argue that no person’s knowledge is disposable. Academic justice includes everyone, from Appalachia to Albuquerque. I have devoted my academic and personal life to making this academic justice a reality in more universities. PAGE would improve my life and my academic impact with the travel fund, publication opportunities, mentorship, and project support. I hope that IA becomes a part of my story.