Capstone 2020 Cohort

Capstone Research Class of 2020

We are excited to feature our Class of 2020 capstone projects! Students carried out their research and executed their projects in the context of an approved upper-level capstone seminar, or, under the direction of an advisor as an independently designed project (one-semester project or two-semester Latin Honors thesis). These multidisciplinary research projects are the culmination of their studies and we proudly present their work.


Ayanna Arrington: Corporate Interest in Radio in The 1930s. Capstone Seminar and Instructor: Histories of Media Convergence with Professor Reem Hilu.


Rebecca Bowman: “Why Don’t I Have Teachers That Look Like Me?”: Improving Recruitment Efforts for Black Teachers in Boston Public Schools. Capstone Seminar and Instructor: Sociology of Education with Professor Jason Jabbari

Molly Calvo: Ruptured Ecologies in Contemporary Border Art. Capstone Seminar and Instructor: Contemporary Art Discourses of the U.S.-Mexico Border with Professor Ila Sheren.

Capstone Author’s Reflection

For my senior capstone seminar, I took Contemporary Art Discourses of the U.S.-Mexico

Border with Professor Ila Sheren. In my final paper, titled Ruptured Ecologies in Contemporary

Border Art, I explored how three artists reckoned with the imposition of a militarized border

zone, and what that means in terms of natural place value. The pieces I included were Gilberto

Ezparza’s Plantas Nomadas, Laura Aguilar’s Grounded #114, and Postcommodity’s Repellent

Fence. I began considering this topic after researching the conviction of four female

humanitarian activists who had compromised the “national decision to maintain the refuge in its

pristine nature” when they left water jugs out in the Puerto Cabeza Wildlife refuge to aid

migrants. The conviction was later reversed, but the deployment of the US Wildlife Act to indict

immigrant activists is an act symbolic of the appropriation of environmental policies and

geographic features to further violence against immigrants. The broader implications of this are a

ruptured relationship between border landscapes and peoples, reflective of the imperial colonial

roots which claimed that land after the Mexican-American War. It was interesting to me to

analyze the works of contemporary border arts through this lens.


While this paper represented my capstone in AMCS, the most impactful experience I’ve

had in the major was studying abroad in Samoa. Much like in the Contemporary Art Discourses

course, I was able to apply my interest in socio-environmental interactions, performing my

research on contemporary climate actions undertaken by villages. I interviewed leaders of local

villages and environmental organizations, and coded them to uncover patterns to answer the

question- why do some villages undertake actions to mitigate climate change while others do

not? After the coding, I adapted a model in cognitive-psychology using the Pacific Indigenous

Paradigm to identify where barriers to implementing mitigative actions exist.


At WashU, every semester is full of academic excitement. In AMCS especially, I’d

continuously uncover new ways to explore my favorite topics. Doing independent research in

Samoa gave me the opportunity to put together the pieces of these explorations, reflecting on the

many concepts, methodologies, and lenses I had learned and selecting the ones that fit my design

for the project. I am excited to continue learning and exploring these topics in my career.


Brady Delgadillo-Arellano: Tax Increment Financing and the Legacies of Blight: Developing the Central Corridor in the Era of St. Louis’s Creative Economy.  Latin Honors thesis advisors: Dr. Andrea Murray and Dr. Heidi Aronson Kolk.  

Capstone Author’s Reflection

St. Louis’s Central Corridor is a 4.5 mile stretch spanning across the city from Forest Park to the Gateway Arch. Its modern developmental history has been driven by contentious initiatives including mid-twentieth century urban renewal projects, which led to the demolition of the city’s largest Black neighborhood called Mill Creek Valley, and today’s use of tax increment financing (TIF), a municipal tax incentive for real estate developers. In both situations, the project areas were designated as “blighted,” which is a fraught term that establishes a site as abandoned and unable to attract investments. Through a comparison of mid-20th century and contemporary media archives, my thesis bridges the Central Corridor’s history of urban renewal to its contemporary TIF-driven development by analyzing how blight has been weaponized by the public and private sector as a legal and publicity tactic to move their projects forward. Additionally, I analyze the cultural and spatial components of TIF projects in the Central Corridor, including the Cortex, City Foundry, and the Armory; these are new, adjacently located mixed-use districts marketed to creative class professionals. Through ethnographic work and visual analyses, I argue that today’s TIF development is catered to the creative class, while perpetuating the exclusionary design and weaponization of blight that has formerly shaped St. Louis’s urban development.

I became interested in TIF because I felt that it was fundamentally transforming the city’s landscape and economy through the large-scale development projects that I write about. However, when researching TIF, I found a need for academic work that documents how TIF is impacting the built environment and culture of cities. The literature on TIF was heavily in the realm of public policy and geared towards people with policy and public finance backgrounds. One of my goals was to make TIF an accessible, understandable concept, so that people of any background could read my thesis, understand how it is impacting the city, and formulate their own opinion on how TIF could best be better utilized. Furthermore, my hope is that my thesis will allow people to evaluate what progress looks like for cities and to push our local leaders to better evaluate how the development projects they are supporting, especially ones that use public funds and take up considerable space, can benefit St. Louisans and redress the consequences of classist, racist policies that previously influenced the city’s development. Through this thesis, I was able to contribute a new perspective to the existing TIF literature that combines an economic and cultural analysis. 

Throughout the process of formulating my project, my potential topics varied, however they were always within the scope of urban development and the built environment. This scope is representative of my approach to AMCS in taking courses that would allow me to understand the various stakeholders involved in development, the contemporary and historical issues faced by urban environments, and the roles of identity (including queer, racial, and socioeconomic) in the formation of cities. I did not start the major with these interests but gravitated towards AMCS because of the niche course topics available and the multidisciplinary approach to learning. I found that AMCS professors allowed me to approach courses through the lens of my interests. Over time in my AMCS courses, I realized that I loved writing about the histories of different neighborhoods, questioning how architecture and the built environment impact communities, and I simultaneously saw my career interests move towards real estate; these academic and career passions were certainly sparked through the writing and research I was able to pursue in my AMCS journey and culminated into my thesis.


Lizzie Franclemont: "I Love Rock and Roll": How Billy Graham and the Evangelical Church's Fear of Secular Music Paved the Way for Hillsong Church. Capstone Seminar and Instructor: Reading Historical Figures: Cultural Analysis and Afterlives with Professor Paulo Loonin.

Capstone Author’s Reflection

For my AMCS Capstone, I wanted to explore the intersection of my two majors, American Culture Studies and Religious Studies. In particular, I was interested in analyzing the popularity of Western Christianity and the celebrity culture that exists within it; this fits perfectly with my seminar course, Reading Historical Figures: Cultural Analysis and Afterlives. The figure I chose was Billy Graham; a famous author and tele-evangelist who was acclaimed for his ability to fill Madison Square Garden in New York City for Crusades as well advise Presidents during their time in office. I argued that Billy Graham’s fame and celebrity status in the 1970s enabled him to lead the Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches’ resistance to the emergence of rock and roll music; the impact of this is still evident today through the youth-centered mega Church movement of Hillsong Church. Through this lens, I was able to provide evidence that Graham’s success was tethered to an ability to impact culture, and through his charismatic teaching and personality, he gained endorsements from celebrities, politicians, and church attendees in an unparalleled way. For his gatherings, Billy Graham hosted Crusades, which were held in theaters or stadiums and opened with musical headliners like Johnny Cash. Recently, there has been an emergence of young, trendy churches with pastors in thousand-dollar sneakers and conferences that are attended by celebrities like Justin Bieber and the Kardashians, much of that was inspired by Graham and his ability to unite different denominations of Christianity under the mission of a youth revival.

As I reflect on my capstone, I thought back to the 375A course and our discussion about the inclusivity of American Studies; the ability to study a diverse range of topics and to develop a multidisciplinary toolkit has been foundational to my interest in the field. The first course I took in AMCS was The Black Athlete in American Literature with Noah Cohan who later became my advisor. I have always loved the humanities and I was intrigued by our class discussions on how the visual arts informed the socio-cultural aspects of sports and how that perspective enabled me to engage with the texts in a new manner. This aligns with my other interests as I started in Sam Fox viewing the humanities as inspiration for visual art and non-written communication. I have noticed that these same skills were applicable outside of studio courses as my focus remained on what I was conveying to the audience, how I could do that best, and why it was significant.

One of the ways I was able to incorporate these skills was through my methodology. To understand the impact of both Billy Graham and Hillsong Church, I created an archive that relied on interviews and sermons of the late Billy Graham, testimonials from his Crusades and sociological analyses of the demographics that attended. While researching Hillsong I was able to find information from their social media accounts and to analyze their reach as a church and brand. Lastly, my seminar concluded with a conference-style presentation and I was able to show visual comparisons of how similar the two gatherings were. In brief, this project looked at tele-evangelism and its musical influence, but it also made a compelling point, while religious institutions aim to separate the sacred from the profane, there are also examples of how religious spaces are drawing from “secular” culture to gain a larger following. I am not sure if this is what I imagined my capstone would be on, yet, I found the process and my research to be insightful and a fitting conclusion to my academic studies.


Claire Grindinger: “The Stranger” Myth and the Media. Capstone Seminar and Instructor: Gender Violence with Dr. Jami Ake.

Gabrielle Jung: DIY Asian America. Latin Honors thesis advisors: Professors Leland Tabares and Rebecca Wanzo.


Rachel Kleinhandler: 13 Reasons Why to Consider Intent Versus Impact. Capstone advisor: Professor Cynthia Barounis.

Capstone Author’s Reflection

My experience within the American Culture Studies major has been an incredibly fulfilling one. The opportunity to take such a thoughtful and interdisciplinary approach to my academic studies has allowed me to garner skills in a variety of topics and avenues of learning. With a major concentration in Social Thought and Social Problems, as well as a minor in the Olin Business School in the Business of Social Impact, each facet of my academic experience has allowed me to delve deeper into current, complex issues that not only affect my own life, but also the lives of others I care so deeply about. My capstone project entitled, “13 Reasons Why to Consider Intent Versus Impact”, sought to investigate the question of ‘intent’ versus ‘impact’ utilizing an interdisciplinary approach of disability and psychology in tandem with media and ethics. My understanding was that the original intention of 13 Reasons Why was to draw awareness to the lived experience of those who struggle with suicidal thoughts and ideations. Ultimately, I found through the capstone project that while the intent was meant in one way, the harmful emotional and social impact of the show outweighed this promising potential for positive social change and impact. Through my research, I hoped to understand why in fact the show was created in the manner it was and the potential for businesses to neglect potentially harmful repercussions of their work in order to turn a profit. With mental illness and suicide filling up much of our current news cycle, as well as a personal connection to the topic, this issue felt particularly salient for me to explore in my capstone. By looking at the television series itself, primarily the first season, as well as the media rhetoric surrounding pre and post-production and community reactions to the impact, in both the general and in the psychological research field, I was able to explore the various ways in which this topic was relevant. While I found that this way of creating awareness was originally intended for good, I learned that there are, in fact, other ways in which mental health professionals and experts can collaborate with the media to dispel stigma, while remaining ethical in the approach. This project took a multidisciplinary approach by combining my various interests and passions for abnormal psychology, mental health advocacy, and corporate responsibility and ethics. By incorporating these seemingly unrelated viewpoints, this project took on a more holistic view rather than focusing on one or the other. This sentiment has long been my approach within the major and this project has certainly been a culmination of my studies in AMCS in a very insightful and meaningful way. Despite not taking a direct approach of studying psychology or film and media studies, I feel as if my time in the American Culture Studies major and program has allowed me to better understand people and the communities we inhabit, which ultimately was my goal and helped me to understand my broader interests in a new light.


Max Lichtenstein: “Politainment”: Navigating Politics, Entertainment, and Celebrity Culture in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Capstone Seminar and Instructor: Histories of Media Convergence with Reem Hilu.

Capstone Author’s Reflection

To fulfill my capstone requirement for the AMCS major, I took Film 423: Histories of Media Convergence. The final project was open-ended, offering students the opportunity to launch an independent research project on a particular case study of media convergence of their choosing. For my own project, I set out to explore the convergence of politics, news coverage, entertainment, and celebrity culture by examining how The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (1995-2015) both operates within and complicates this convergence in the larger context of late-night talk shows. Does Stewart’s more deliberative and confrontational approach successfully disarm his guests and undercut the superficial aspects of celebrity politics? How does Stewart create a power dynamic between himself, the at-home and in-studio audience, and his political elite guests? What is the impact of the celebrification of politics on the larger American political landscape?

Ultimately, I make the point that Stewart operates both inside and outside the realm of celebrity politics; he complicates the late-night space by switching between comedic levity and confrontational interviewing and at times obstructing politicians’ efforts to use the show as a platform to tailor their image. Yet at the same time, the presence of these interviews as a Daily Show mainstay grounds the show’s focus in the political individual, and despite Stewart’s apparent manipulation of stately guests, his dynamic with both his at-home and in-studio audience makes these interviews a performance in their own right. Stewart may appear to be the voice of reason amid the noise of the politics-entertainment convergence, but perhaps more accurately, he subtly brought the same “politainment” to a generation of skeptics. To support this argument, I place secondary sources of media scholars discussing entertainment politics, satire, and the multi-channel transition period in conversation with clips from The Daily Show featuring some of Stewart’s more inflammatory interviews. The analysis of audience dynamics sets this capstone apart from its scholarly peers and inspirations. A major crux of my argument includes the cues the live studio audience offers to create a performance from Stewart, and echoes his appeal to a specific liberal patriotism under counter-culture imagery.

While Histories of Media Convergence was my first official film class at Washington University, my approach to the class and final project felt like a fitting culmination to my American Culture Studies major and allowed for a multidisciplinary approach. Through coursework like Visual Culture and Visual Literacy and the Cultural History of the American Teenager on one side, and those such as the Long Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War, and the Concept and Culture of American Exceptionalism on the other, my studies have been driven by the intersection of popular culture with 20th century political and social movements. When offered the opportunity to complete a final project for this seminar, taking an approach that centers on electoral politics seemed fitting. Even still, using a media-theoretical approach was new to me, and allowed me to continue learning and growing in the AMCS field. The mere existence of The Daily Show begs questions of which space it primarily positions itself in: comedy and entertainment or disruptive political statement in a mainstream space? Grappling with this question allowed me to examine not only popular culture’s response to the political zeitgeist (which had been my primary focus up until this point), but the extent to which certain forms of popular culture can drive politics themselves.


Lauryn McSpadden:  Omission and Sacrifice in Film Adaptations of James Baldwin’s Work. Capstone Seminar and Instructor: Reading Historical Figures: Cultural Analysis and Afterlives with Professor Paulo Loonin.


Ariana Savramis: St. Louis: Suburbanization, White Flight and Concentrated Poverty. Capstone Seminar and Instructor: Poverty and the New American City with Professor John Robinson.