Art History graduate students share their experiences at the College

February 10, 2016 by Laura Lee, Staff Writer

While our student body both mocks and takes pride in the College’s low number of undergraduates, an even smaller number of art history graduate students occupies the Purple Valley each semester, becoming Ephs for two years. This group harmoniously coexists among us and is made up of approximately 20 students sharpening their artistic prowess and knowledge.

As an undergraduate, I am jealous of the graduate students’ fully-developed frontal lobes and their beautiful home for first-years, Fort Hoosac, colloquially known as “The Fort,” but I was also curious as about how much their experience at the College differs from that of undergraduates.

As an art history major and a former intern at The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, I had seen a few of these enigmas in action. However, in my mind they still seemed like somewhat mythical hybrids of diligent, smart students and real-world adults, so I enjoyed the chance to get to know three students in the art history graduate program.

When I met Jacobé Huet, a second-year graduate student from Paris, she was in good spirits, having just pressed send on her qualifying paper, a master’s thesis that all graduate students must complete. Her research explores modern architecture in Palestine and Israel, and she was able to visit Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israel over Winter Study thanks to funding that all second-year graduate students may receive to further their work. In Huet’s area of study, there is a great deal of conflict in documentation, so viewing objects in person is important.

For Huet, coming to the United States for her master’s has been an adventure. The program was suggested to her by a professor she had as an undergraduate who happened to be a former Clark fellow. Huet has enjoyed all the resources available for graduate students, especially the faculty.

“I’m [Professor of Art History] Michael Lewis’s number one fan,” she said. “He’s an amazing lecturer and great scholar. My specialty is a remote and obscure topic, and he was super into it right from the beginning. He’s a rock star.”

Huet described graduate students as being in a peculiar position. “We’re always around undergraduates, but most don’t notice any difference. I’m 23, but look like I’m 16,” Huet said.

As a Teaching Assistant (TA) for Art History 101 and 102, she has worked with many undergraduates and has been overall quite impressed. “I think you guys are smart and have a lot to say,” she said. Next year, she hopes to pursue a doctorate degree, but she’ll have some trouble saying goodbye to Williamstown.

“I think it’s a place you can never forget. The years have been so formative for my work, and it’s a big adventure coming all the way here to the States. Maybe someday I’ll tell my kids: ‘When I was in Massachusetts…’”

After working at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Terrence Washington of Columbia, S.C. became interested in art and the roles that museums play.

As a first-year graduate student, he is currently living in The Fort with the rest of the program’s first-years. He said the experience of living with 11 other strangers was interesting, but that everyone has gotten along very well, bonding over movie nights and other fun activities in the little spare time they have. “I’m much busier than I thought I would be,” Washington said.

Washington is interested in the way museums interact with their surrounding communities and ultimately hopes to return to the National Gallery, which he describes as feeling like an “entirely different world” from its surrounding community. “I want to help close that gap,” Washington said.

Second-year graduate student Danielle Amodeo is from New York,  N.Y. and has her bachelor’s degree in European Studies from Amherst College. Despite her (unfortunate) undergraduate beginnings, she has been able to find room in her heart to love the College.

She is interested in film and media theory filtered through Renaissance art. Amodeo is happy that she took time off to work in advertising before graduate school, remarking that it has helped her productivity between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Although she is from a major city and not a born nature-lover, Amodeo now takes horseback riding lessons and recently hiked Stony Ledge.

Amodeo enjoys graduate students’ ability to move between different groups in the College community. “I get to wear many different hats. I have really good friends who are senior undergraduates, I have friends who are 50 and have kids that I babysit, [and] I have friends who are professors.”

Amodeo also discussed the pros and cons of not knowing many undergraduates. “Because we’re not fully immersed in the social scene, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on the Red Herring. Not having FOMO [fear of missing out] is liberating. However, at Amherst I knew who everyone was, and here, I have a sense of anonymity, which can be isolating. In some settings I feel like a hang nail, thinking, ‘Is it weird for me to be here?’” Amodeo said.

Still, she reflects happily on the College and the many benefits of research grants, world-renowned Clark fellows and the different roles she is able to play as TA, student and friend.

Amodeo hopes to work in New York City and dreams of one day opening a creative space for art and culture in Berkshire County. Asked whether she prefers the College or its rival, she said, “Williams students seem to be much more serious about their academics, but I love both. I would let my future kid apply to both. That said, at homecoming I cheer for Amherst, but at any non-Amherst games I cheer for Williams.”

Although we often forget about the College’s graduate students, they provide an interesting view on life, culture, and learning in Williamstown.

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