Recent Hamilton graduate Amari Leigh ’21 presented her honors thesis, “Hashtagging Repression: Stigmatization, Social Media, and the Women’s Movement In Brazil,” at a virtual Harvard University conference in April. Selected for the conference’s Politics and Social Change panel, Leigh’s thesis examines how social media hashtags were used to both mobilize and repress women’s movements in Brazil during the politically charged year of 2018.
Leigh’s research looks at two campaigns in particular, #EleNão (“not him,” in reference to Jair Bolsonaro) and #MariellePresente (“Marielle is here,” which honors Marielle Franco, a Brazilian activist and politician who was assassinated in 2018). To assess how these hashtags were co-opted by those opposed to the campaigns, Leigh created a “three-tiered tagging system to evaluate whether gender was specifically evoked in the exchanges with the movements on social media.”
In an effort to modernize older social theory, Leigh added, the thesis also “attempts to bridge conventional literature on repression with increased scholarship on social media and feminist mobilization.”
Majors: World Politics, French and Francophone Studies
Hometown: New York, N.Y.
High School: Hunter College High School
Selection for participation in the conference is highly competitive, notes the Harvard webpage. Leigh said she only found out about it while reading the work of another student researcher. But after stumbling across the application, she was drawn in by the unique opportunity to engage with undergraduate research. “It is one of the only — if not the only — undergraduate research conferences,” she said.
Leigh’s presentation was around 10 minutes long and was followed by questions from those in attendance on Zoom. Despite going in feeling slightly anxious about sharing her research, Leigh said that it was “ultimately really gratifying to hear people engage with my work and listen to feedback/questions,” noting that the experience added a new layer of meaning to her senior project.
Before coming to Hamilton, Leigh spent a gap year in South America, where she lived in a small rural town in southern Brazil. Living abroad “challenged my own understanding of how gender functions in society,” Leigh said. “It was the first time I was actively exposed to a women’s movement outside of the American context.” It was this gap year that inspired Leigh to revisit Brazil in her senior thesis. “The project was definitely of extreme personal importance to me,” she said.
Reflecting on the process of writing her thesis, Leigh expressed her appreciation to two Hamilton faculty in particular: Professors of Government Heather Sullivan and Kira Jumet. Both served as readers for the project, with Sullivan her thesis adviser and Jumet providing additional comments and support. Spending an entire academic year on one thesis is a challenge, Leigh said, “but especially during an unconventional academic year, so I am extremely grateful to them.”
Leigh said that she hopes to pursue a career in journalism and will be exploring fellowships and job opportunities in this area.