If you hear haunting whistling coming from the eaves of the Maeser Building, don’t automatically assume that it is the ghost of Karl Maeser. The melodies are more likely coming from the zany senior Holly Harris as she takes a break from writing briefs about antiracism and reviewing Honors 320 essays. When she arrived for an interview on a 100-degree day in wool socks, sweatpants, and a Princeton sweatshirt, it was clear to me that Holly is no ordinary student. Her hunger for interdisciplinary knowledge and mentoring other students has skyrocketed her to the success she now knows.
Holly is made to be an Honors student. From grade eight, she wanted a PhD, and she knew that completing a thesis during her undergraduate career would help make her irresistible to graduate schools. In her Unexpected Connections classes, she found that professors’ vulnerability and authenticity made her far more invested in the classes. Contemplating thinking patterns appealed to her meta nature. It was an Honors 120 TA that led her to her major in Sociology and an Honors 227 class that really solidified her desire to become a race scholar.
In Fall 2020, Holly wrote her Honors 320 essay on what constitutes balance in life through the lenses of physics, sociology, poetry, and visual art. When asked about her 320 experience, Holly said, “The Honors Program is so brilliantly set up like a campaign that leads to a two-summit peak--the thesis and the 320 class. Little birds had sung sweet rumors of 320 being a writing group class--for some of you, that may be the same as the deep staccato haunting behind Darth Vader's presence.… I was excited--my ego loves the idea of sharing thoughts in prose for 20 pages. I was a little bit concerned about how it would all end up though… But, as I asked for help and applied feedback, my professor and TA team really helped me get through.”
After being transformed by the Honors experience and rocking Honors 320, Holly decided it was time to give back. She became a 320 Teaching Assistant and has been one ever since. Not satisfied with helping just her assigned students, Holly has some advice for the entire Honors Program about how to start making interdisciplinary connections in their lives. She suggests that starting early to understand and apply these tips will make Honors 320 experience more intuitive and living more vivid overall. Here's the Holly Harris’ Handbook for Interdisciplinary Writing:
1. Try using metaphors.
“Metaphors are like the connective structure of a Lego--you know, the hollow insides with the three circles and the 8 mini hot pads on top. Without these pieces, the Lego would be flat, lacking connective dimension, and you already know that they would just slide all over the place. They would never hold a structure, just like ideas don't hold up an essay without some metaphorical dimensions. The metaphor is one of the greatest ways to show instead of tell throughout the entire essay, especially parts where you could easily get into the weeds. And if you can keep similarly themed metaphors throughout the paper, you'll draw out some great comparisons, analyses, and motifs with them between different disciplines.”
2. Make the researchers converse with one another.
In Holly’s 320 essay, she adopted two famous men as her grandfathers: Karl Marx and Sir Isaac Newton. These men’s ideas converse in her essay on the state of modern race relations in America. Karl Marx was an easier connection, as his field is the same as Holly’s -- sociology. Newton’s comments in the essay are fascinating. Here is an excerpt:
"Newton has three laws of motion. First: ‘Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.’ Racism in the United States operates under this law. It is constant. It is consistent. And unless it is fought, it will continue to exist. It is self-perpetuating, which is the meaning of systemic--it is built within a system to continue forever.… Force (applied to racism) = Mass (Black individuals—and some progressive White individuals) x Acceleration (their united voices, actions, movements).” By making Newton’s ideas “converse” with racism, Holly was able to form a connection that tapped into some truth.
3. Find the narrative in everything.
One common assignment in Honors 320 is to go to the library to find books on disciplines you want to explore but don't know much about. Most of the time, the experience is a passing event, but Holly found a story in that experience that ended up in her essay.
When Holly dives into her fields of research in the essay, she refers back to “Grandpa Harold” (as in, Harold B. Lee Library) introducing her to authors and experts in various disciplines. It creates something like a safety platform from which she bungees off and then safely returns to in her essay. This provides the reader a home base, preventing them from getting tangled in the bungee cords of her research disciplines.
4. Show your mind at work.
Our brains make practically instantaneous connections, sometimes so quickly that we don’t realize how much work they’re actually doing. This can at times lead to confusion for readers, which Holly calls the Burrito-to-Nightgown Effect.
“After a long day, my friend, Logan, and I just needed some dinner. So, we head to my place and whip up some quick (and scrumptious) burritos. I sent a picture of the vegan burritos to my best friend, who is vegan and happened to be on a trip to Florida (ugh, lucky. I know.). She replied saying that she had Chipotle for dinner and how that was so similar (bff energy, am I right?). I relayed this information to Logan and then asked him, ‘Logan, did you know she and I also got matching nightgowns?’ I realized from the squishy look on his face that the burrito-to-nightgown train of thought hadn't quite followed. In my mind, I had connected the similarity of dinners that evening to a similarity that my friend and I discovered that morning, when I sent an embarrassing morning selfie with the nightgown on. She had said that all the way in Florida, she had packed and worn the nightgown too! We had twinned twice in one day, and I was ecstatic (it's the little things in life, ya know?)! All of this is to say: without walking through that thought process, it was hard for my audience (whether it be Logan then or a reader later) to follow my thought process. I needed to show my mind at work to connect two previously unrelated things: burritos and nightgowns.”
Using her valuable expertise in interdisciplinary research, Holly has joined several projects beyond Honors 320. She works with the BYU Antiracism Database Project, writing digests that focus on how faculty members can interact with race topics and better teach their students. Holly started off as a volunteer but was promptly promoted to employee when the project director, Dr. Eva Witesman, PhD, saw how committed Holly was to informing the public on race issues. To learn more about this project or to get involved, visit their website here.
Holly didn’t stop at just one project. She joined Kevin Shafer, Associate Professor of Sociology, in a project titled By Study and Faith. The project purpose is to write easy-to-read, publicly accessible articles about social issues through the lens of leading secular research, incorporating various religion’s takes on the issues, with the goal of educating and increasing inclusivity amongst the readers. Article topics include BIPOC populations, sex, gender, LGBTQ+ matters, climate change, economic inequality, and mental health. For more information, click here.
Holly also started working with Dr. Shafer on her Honors thesis. She is exploring interactions between fathers and children during COVID. Focusing especially on Black populations, she is looking at how the father’s career, child’s schooling, and quantity of child-focused activities influence the quality time that a father spends with his child. As an aspiring race scholar, Holly is especially interested to see how the COVID-19 pandemic affects people of different races and socioeconomic status.
Between giving advice on 320 essays, researching for her thesis, and writing antiracist guides, it is a wonder that Holly still finds the time to grace the halls of the Maeser with her whistling. Be sure to keep a listening ear!
Holly Harris is a senior Honors student majoring in Sociology from Richland, Washington. As a true outdoorswoman, she enjoys camping, backpacking, and hammocking, especially when surrounded by pine trees. As a sociologist, she loves people-watching, especially when she can get enough of a vibe to sort them into a Hogwarts house. She is now hard at work on her thesis, and working toward graduate school. After getting her PhD, she hopes to be a race scholar teaching how race affects everyone’s lived experiences.