With the support of the College’s Henry Evans Traveling Fellowship, Gerard Ramm CC ’13 will devote several months immediately after graduation to exploring his Native American heritage.
Ramm, a registered member of the Quapaw tribe, will live with relatives in Quapaw, Okla., while studying the tribe’s language with an elder. He also will assess online Quapaw language databases, which he hopes to expand. “I want to learn the Quapaw language as fluently as possible,” says Ramm, who claims tribal ascendancy through his father. “Many Native American languages are in dire threat of extinction.”
Ramm’s desire to strengthen and preserve the Quapaw language stems from the independent summer research he conducted with funding from an earlier fellowship, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, awarded each spring to five sophomore minority students with the goal of preparing them for doctoral study. Fellows meet faculty, learn about the process of choosing and applying to Ph.D. programs and receive yearly stipends and summer research funding for the remainder of their College careers. Ramm spent summer 2011 in Quapaw, simultaneously studying and helping to organize his tribe’s yearly powwow, which he fondly recalls witnessing as a child. Then, last summer, he attended the Dhegiha Gathering in Quapaw, which brings together speakers and teachers of the Dhegiha family of indigenous languages. “I was exposed to the ways people teach and learn language and the stakes for language revitalization and survival,” says Ramm.
An English and comparative literature major, Ramm wrote his senior thesis on the treatment of Native American figures in contemporary American literature. “There is a lot of Native American literature that gets overlooked in curricula and a lot of Native American traces and symbolism that gets overlooked in contemporary literary criticism,” Ramm says. “How we deal with the presence of indigenous figures in the larger transnational literary canon is interesting to me.”
Ramm, who felt alienated from his Native American roots while growing up in Old Saybrook, Conn., is grateful to the College for enabling him to explore his personal history in an academic setting. “Coming here was an opportunity to rediscover a lot of issues,” he says. “There are a lot of resources here, a lot of Native American students and Native American events and professors from whom I learned.”
While Ramm, a Junior Phi Beta Kappa inductee, chose the College for its academic reputation and location, he also sought a school where he could nurture his lifelong passion for music and theatre. He played the saxophone with the Columbia University Jazz Ensemble and appeared in several plays with the Barnard theater department. His most enjoyable portrayal, however, was Bottom in the King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe’s spring 2012 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “It’s a huge comedic part and it was so much fun,” recalls Ramm.
During the next year, Ramm plans to apply to graduate programs in either literature or Native American studies. “My goal is to bring perspectives on Native American culture and politics into a discourse of current cultural studies,” he says.
- Nathalie Alonso CC ’08