Madison Watwood’s “keen eye” for research is being recognized with this year’s 2022-23 Nils Hasselmo Award for Academic Pursuit.
Watwood '23, a history and political science double major from Elgin, Ill., plans to use the award to fund a study abroad trip, possibly traveling to China next summer to continue her research project examining race, identity and local politics as related to Greek life.
The annual Hasselmo Prize was created in 2011 by Dr. Nils Hasselmo ’57 and awards $5,000 to a student who intends to pursue a career in higher education teaching or research. Funds can be used to purchase books or resources, or support travel to conferences, professional meetings, special collections, laboratories or graduate schools.
The history department nominated Watwood for this award. Associate Professor Dr. Brian Leech, who is leading Watwood’s pre-Senior Inquiry class, said part of the reason Watwood was selected is her serious interest in pursuing a career in college teaching and researching political history. She stood out for sharing stories of how she has grown and found her way and how Augustana has shaped her, he said.
Watwood has a “keen eye” for research and a knack for synergizing her different interests, Dr. Leech said.
“Something she does well is take all these personal outside interests you assume have nothing to do with college classes and is able to turn those into worthwhile academic work,” he explained.
Finding a space where everyone can benefit
Watwood’s research focuses on sororities and fraternities and their sometimes racial, harmful or exclusionary practices — research she started for a presentation to her sorority, Chi Omega Gamma. She now plans to focus her Senior Inquiry project on Greek groups at Augustana and on the national level, highlighting significant events that have been harmful.
Watwood was first inspired to research Greek organizations as a sophomore when she heard a speaker on campus talk about how fraternities and sororities over time have been exclusionary and contributed to harm.
Historically the original Greek-letter organizations (GLOs) in the 19th century were fraternities that banned women, as well as men of color and those of certain religions, Watwood said. Discriminatory language from those days has not always been addressed or changed in GLO charters.
“It just goes to show your career, your education, your life is really what you make it.”
Additionally, Watwood said, the binary between sorority and fraternity can be inconsiderate to transgender students as well as students with a gender orientation other than cis male and female.
“The rush process can perpetuate white supremacy and enforce a harmful beauty standard through the selection process, especially national groups who take alumni feedback into consideration,” she said.
Her research has taught her that Greek groups, even local ones like Augustana’s, can contribute to harm, and this research has helped her understand her identity as a woman of color.
“I want to research and contribute to my own activism through learning the history,” she said. “I think that’s a large part of what I feel called to do.”
Through her research, Watwood hopes to determine if there is a set of conditions on a college campus that would allow students to benefit from Greek life and minimize harm.
“Unfortunately, we cannot change the past or the discriminatory origins of GLOs, but it’s undeniable that there are many benefits for college students who participate in them,” Watwood said.
She describes herself as a “sorority girl who loves her sorority,” and said her choice to research Greek life has helped her become a conscious participant of a GLO that can help create a space where everyone can reap the benefits of Greek life.
She appreciates that Augustana has local chapters that are not affiliated with national chapters and said the lack of sorority houses makes dues more affordable, thereby removing a barrier for students of various socioeconomic backgrounds. She also appreciates how Augustana and her sorority works to promote diversity, inclusion and awareness.
Creating a life that's a 'good fit' for her
Thrilled to receive this year’s Hasselmo Award, Watwood can’t wait to engage in the opportunities that the prize supports.
“It’s so incredibly validating, and it really solidified how I feel about pursuing teaching and research in the future,” she said.
Watwood is thankful to the Nils Hasselmo family for giving back to students who have like-minded goals. She credits her sorority for supporting her research and the history department for encouraging her to find her passions and hone her analytical skills. She also credits her late father, Steve Watwood, for inspiring her as she was growing up and still today.
“It just goes to show your career, your education, your life is really what you make it,” Watwood said. “You don’t have to fit into anyone’s box. You can really create a life around yourself that’s a good fit.”