Student Activist Finds Success through Research Fellowship

Mia Cariello (left foreground) leads a march for Take Back the Night at Ohio State with fellow activists.
Mia Cariello (left foreground) leads a march for Take Back the Night at Ohio State with fellow activists.

When undergraduate student and social activist Mia Cariello heard about a possible research fellowship through University Libraries, she figured it would be a good way to research the campus activists who came before her. Between her studies in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and her involvement in the anti-rape organization Take Back the Night at Ohio State (TBTNOSU), Mia felt the fellowship would be a good fit. 

What she didn’t count on, though, was the resulting far-reaching impact the endeavor would have on her – from arming her with new archival and first-hand research skills to helping her land an internship at the Smithsonian, take an independent graduate studies course, and ultimately, expand her horizons on what her future career could hold. 

With the encouragement of her professor in WGSS, Mytheli Sreenivas, along with guidance from Digital Humanities Librarian Leigh Bonds, Mia applied for and was awarded an Undergraduate Research Library Fellowship in 2020.  

“Mia and I worked together to scope out her project and came up with a really clear work plan,” explains Bonds, who served as Mia’s mentor. “Her project centered on the history of anti-rape organizations. Mia has been involved in the Take Back the Night program; it’s something she’s very passionate about and wanted to know more about past iterations of the group.” 

Mia’s project focused on anti-rape activism on the Ohio State campus from the 1970s to the present, culminating in an exhibit for the Reclaiming Our Histories digital archive that has been presented at – and won awards in – several research symposiums, including third place in the social justice area at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. 

“The fellowship gave me a chance to do research in a way I never had before. Previously in my classes, I had used journal articles and some theoretical work, but I had never actually done archival research in the way the fellowship demanded of me, so it was a great new skill,” Mia said.  

Having Bonds as a faculty mentor was a plus, too, especially as Mia focused on combing through decades of archived documents from The Lantern student newspaper. “As I was uncovering more and more archived documents, it was really overwhelming,” she says. “But Dr. Bonds kept reassuring me this was a normal part of doing research. My fears about doing this research were always addressed and I felt really supported.” 

Bonds also encouraged Mia to go beyond the archival side of research and stretch her skills even further. “She encouraged me to interview past activists. It was really valuable to hear their stories about their struggles and triumphs,” Mia said, “and I got to put them in the archive, where they might not have had that voice if I didn’t talk to them. It was really meaningful. It felt personally fulfilling and also academically fulfilling.” 

As part of the process, Mia also learned a lot about organizing and structuring her data, and making the data useful to herself and others, according to Bonds. “Through this whole experience, Mia has learned quite a lot about metadata and public humanities work, and that set her up nicely for the Smithsonian Because of Her Story Wikipedia internship she did last summer. Programs like this research fellowship really help tip the scales for students in terms of new opportunities.” 

For Mia, that means opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for her future. “For now, I want to see what I can do with archival research. I really enjoy looking at archives and rediscovering people’s stories,” she explains. “I always thought I would go into academia and work as a professor. But after working with Dr. Bonds and the Smithsonian, I’ve discovered I might be able to do all these things outside of the academy, maybe in museums or archives or libraries. This has really opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me. It’s made me rethink about what I want for myself.”