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Student Spotlight - Sara Jackson

Undergraduate English and French double major Sara Jackson has accomplished much during her time at IPFW. She has published academic work in two journals, presented at ten conferences, and traveled across northern Europe, travel she funded with numerous scholarships. In November, she presented her research at an IPFW event celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. Jackson also has received numerous scholarships to study for a semester abroad in Paris for spring 2016. To learn more about Jackson and her accomplishments, we sat down for a chat.

Tell us a little about how you came to IPFW.

I finished my last year of high-school as a homeschooled student. Then, I moved to Washington, DC, and got an internship. The following year, I spent a semester at a Florida college, but I had no car and no real financial support from my parents. It was a bad experience and turned me off formal education for awhile.

I ended up serving as director of operations for a consulting firm in DC for several years, and then realized that I was essentially trading the best years of my life for a paycheck and benefits and that I hated every waking moment of my existence. After quitting, I came back to Fort Wayne to care for my grandmother, and at that point, I decided to give college another try, so I enrolled at IPFW.

I wanted the quintessential “American Dream” college experience, so I originally planned to transfer to the University of Notre Dame after two years. I later decided against even applying for transfer because I was very involved at IPFW, had made great connections with faculty, and realized that I would probably be trading a great situation for an impossible dream.

 

Tell us about your current research.

A lot of my current research involves the Magna Carta. I’ve always said that my sweet spot in the medieval period is the assimilation of Anglo-Norman culture between the Norman Conquest and Magna Carta, because I really feel like each is a significant break in the historical timeline. They’re easy to use as cultural reference points. I wanted to look at why that was, and what makes Magna Carta so important.

I started looking into one of the questions that I had, which was what it would mean to translate the Magna Carta, which was never translated into Middle English, into that language, which the majority of people in England spoke at the time. I wanted to explore our notions of democracy, individual freedom, and human rights—things that people think are traced back to documents like Magna Carta. However, by translating the document and doing research, it became glaringly obvious that the idea of the Magna Carta as a human rights document is really just our own projection, something that is very germinal for us. When they look back, individuals project what they want to see on the Magna Carta.

It’s been really interesting to look at how the Magna Carta has been interpreted. History is endlessly interpretable. It’s important for undergraduates to understand and for professors to highlight that. Part of the problem with undergraduates and their engagement with research opportunities stems from the common belief that they can’t possibly have anything useful to say or come up with a new idea. In this way, we excuse ourselves from being part of the academic discourse. Anyone can read the same documents that your professors have read and come to their own conclusions, and it’s just as valid as your professors’ or any other scholars’ conclusions, so long as you back it up with evidence.

 

I know you’ve been able to travel a lot internationally. Can you tell us about your past and future travels and how they’ve benefited your educational experiences?

I think I’ve spent about six months out of the country, even though I didn’t have a passport before seven years ago. So, it’s possible to travel internationally while you’re in school. Some students think you can’t travel and be a student, but you really can. I look for funding when I can get it, and use student loans for the rest. I’ve received funds as a Withers Scholar, the Sylvia E. Bowman Prize from IPFW's English and Linguistics department, a La Verne Noyes Scholarship, and funding from the IPFW Honors Program as well as the national honor society, Phi Kappa Phi. The funding is there if you apply for it.

I’ve been to England, Ireland, France, and elsewhere in Europe. On my “Magna Carta tour,” where I saw the different surviving exemplifications [copies], I went to Salisbury, London, and Canterbury. On another trip I went to the Battle Conference on the Norman Invasion in Cambridge. It was a lot of fun and spurred my research on conflict studies.

I’ve spent a lot of time in France, academically and non-academically. Before I came to IPFW, I started working for a company that places interns for the Cannes Film Festival. I spent three weeks for three consecutive summers in Cannes, France, working for the festival. This past summer, I spent a week in Paris with IPFW’s French Club, and in 2013, a month in Strasbourg for a program in International Human Rights Law at l’Institut International des Droits de l’Homme. I’m actually hoping to go back there this summer because the program’s focus changes each year. For 2016, it’s all about armed conflict and human rights—that’s where my graduate research aspirations lie. Specifically, I want to look at education as a human right, how that functions within refugee populations, and how it’s affected by conflict situations.

In three weeks, I leave for a semester study abroad in France. I’m going to be taking five courses in French at l’Université d’Aix-Marseille, in Aix-en-Provence. I’ve been looking at some classes on the history of the French language and a course on phonetics and pronunciation. I really want to solidify my background in French because my next goals involve working as a teaching assistant for a year under a contract with the French government, and then hopefully working for the Peace Corps in Rwanda teaching English.

 

Do you have any concerns about studying abroad in France after the recent attacks?

You know the sad fact is that when I’ve spent time in Paris, what I’ve come to think of as “my neighborhood” are the 11th and the 4th. The 11th is where a lot of the recent attacks took place. So I think it hit home a little harder for me, knowing that I have friends in the area. Finding out that they were all okay was my primary concern.

With everything that’s happened in Paris, a few people, mainly well-meaning family members, have suggested to me that I shouldn’t go for my study abroad. I think that if there’s one thing that ISIS can claim at this point, it’s that they’ve created an atmosphere in which terrorism is no longer thought to be something that can’t touch you. We learned that fourteen years ago on 9/11, but it was fading from memory.

I think that the challenging thing for people in processing the Paris attacks has been that they happened somewhere where terrorist attacks don’t happen every day. The bombing in Turkey that occurred a few weeks ago and the recent attacks in Beirut don’t permeate the national discourse in the way that Paris does because: how many people have traveled to Beirut for a holiday or studied abroad in Turkey? Paris is a bastion of culture and the arts, a major European capital, and a favorite tourist destination.

When you know a place from having been there, when you’ve directly experienced a culture—that matters more to a person. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a fact—a very human one. And I think that that’s part of the concern as we start to talk about refugees and all of the issues that are coming up following these attacks. The unknown is always a source of confusion, fear, and misunderstanding.

The final thing I’ll say is that the best way to heal—as was the case after 9/11—is celebrating who we are by remaining who we are; by remaining a nation that welcomes refugees and values liberty. It’s like Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” There are just certain times where principles matter, and I think this is one of them.