Thoughts on Theses
Issue   |   Wed, 12/07/2011 - 01:46
Amherst College
Cathleen Villapudua ’12

Cathleen Villapudua ’12
Major: Black Studies
Advisor: Rhonda Cobham-Sander

What is your thesis about?
My Black Studies thesis uses art therapy as a communication facilitator to examine the way Ghanaian school children experience, rationalize and express the violence directed at them within the education system. I will argue that the violence in the present education sector is a legacy of Ghana’s key role in the slave trade and its legacy of colonial violence. In Ghana, corporal punishment in schools is justified as a way of instilling religious obedience, academic achievement and discipline. However, cases in which the teachers choose to use caning, kicking and slapping as a way to discipline children now violate the Children’s Act, the Criminal Offenses Act, the Constitution, the Education Act, the Ghana Education Code of Discipline and the Juvenile Justice Act.

How did this idea come about?
While I was studying abroad in Ghana in the fall of 2010, I interned as an assistant grammar teacher at Tot to Teen (a local primary school) and worked with the Upper Primary kids. I was completely outraged and hurt when I witnessed, for the first time, a very brutal caning of my Level 5 kids. The punishment affected a large percentage of the class — in other words, those not allied with the class prefect. I was stunned and even ashamed that as a foreign “white” woman I had absolutely no power to stop it. Upon my return, I enrolled in Black Studies 64, an upper-level Black Studies research class, and I finally got the opportunity to delve deeper into the matter. I then realized that Ghana was an anomaly in the legal discontinuation of its corporal punishment system and that this was a topic I wanted to fuel discussion about.

What are some high and low points so far?
The high point was getting Amherst College funding to go back to Ghana this winter and continue my research! Think about it — art, my kids, sunshine and Ghana in the harmattan? I’m very excited to go back!
The low points have definitely had to do with me realizing there are variables in my methodology which could produce different results than I desire to prove my thesis. It’s those moments when you realize, “Oh no! What if I have to completely rewrite everything because I can’t prove my stance?”

What advice do you have for students interested in writing a thesis?
Start early! Chances are if you want to write a thesis, you should already be interested in something. So the sooner you figure out what interests you the most the better — remember [that] all of senior year your thesis equals your new hu bby. It better be something you want to live, breathe, but most importantly, read 200 books about. It definitely helps to talk to your department’s faculty about ideas, even if you just decide to start reading early, since they’ll know what direction to point you in.

Asamoah Munch (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/18/2012 - 14:42

I think it's a great thesis, with a unique analysis of a punishment system that is an established norm in many parts of West Africa, including Ghana. I hope your thesis sees fruitful completion.