The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has honored LaToya Sawyer, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English at St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as a recipient of an American Fellowship.
Dr. Sawyer has been a professor at St. John’s University since 2017 and is pursuing research in feminist rhetoric. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in African American women’s rhetoric, literature in the global context, African American literacies, and feminist theory.
“My research proposal for the book project I am working on was selected to be funded among applicants across many disciplines, universities, and parts of the country,” Dr. Sawyer explained. “This award has afforded me the opportunity to take a professional leave of absence from St. John’s this academic year in order to engage in full-time research and compose the manuscript for my book, Composing Digital Black Womanhood: Black Women’s Literacies and Agency on Social Media.”
The AAUW has awarded more than $3.5 million in fellowships and grants during the 2020–21 academic school year. The organization focuses on supporting graduate women in the pursuit of further academic research. Their awards aid with decreasing the burden of unproportioned student debt on women.
“This award is timely for me and my research because my book project focuses on Black womxn’s uses of social media and how they serve as forms of agency online and offline,” she said. “Our present worldwide push to engage many aspects of daily living virtually via social media and video communication provides additional significance for this research.”
Besides Dr. Sawyer’s emphasis on research, her goal is to mentor graduate students and bring more scholars into this area of study. “The fellowship comes at a critical time for me and other womxn scholars because studies are showing that the current pandemic has led to a decline in womxn’s article submissions to journals and overall drops in the kinds of productivity essential for attaining tenure and promotion,” she said.
A testimony to Dr. Sawyer’s craft, Evynn McFalls is a doctoral student working on his dissertation proposal. Dr. Sawyer is the codirector of his dissertation committee and has codirected his exams, in addition to having him as a former student in a graduate seminar.
“It has been a great pleasure and a truly revelatory experience working with Dr. Sawyer as a professor and mentor in my doctoral scholarship,” Mr. McFalls said. “Her multidisciplinary understanding of the intersections of race, gender, identity, and modality in rhetoric, composition, and literature is a powerful gift that she shares with her students. In so many ways, Dr. Sawyer has helped me open doors and create new footholds of understanding in the field, and I know that this is true for many under her tutelage, which is why it comes as little surprise to me that she has been rightly honored by the AAUW.”
Dasharah Green is another scholar impacted by Dr. Sawyer. She graduated from St. John’s this past spring with a master’s degree in English. Dr. Sawyer directed her thesis and mentored her through the process of applying to Ph.D. programs. She is currently a student in The Graduate Center, CUNY’s English Ph.D. program.
“I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Sawyer in a classroom setting, which influenced our partnership for my master’s thesis research project,” explained Ms. Green. “She continuously encouraged my pursuit of learning and pushed me to explore my research interests to cultivate a project in which we would both be proud. She entered my academic journey at a time when I was weary toward the lack of departmental representation that aligned with my areas of research. Dr. Sawyer should feel a swell of pride for her own academic achievements and for allowing her knowledge and passion toward inclusive learning to pour over her students. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of celebration and acknowledgement.”