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Columbia College Junior Mahriana Rofheart Wins Beinecke Scholarship

By Colin Morris

Mahriana Rofheart

After hands-on experience immersing herself in the post-colonial literature and society of Cameroon, Mahriana Rofheart, CC '04, has returned to her home in eastern Long Eastern as a winner of the Beinecke scholarship.

Rofheart has demonstrated a worldly interpretation of literature ever since her high school interest in anthropology. Originally planning on studying the ethnographic aspects of the field, Rofheart's interdisciplinary approach to understanding human culture would give her a functional base from which to conduct her studies in Cameroon.

"I am interested in comparative literature Ph.D. programs that have a particularly interdisciplinary focus, because I see literature, culture, and history as interdependent upon each other and would like to be able to study societies from this multi-faceted perspective," she explains.

This past semester in Cameroon, Rofheart attended the University of Yaounde while interning at a local publishing company. The combination of texts gave her a wide insight into the many themes and issues that bear weight on the lives Cameroonian authors and citizens.

"I think part of the reason that it's necessary to consider history, culture, etc, when discussing the literature of (say) Africa is in part because much of the literature is politically motivated," says Rofheart. "I got to read many of the manuscripts that were submitted, and almost all of the fiction, poetry, and plays included social or political themes whether they addressed the spread of AIDS in Cameroon, political corruption, or the much-disputed unification of the Anglophone and Francophone provinces. Despite the independence of African nations, it seems that African literature continues to be linked to historical and political contexts."

And though having a background in the theoretical tools by which much of the world is interpreted, a more phenomenological approached proved useful. "Past anthropological research in Africa often produced images of the primitive and exotic; academic research critiquing this interests me, and many literary works (those of Calixthe Beyala and Mongo Beti in Cameroon, for example) depict not an imagined primitive landscape but a very urban reality." Rofheart found the same in day-to-day life -- spending time in numerous Internet cafes and realizing her cellphone was antiquated by Cameroonian standards.

The Beinecke Scholarship Program was established in 1971 by the Board of Directors of the Sperry Hutchinson Company to honor Edwin, Frederick, and Walter Beinecke. The Scholarship provides support for students planning to attend graduate school in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Beinecke Scholars receive $2,000 immediately prior to entering graduate school and an additional $30,000 while attending graduate school.

There are no geographic restrictions on the use of the scholarship, and recipients are allowed to supplement the award with other scholarships, assistantships, and research grants. Each year approximately 100 colleges and universities are invited to nominate one Junior for a Beinecke Scholarship. A maximum of 20 scholarships are awarded. Rofheart is currently interested in the programs at Duke, Stanford and Berkeley.

Published: Jun 30, 2003
Last modified: Jul 02, 2003

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