July 14, 2020
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Amelia Li ’15 has always had an academic interest in incarceration, but her passion for the subject was crystalized this August by a tour of the famous island prison Alcatraz.
“Being able to see it for myself makes me confirm that, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just so fascinated by this,’ ” Li said.
Li spent most of the summer at Kenyon as a scholar in the John W. Adams Summer Scholars Program in Socio-Legal Studies, exploring the impact of incarceration on families. From Aug. 16-19, Li was in San Francisco as one of 30 students from around the world to attend the American Sociological Association’s undergraduate honors program. The association’s annual meeting provides an opportunity for undergraduates to present research, connect with sociologists and learn tips to advance their studies.
Li, a Beijing native who is majoring in sociology and economics, became interested in family structures by observing the differences between China’s and America’s families. She isn’t sure how incarceration made its way into the mix.
“My mom said because I’ve been living such a peaceful life, I’m interested in things like that,” Li said. She paused. “That’s my mom’s theory.”
At the sociology conference, Li discussed women’s employment status in China and the U.S., a topic she previously presented on at the Eastern Sociological Society.
“Her research is cool and interesting,” said Joseph Ewoodzie, visiting instructor of sociology, who oversaw Li’s summer studies. “As a budding scholar … the thing that I think she’s working hardest at is trying to figure out how to do things independently and doing things herself.”
That independence was fostered through the summer legal scholars program, where Li discovered that most sociological literature on family and incarceration focused on how parental incarceration impacted children. Li decided to explore the reverse relationship, culling data from the online forum “Prison Talk,” where she looked at how parents of imprisoned children discuss sending money and arranging visits and express frustration with the criminal justice system.
“I want to be someone who keeps exploring different sides of society and telling stories for different people,” Li said. “This is a very good exercise for me to find that one question I’m dying to figure out.”
By Henri Gendreau ’16