On Friday, Katherine Johnson crossed the stage at Eagle Bank Arena as one of George Mason University’s newest alumni with a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, concentration in social justice and human rights and a graduate certificate in women and gender studies. She is the first in her family to earn a graduate degree and will continue her education this fall as a doctoral student at North Carolina State University.
Johnson said she never expected to pursue her PhD or had considered a career as a professor, but found that the topics covered in her graduate coursework both motivated and inspired her. So much, in fact, that she received the spring 2019 Outstanding Women and Gender Studies Graduate Student Award for her thesis on racial identity formation in biracial white-Asian women.
Johnson, who herself is a white-Asian woman, said “when I started the program and thinking more about racial justice, I really started to question my own identity a bit more. I chose to focus my research on white-Asian women to look at how family, peers, and society all influence how these women see themselves.” Johnson interviewed several women to get their perspectives, and asked others to share a photo of themselves and a response to the question “who are you?”.
Johnson said biracial women are often asked “what they are,” and wanted to instead give this population an opportunity to express “who they are.” She received responses from storytellers, artists, and musicians. Nature enthusiasts and vegans. A woman who fit everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and a woman whose heart is American and whose soul is Japanese.
Through their responses, Johnson found that “there is no blueprint as to what white-Asian women look like.”
Johnson is also the first to receive the 2019 Suzanne Scott Constantine Award for Excellence, an honor that recognizes a master’s student working at the intersection of social justice and the visual arts.
“Her work is just extraordinary in both its content and quality,” said Dr. Angela Hattery of the women and gender studies program. “Her work is the perfect intersection for women and gender studies. She is going to make so many contributions to her discipline, and I can’t wait to eventually assign her work in my classes.
Johnson said that the mentors she had throughout the program helped her immensely, noting Dr. Hattery as a huge supporter of her work.
Currently, Johnson works as a marketing and communications manager for advancement and alumni relations for the School of Business at Mason. She will continue in this role until the start of her doctoral program in sociology where she will continue to study and research racial justice.
May 16, 2019