May 2013 Archways

Awards: To Call it Home


Sarah Aubrey ’13 wins prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.

“I left traditional high school after my sophomore year and was homeless for about six months in Boston,” recalls Sarah Aubrey ’13.

So it’s fitting that, as the recipient of a prestigious 2013 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, Aubrey will spend next year traveling the globe to study the idea of “home”—to think, as she says, “about what home is.” Watson Fellows are awarded a $25,000 one-year grant to support independent study and travel outside the United States.

Aubrey’s travels will take her to Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Chile, and Brazil—all places that have seen migration and displacement following political, economic, or environmental upheaval. Her research will focus on how people of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities perceive what transforms a space into a home and how people reconstruct a sense of home in a new environment.

“I want to see if people have a sense of privacy about their homes,” Aubrey says. “I am interested in who is included and who is excluded from the home and why that is.”

Aubrey’s interest in the meaning of home springs from her own experience of finding herself homeless and out of school at age 16 due to a difficult family life. “In Boston, I made friends with vegan/straight-edge/social-justice activist types,” explains Aubrey. These people helped her establish a new home. In Massachusetts, she attended an alternative high school, stayed with families of school friends, and developed an independent-learning plan that included participation in the Massachusetts Bar Association Mock Trial competition and the formation of an independent comedy improv group.

After high school, Aubrey lived in a series of collective houses—in West Philadelphia; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and Mexico City. “All of these spaces have associated projects that work on small-scale community development stuff—gardens, childcare, soup kitchens, art spaces, etc.,” Aubrey explains.

“I think that the contrast for me of being raised within a nuclear, American family structure that was really dysfunctional to moving into spaces that were much more open and sharing yet very safe allowed me to start thinking about these things,” she says. “The Watson provides a chance to think about these ideas more thoroughly and intentionally.”

Aubrey, a political science major, plans to apply for joint J.D./Ph.D. programs in political theory and legal theory and hopes to work toward becoming a law professor.