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When Meghan Mara ’05 (Bedford Hills, N.Y.) began brainstorming topics to explore as part of a Senior Research Seminar, she immediately decided on tailgaters.

A huge fan of the New York Giants football team, the double major in American Studies and history wanted to investigate an American phenomenon she had witnessed and participated in, but had never academically analyzed.

“There’s nothing really out there about tailgating,” Mara says. “I aimed to prove that tailgating is a form of community as well as a celebration or ritual.”

Mara explains that nowhere else in America is there a community like that of tailgaters. In tailgates, social inhibitions go down, immediate friendships are formed, property becomes almost communal, and class distinctions are forgotten.

“There is not a whole lot of scholarly work that has been done on this group of people, so it is exciting to think of how original it is,” she says.

Although her topic might not be as seeped in traditional academia as most research areas, her study is rooted in anthropology and will aid scientists in understanding how a specific subgroup of people forms communities, says Andrea Smith, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology.

“I think it helped her wed sophisticated anthropological theory with the study of contemporary America,” says Smith, who leads the seminar course. “She’s really making a contribution to anthropological theory by showing, first of all, how the formation of communities can happen and how it can happen in the most unusual places, but also how it requires the exclusion of others, because not everyone can join this particular group, as far as she can tell.”

Although researchers have studied sociology as it relates to athletes or businessmen in sports, the research involved with following people other than athletes and examining how the spectators participate produces an interesting look at another layer of the American sports culture.

It’s one of many subjects Mara has been able to explore through American studies, a program led by Andrew Smith, assistant professor of English. Coming to Lafayette undecided about her major worked to her advantage, she says, as she gained exposure to history, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, and women’s studies as a first-year student and sophomore.

“All of the classes that I took and loved were all part of American Studies,” she explains. “Obviously, you learn something about all of these different areas, so you’re more well-rounded. I know so many teachers, know about almost every class in the school, and have gotten to meet a lot more people than if I would have studied a more traditional major. I just think it helps me think of things differently than I would have otherwise.”

Mara hopes to continue her pursuit of interdisciplinary learning in graduate school as she seeks a degree in elementary education.

Last year over the January interim session, she confirmed her career goal during an internship at Greenwich Catholic School in Greenwich, Conn., where she helped teachers in two second-grade classrooms prepare activities and instruct the young pupils.

“I wanted to see how seriously I wanted to go to graduate school for elementary education,” she says. “I really loved it and it made my decision that I am going to apply to grad schools for my master’s degree in elementary education.”

Mara graduated from Convent of the Sacred Heart High School.

In addition to grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, Social Science Research Council, American Institute for Maghrebi Studies, and Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Smith has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for her work on a proposed book called Place, Replaced: Malta in the Pied-noir Imagination, which is about the social memory of “pieds-noirs,” former settlers or colonists of Algeria who moved to France in 1962, focusing on those of Maltese origin. She also is editor of Europe’s Invisible Migrants: Consequences of the Colonists’ Return.

Categorized in: Academic News