A headshot of Elaine Andres

By Munyao Kilolo, Ph.D. student in comparative literature

Elaine Andres, a 2022 culture and theory Ph.D. program graduate, integrates her lived work experiences with her scholarly pursuits. Andres is currently the Manager of Learning and Evaluation at the Destiny Arts Center in Oakland, California – a movement-based arts organization that uplifts youth voices and supports pathways for young people to express themselves and advocate for justice and equity. She is in this role with the support of a two-year American Council of Learned Societies Leading Edge Fellowship. This fellowship places recent Ph.D. graduates with nonprofit organizations committed to promoting social justice in their communities, and it has offered Andres the opportunity to work beyond her background in humanistic art and performance. 

At Destiny, Andres’ responsibilities require her to focus on learning and evaluation for the organization – collecting, analyzing and interpreting insights from young people and caregivers to help strengthen Destiny’s programs. It requires methods that are a slight departure from her initial research experiences, though not entirely outside her scholarly background. As Andres remarks, “I do interviews and design surveys a lot more than I did in grad school. And it requires a different kind of research skill set than I did as a performance and cultural studies scholar where I spent more time with archival materials or observing performances. But the work at Destiny is sharpening my tool kit as a researcher. And as a result, my writing is shifting because of the different kinds of interactions I have.” 

Into the musical, military archives

Andres’ scholarly research examines the expressions of Black and Filipino intimacies through the convergence of youth subcultures and popular musicians within military and touring circuits. Prior to graduate school, Andres was a performing musician with a repertoire rooted in popular music. Growing up in military cities, Andres observed the frequent collaborations between Black and Filipino artists, a common positionality, particularly at house shows and parties. Her research draws from these experiences, including her own singing and keyboard playing.

For Andres, writing brought her closer to music. Engaging extensively with music scholarship, she delved into reading analyses while simultaneously listening to the albums. This approach provided her with a multisensorial understanding of the material she was exploring. “When I describe my research interest, I talk about the relationship between race, place and performance. There were moments in the archive where it felt great. But there were also moments when I would see something in the archive and listen to the recording and hear it all a little bit differently,” Andres explains. 

Andres conducted extensive archival research both nationally and internationally. This involved utilizing resources at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland, Bishop Museum Archives in Hawaii, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, a blues archive in Germany and access to personal collections generously provided by artists and members of the Oakland community. And while Andres had access to these archives, both in person and remotely, she also faced challenges – especially around those performers with less documented careers. So she had to find references to them in related archives. 

Andres’ graduate peer network was another critical resource throughout her time at UCI, and she attended conferences in order to connect with a broader group of scholars who shared her interests and research questions. “Filipino American popular music studies is not huge. We have a small yet robust community that convenes at various conferences. We’ve even formed remote writing groups, which has been incredibly supportive.” As Andres reflects on her time at UCI, these friendships, including with her cohort mates Jessica Pruett and Erica Cheung, have sustained her. Instead of feeling a sense of competition with colleagues, she felt a genuine, if rare, connection as people in the world. 

A scholar at work in the community

Andres is not alone in feeling that her work as part of the ACLS program is strengthening her scholarly capacities. As part of a supportive cohort of ACLS fellows, Andres hears from fellow scholars about the ways in which their placements contribute to a sense of scholarly identity and tangible, outcome-based projects. “We meet regularly as a cohort to talk through some of the anxieties related to the job market. Some cohort members want to finish the two-year fellowship and go on the academic job market. And so there are necessarily questions around how we want to remain legible. How do we continue to do research that is directly related to our job description?” she asks. 

Andres has always been drawn to questions like these. When she entered graduate school, the culture and theory program was in the process of defining itself, which allowed her to pursue flexible, self-guided and project-based scholarship. She embraced the opportunity to explore courses in gender and sexuality studies, Asian American studies and African American studies; through these experiences she constructed her own curriculum based on personal interests. 

“We had a core series of classes that we had to take, but I remember combing through the course catalogs and wondering: what do I want to write about right now? Being able to reach out to faculty across UCI, and not just in the School of Humanities, helped me build on where my interests were at that moment,” Andres remembers.

Andres built diverse mentorship networks during her time in graduate school. While faculty within the culture and theory program were supportive in addressing challenges, they encouraged her entire cohort to think more expansively about opportunities for developing mentors. This included developing mentorship relations with faculty on different campuses as well as with individuals in the industry. Andres took the advice seriously to avoid being too insular in developing mentorship relationships, and formed her dissertation committee with this in mind. “In graduate school I struggled with believing in myself, but my mentors treated me as if I knew what I was talking about. They understood their role as to offer guidance and strategic direction to help deepen my research questions.”

As she looks ahead, Andres reflects upon the importance of teaching in her life. She’s always had a passion for teaching, and currently works part-time as an adjunct at CSU East Bay. In her work as an organizer, she doesn’t always see the sort of immediate change that she wants, no matter how much people power there is behind it. She describes it as a “slow burn. But it’s different working with students. Sometimes you can see the light bulbs click, and the muscles come to life in weeks. I love it. It keeps me going.” 

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Culture and Theory