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Aerianna McClanahan

West Virginia University Libraries’ Teaching and Learning Committee has selected Adam Benjamin and Aerianna McClanahan as 2021 Robert F. Munn Undergraduate Library Scholars, according to a news release.

“Adam and Aerianna navigated around limitations placed on them by COVID-19 restrictions to research their topics thoroughly and write impressive works of scholarship,” Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz said.

The WVU Libraries and the Honors College established the Robert F. Munn Undergraduate Library Scholars Award in 2009 to honor Dr. Robert F. Munn, dean of Library Services from 1957-1986. The award goes to one or more Honors students for an outstanding humanities or social sciences thesis based on research conducted in the WVU Libraries. Along with a $1,000 award, their names will be added to a plaque in the Downtown Campus Library and their theses added to the Research Repository @ WVU. Both papers can be read at researchrepository.wvu.edu/munn.

McClanahan, a Mingo County native, won for her thesis titled “The Downfalls of Performative White Allyship on Social Media in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.”

“I was first interested in this topic because I identify as an ally myself and as someone who is always learning and growing in my own allyship practice and listening to what various Black and Indigenous people in my life and online had to say,” McClanahan said.

In her paper, written in fall 2020, she focused on white individuals who were just beginning to pay attention to and participate in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

As part of her research, she administered a survey. One of the problems she identified was that engagement among white allies decreased from June to October 2020.

She also discovered many allies or perceived allies were making mistakes in the attempts to support the cause.

The most negative example involves the video recordings of white accelerationists and people who were purposely trying to invoke violence and crime just for the sake of doing so and not trying to help people involved in the movement.

“It really tarnishes the name of people trying to do good work,” McClanahan said.

But even some sincere allies made mistakes, such as using the #BLM as virtue signaling that actually drowned out the efforts of those struggling to be heard and make a difference.

“Allyship is supposed to be uncomfortable. If you want to be an effective ally you need to have difficult conversations and be an empathetic listener,” McClanahan said.

Whether she was in Morgantown or back home in Mingo County, she regularly went online to use the Ask-a-Librarian chat feature on the Libraries’ website.

“Researching the paper required a lot of long and weird hours,” McClanahan said. “If I had a question, I could just jump online and whoever was answering questions was always super nice and helpful. They would direct me to the best person to find the resources I needed.”

McClanahan graduated in May with dual majors in English and Women’s and Gender Studies. She plans to continue at WVU in the fall as a graduate teaching assistant in English. The opportunity will provide teaching experience to help her determine if she wants to be a professor, and it will give her time to explore pursing a graduate certificate in women’s and gender studies.

Benjamin, from Shepherdstown, won for his thesis titled “Labor-Power as It’s Found: Surplus Labor and Development Initiatives in Revolutionary Zanzibar.”

Benjamin graduated in May with dual majors in history and anthropology. In August, he heads to UCLA with a full-ride scholarship in African studies. His future plans involve either finding a job in writing or going to law school to specialize in international labor law.

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