RCAH Alumni Receive Fulbrights

May 8, 2018

by Stefani Chudnow

Two alumni of MSU’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, Christopher Johnson and Carlee Forbes, recently received Fulbright scholarships for their graduate studies. Johnson is studying disk jockeys in New Delhi, India, and Forbes is researching Belgian museum collections from the Congo.

The Fulbright program was established so recipients could conduct research in other countries while attempting to gain a deep understanding of the country by engaging in its communities.

Johnson, RCAH ’13, originally from Richboro, Penn., double majored in arts and humanities as well as in English while at Michigan State. Upon finishing undergrad, Johnson completed a master’s degree in performance studies at Texas A&M University. He is now pursuing his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at Indiana University. His Fulbright will allow him to conduct his dissertation fieldwork, which, he said, focuses on “DJs primarily in New Delhi, India and their association with an emerging middle-class identity.”

“I absolutely believe RCAH prepared me for graduate school,” Johnson said. “For one, its interdisciplinary structure has prepared me to engage with various approaches to the study of expressive culture. The broad range of topics I encountered allowed me to appreciate things I would not have otherwise been exposed to.”

Additionally, Johnson cited RCAH professors Chris Scales and Joanna Bosse for their guidance.

“Not only were they great professors, they were just generally really supportive and guided me through the entire graduate school application process.”

For Scales, the feeling is mutual.

“Chris’s success in grad school is not surprising,” Scales said. “He was always drawn to and hungry for readings that brought together dense social theory and musical analysis. If he didn’t agree with or didn’t understand a particular reading we were doing in class, he was always in my office trying to talk through it with me.”

After completing the Fulbright program and his Ph.D., Johnson said that he would like to continue researching and teaching. He wants to foster cross-cultural connections and discussions about important issues in the world.

Forbes, RCAH ’11, originally from Kalamazoo, Mich., double majored in arts and humanities in addition to history while at Michigan State, also minoring in French and specializing in museum studies and African studies. After graduating from MSU, Forbes completed her master’s degree in art history at the University of Florida before starting her Ph.D. in art history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I had intended to use the funding to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to work with museum collections, artists, and archives in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi,” Forbes said. “However, due to current political climates, I re-routed my plans for research in Belgium. In the past several months, I have been researching in many museum collections, archives, and private collections across Belgium, gathering archival documentation and recording objects that have traveled to Belgium from the Congo.”

Forbes is enthusiastic about how her time in RCAH prepared her for the Fulbright program.

“My dissertation research, while grounded in art history, has turned out to be quite interdisciplinary in its methods and approaches,” she said. “I think my education in the RCAH prepared me to think about these research questions.”

“Beyond this, one of the most valuable preparations was the ability to work closely with faculty and collaborate with other students,” she added. “These types of relationships are what have helped me get to the point where I am today.”

RCAH Dean Stephen Esquith worked closely with Forbes, and he was the one who initially got her interested in Africa and African Art.

“It was clear during her first study abroad program in Mali that Carlee had a passion for Africa and African fabrics in particular,” Esquith said. “When she signed up for a second trip, we knew that this was more than a passion. It has become her vocation, and she’s now one of the rising young scholars in this field. Carlee Forbes has shown that RCAH is a place where students can begin a journey that will take them literally around the world.”

After the Fulbright program is over for Forbes, she says that she will return to North Carolina to complete her dissertation and Ph.D. In the long term, she intends to stay within the academic world.

Forbes and Johnson are not the only two RCAH alumni to receive Fulbright grants. In the past few years, RCAH class of 2012 alumni Emanuele Berry and Ari Goldstein both received this prestigious honor.