DU English PhD Student Wins 92 Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize


Photo credit: Benjamin Finan

PhD student Diana Nguyen’s hard work is starting to pay off. Not only did she win the 92 Y “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize, but she also won Omnidawn’s 2016 Open Book Poetry Contest and is finishing all the edits for her upcoming book which will be published in April 2018! While we eagerly await her book release we’re excited to share with you Diana’s thoughts about her work, winning the 92 Y Discovery prize, and experiences as DU a grad student.

Researcher- Diana Khoi Nguyen is a 2nd year PhD student in the English Department’s Creative Writing Track.

Current Writing- I recently completed a manuscript of poems, Ghost Of, which won Omnidawn’s 2016 Open Book Poetry Contest and will be published in April 2018. My “Discovery” poems are included in this manuscript; the manuscript explores personal and family histories, trauma, and grief. It also touches briefly upon my parents’ flight from Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon.

At DU, I’ve worked with professors Bin Ramke and Eleni Sikelianos (who are both poets), and have also been inspired by my time with professors Eric Gould and Selah Saterstrom. For my dissertation, which will comprise the bulk of my next manuscript, I hope to explore the exodus of Vietnamese refugees from Vietnam at the end of the War; this project aims to examine refugees and children of refugees in various diaspora communities of the U.S., Cambodia, Australia, France, and elsewhere. I will be traveling to these communities to conduct interviews and listen to other families’ histories and stories.

Winning the 92 Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize- My submission was a collection of multimedia poetry that works through my grief process; poetry that also explores spaces in which I consider the past, present, and future—for myself, and for my family. This work emerged after the death of my brother who died in 2014 at the age of 24. Two of my poems, Overture and Gyotaku, are currently featured on the Boston Review’s website.

Biggest Challenge- It has been difficult to find a way to be inclusive in my personal grief, and create bridges to others (family, friends, strangers) via my work—in a way that feels new to me. As if anything could be new these days…

Advice for DU Grad Students- I urge everyone to find what it is they care most deeply about—and excavate that thing in all the ways they can imagine (and haven’t yet conceived of). Don’t worry about publishing—pursue what is the core of you, get lost in the search/discovery, and publication will follow later.

Here’s one of Diana’s poems that will be included in her forthcoming collection. An audio of a live reading is available at the end.



The night before their youngest child is born, a man and woman watch Oliver Twist (1948), name their only son Oliver. The family rejoices and for several years indulge their newest member, even though they are industrious refugees who previously celebrated nothing, even though they also have two daughters.

The eldest daughter resembles her brother until she wakes up one morning from a dream in which he was a tyrant. Soon after, her hips widen, one lone hair grows in her armpit. Sometimes the daughter feels like a son and sometimes the son feels like a shadow—like hosiery, alienable—he says to his first grade teacher: “You can’t draw inside the body. So why try to draw what’s inside the body at all?”


If one has no brother, then one used to have a brother. There is, you see, no shortage of gain and loss.

Let’s admit without embellishment what we do with each other. When the daughter begins to walk, it is apparent that she ambles pigeon-toed. A doctor tells her alarmed parents that no surgery is needed, just some rollerskating. Each day after work, the father helps his daughter stay upright on her skates.

If you have a father, then you also have a son.

A child has difficulty weaning from nursing bottle to glass of milk. Concise in her expression of impatience, the mother pours a gallon of milk over the girl’s head.

A tiger came across a donkey and having never seen a donkey before, mistook it for a god.

After everyone has gone to bed, an eldest child hoists her younger brother over her shoulders, then a sheet over his shoulders, and they sway as one into the middle sister’s room.

Who is weak and who is weaker and what does relativity have to do with it?


Let me tell you a story about refugees. A mother and her dead son sit in the back seat of his car. It’s intact, in their garage, and he is buckled in; she brushes the hair behind his ear. This is the old country and this is the new country and the air in the car is the checkpoint between them.

Let me tell you a story about seat belts. While driving her children to the local pool, a mother enumerates to her children their failures.There was a mother, she says, who put her children in a car, sewing their seat belts so they couldn’t unbuckle them, who drove them off a seaside cliff.

A boy on a unicycle goes round and round a lighthouse, dodging tourists, ridicule, and awe. He doesn’t go up, he doesn’t fall down.

Son, says the mother, meaning child not her husband. Son, says the father, whose name is Son. Sister, says the son, lying in a coffin. To hell with family, says the rest of the family.


A brother is a brother when he has at least one sibling. The brother believes he is not a brother but one in name only.

When the brother meets a couple his parents’ age, he takes the time to tell them he’s an only child and an orphan. The three of them agree that one must not be without family, that there must be at least two in a family, that three is even better. They embrace and the couple encourages the brother, the brother waiting for the other shoe to drop. Whose shoe? His or the couple’s?

Five pairs of shoes dangle from the pole of a traffic light. Over time, birds make a nest in each hollow, each separate space.

Put yourself in someone else’s bird nest.


“Your hat is Mexican … ?” asks a sailor in Côte d’Azur.

“No, it’s Moroccan.”

“Are you from Japan?” asks a Moroccan shopkeeper in Marseille.

“No, I’m American.”

Is belonging and fulfillment possible without family? No. Is it possible with family? No.

You cannot connect if you keep answering no.
 You cannot keep your brother alive if you keep your mouth shut. You cannot keep your brother alive.

At camp, some counselors take the kids on an excursion into the woods, leading them in a game of hide-and-seek. One boy, a deaf child who was also going blind, hid so well that they couldn’t find him and he didn’t find his way back. He had done everything right—

Nabokov says, “The lost glove is happy.”

Is the lost brother happy?


A man lies in an open grave after a body is taken out of it. This practice is said to lengthen life expectancy. The brother imagines his bed is a nest in which his body is removed.

There’s a story about a man galloping by another man who asks, “Where are you going?”

“Ask my hearse,” says the man.

“I was never lost in the jungle,” says a father, “just looking for a way out.”

“Ghost Of” retrieved from The Poetics of Haunting in Asian American Poetry. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Xochilt

profile-picture-xochilt-alamilloThis week we’re happy to share with you the work of GSSW alumnae Xochilt Alamillo. Xochilt received her master’s degree in 2016 and is now working as a school-based therapist at Aurora Mental Health. While at DU, Xochilt’s scholarship brought attention to social justice issues surrounding health services for disadvantaged communities and as a grad student she helped develop the HIV, Alcohol, and other Drugs Needs Assessment with a community of Mexican American Indians in Washington.

Researcher: Xochilt Alamillo, alumnae from the Graduate School of Social Work master’s degree program.

Current Research: I am currently interning at the Aurora Mental Health Center as a school-based therapist, where I provide therapy services to youth of color and their families at Aurora Central High School. As a student at DU I had the privilege of working with various faculty on and off campus on different research projects, most of which involved direct work with the Latino community. Most recently, I assisted Dr. Ramona Beltran, in the Graduate School of Social Work, on an HIV, Alcohol, and other Drugs Needs Assessment with a community of Mexican American Indians in Washington.

I also served as a Family Coach on a randomized control trial team at DU that collaborates with the University of Oregon, and originates from Harvard University. Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND) is a video coaching program that aims to strengthen positive interactions between caregivers and children. It uses select clips of adults engaging with children to reinforce the kinds of responses that are the foundation of healthy development. In this position, I had the opportunity to conduct home visits with families in the program and coach them using this intervention.

It was also my great honor to serve as the Navigation Chair for DU’s Latina/o Graduate Association in 2016. As an organization we collaborated to bring a Dia de los Muertos event to campus, a La Raza Writing Group series, as well as the amazing spoken word duo, Sister Outsider. Most importantly, we helped to provide a safe space for Latinos on campus.

Collaborators: In regard to research, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Ramona Beltran on a couple of projects. Her scholarship focuses on intersections of trauma, environmental elements, and other determinants of health among indigenous communities. I have learned a great deal from her as an indigenous woman and as a scholar.

I also had the pleasure of working with Dr. Omar Gudiño, in the department of psychology on a project to explore what encourages or discourages Latino parents from seeking mental health services for their children. The impact of his work within the Latino community, and youth specifically, is truly inspiring.

Initial Inspiration: I am passionate about working with my Latino community, especially youth. I have three young children and I am inspired by them daily to go out and do what I can to contribute to our community.

Biggest Challenge: Saying no! I loved being involved at DU and there were so many interesting projects I wanted to be a part of, but I just didn’t have enough time or energy to do everything.

Research Advice: For students who might be in a program, such as mine, that does not necessarily require research the way that a PhD program might, I would advise to get yourself out there and get to know faculty and other students as much as you can. If you are interested in research, don’t be afraid to let people know that you are interested in working on projects with them, or that you have an idea for one. You would be surprised at how much people are willing to help and include you.

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Leanne McCallum

Today we’re excited to share with you the research of DURAPS presenter Leanne McCallum. Leanne’s presentation will uncover the history of anti-trafficking efforts in the US to demonstrate how certain stakeholders and ideologies have (for better or for worse) driven the anti-trafficking narrative. Leanne’s goal is to have her scholarship aid State Department policy makers in reforming the Trafficking in Persons Report to reflect a more accurate representation of anti-trafficking efforts around the world.

Researcher: I am a 2nd year graduate student at the Korbel School of International Studies studying International Studies, with concentrations in human rights and human trafficking.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Historical Analysis and Critique Of the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report

In undergrad I studied International Relations and had a vague interest in gender and refugees. I participated in a month-long study abroad course in Vietnam and Thailand to study political change and modern political issues facing Southeast Asia. While I was in Thailand, I saw firsthand the way that vulnerable populations like migrants and refugees can be exploited by human trafficking. Particularly, there was a night when we visited Soi Cowboy, a notorious street in Bangkok known for its prostitution and connection to sex traffickers, where we saw women and trans women (known as Kathoey or Ladyboys) being openly exploited in a commercial sex establishment. Though I realize now that my understanding of human trafficking during my first trip to Thailand was relatively shallow and misinformed, it was a catalyst for my subsequent anti-trafficking advocacy and research.

My research focus is on anti-human trafficking policy, both domestically and abroad. I generally focus on the US or Southeast Asia, while paying particular attention to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). The specific project that I will be presenting at DURAPS analyzes the U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report– an annual report on global country-level anti-trafficking efforts that is conducted by the U.S. Department of State. The project includes an historical analysis of American anti-trafficking policy, the foundations of the TIP Report itself and how it has evolved since it was created, and the major critiques the TIP Report is facing today.

The intent of my research project is to unpack the history of anti-trafficking efforts in the US to demonstrate how certain stakeholders and ideologies have (for better or for worse) driven the anti-trafficking narrative. Although my research paper itself has not been published, I have published several academic blogs related to this topic on the Human Trafficking Center (HTC) blog. My ultimate goal is to have my research help the State Department reform the TIP Report to reflect a more accurate representation of anti-trafficking efforts around the world.

Biggest Challenges: There are two main challenges associated with my research.

  1. The first is that there is so little academically rigorous, methodologically sound information available about human trafficking. Since human trafficking is a hidden market- because it is an illicit market, and because the victims are generally legal vulnerable populations or hidden populations- there is little verifiable data available. This means that I often am faced with a difficult question: do I utilize flawed data to inform my conclusions, or do I attempt to do the research myself?
  2. The second challenge is overcoming the pervasive misunderstandings surrounding human trafficking. This human rights issue was not recognized until the late 1990s, so there isn’t a lot of information available. As such, there are many misunderstandings about what human trafficking is and who is affected by it. For example, people often talk about US domestic human trafficking using the “perfect victim” paradigm. This is the idea that there is a specific type of person (generally a white, American girl who is sex trafficked) that people associate with human trafficking. In reality, the people most vulnerable to human trafficking are people of color and people of marginalized identities such as LGBTQ+ or compromised migratory status. This is just one example of a misunderstanding that informs anti-trafficking policy and inadvertently causes further harm to trafficking victims.

Collaborators: I work with the Human Trafficking Center as the Human Trafficking Index Project Manager. I also am a Student Event Coordinator with the Korbel Office of Career and Professional Development.

Research Advice: My advice is simple and comes from the HTC’s Director, Professor Claude d’Estrée: match your passion with your academic rigor. Your passion and interest in a topic is an important component of your research, and will help carry you through the difficult times of the research process. However, academic rigor is crucial. We cannot accurately represent the populations that we seek to support if we are conducting research that is methodologically flawed. Question the sources that you use. Are you using it because it agrees with your opinion? Or are you using it because it has clear research design and has a sufficient literature review, research background, and/or a transparent bias? Also, if you are focused on a specific population or a human rights issue, I suggest that you utilize the voices of survivors to inform your conclusions. If you exclude their voices from your research you are missing a key component of holistically understanding the nature of the problem and the solutions.

I can’t wait to share more about my research with you all at DURAPS!

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Kierra Aiello

Happy first day of Spring Quarter!
We hope you had an adventurous spring break filled with skiing, hiking, travelling, and all other things that make Denver such an exciting city to live in. Today, as part of our DURAPS series, we’re going to take you on a journey through Salvador Dali’s lesser known art medium: jewelry. At the 2017 DU Research and Performance Summit (DURAPS), master’s student Kierra Aiello will be sharing how Dali was able to transfer popular motifs such as of melting clocks and eyes into objects of gold and jewels. We hope you enjoy this snippet of Kierra’s scholarship and encourage you to stop by and see her at DURAPS!

Researcher: I am a master’s student enrolled in DU’s Art History Program.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Love that Sparkles: The Jewelry of Salvador Dali

At DURAPS, I will be presenting my paper, Love that Sparkles: the Jewelry of Salvador Dali. In this paper, I analyze specific jewelry pieces that Salvador Dali created throughout his life.  Instead of looking only at gemstones and the karat value of the gold, like much of the scholarship on the subject, I take a look at Dali’s use of Surrealist motifs and his motivation to enter the jewelry medium. I hope to clarify some of the design choices made by the artist and connect many of his jewelry creations to his passionate love for his wife, Gala, and their shared love of fame and fortune. Through the presentation of this paper at an interdisciplinary symposium, I am hoping to discover new lenses through which I can view not only Dali’s work, but jewelry in general.

Part of the joy of studying art history at DU is taking a variety of courses, each of which has a different focus and requires a research paper. One must then fit their specialty into each course. Initially, I was taking a class on the art movements of Dada and Surrealism and I was completely stumped on how to align jewelry with artistic periods traditionally known for being off the wall eccentric and, in some cases, rejecting formal art practices all together. Where does one go when they have no idea what to research? Google. I stumbled upon the jewelry designs of Salvador Dali through a random search of Surrealism and jewelry and my interest only grew from that point. Jewelry by artists has become a regular part of my focus and it is the perfect vehicle for looking into the intersections between jewelry and art.

My current research focuses on jewelry made by artists and expands into the intersections jewelry has with more traditional definitions of “art.” In order to do this, I look closely at the jewelry creations of well-known artists such as Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder, Meret Oppenheim, Bernar Venet, and many others, as well as artist jewelry collectors, like Diane Venet, who owns and displays jewelry piece by over one hundred recognized artists. In some cases, the artists chose to use jewelry as a means of exploration and veer into new motifs and materials, at other times, they practically duplicate their other works into miniature gold sculptures that can adorn the body.

Historically, jewelry has been viewed as more of a “craft” than an “art,” and therefore has not been studied and analyzed the same way as painting and sculpture. Art historians constantly assess the life, motifs, materials, and practices of an artist, along with more foundational elements of the art itself, such as color, line, composition, etc. These thorough practices of studying and looking should, in my opinion, be used in jewelry study as well. I am currently attempting to make the intersections between traditional “fine art” and ornamental jewelry known by studying the materials, means of acquisition, uses, and designs of artist jewelry.

Collaborators: Dr. M.E. Warlick is one of the wonderful professors of the DU Art History department. She encouraged my work with Surrealist jewelry and helped me to understand the fundamentals of the movement. Now, she is my master’s research paper advisor and is currently helping me to hone my topic as well as expand into new areas. Dr. Annette Stott is another professor I am happy to have working with me on my research. She has helped me to reshape topics into papers and then continues to push me to rework the papers into concise and meaningful presentations for events such as the annual DU Art History Symposium.

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Kirsten Fahlbusch

Hello Grad Students!
All this week and next week we’ll be featuring research that will be featured at the DU Research and Performance Summit (DURAPS), which is only 2 weeks away! Today we’d like to bring you the eye-opening research of GSPP master’s student Kirsten Fahlbusch. Kirsten’s prior experience as a deputy probation officer motivated her to tackle the tricky issues surrounding gender in law enforcement. She specifically looked into whether a probation officer’s and/or victim’s gender had an influence on a probationer’s compliance. We hope you’ll enjoy learning more about her research both in this blog and at the summit!

Researcher: I am a second year master’s student enrolled in the Forensic Psychology program which is in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology department.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Probation Compliance and Gender

I conducted research on the interaction between the gender of probation officers, probationers, and the victims of the probationers’ offenses, I then explored how these various gender combinations impacted the probationers’ compliance. Some of my questions included: “were male probationers more compliant when assigned to female probation officers compared to male probationers assigned to male officers?” and “were probationers with female victims more compliant when assigned to female probation officers compared to those assigned to male officers?” My sample came from a Domestic Violence and Sex Offender unit, so all of the probationers’ offenses had identifiable victims. The results of my study found that the gender of the probation officer has an effect on the probationers’ compliance, and that the gender of the probation officer and the probationers’ victim makes a difference regarding the probationer’s compliance. Specifically, probationers were more compliant when assigned to female probation officers.

I was a deputy probation officer on the Domestic Violence and Sex Offender Unit for my field placement during the first year of my program, and I was interested in the demographic makeup of both the clients and the officers working on the unit. Probation is historically a male-dominated field, but the unit I worked on was predominately staffed by female officers so I wondered whether gender played a significant part in any of the work. I was especially interested in how probationers who had offended on female victims would interact with female versus male officers, since probationers would have to interact with a female in an authoritative role rather than as their victim.

Collaborators: This was an independent research project, but I received help throughout the process from Dr. Neil Gowensmith and Dr. Laura Meyer.

Research Advice: Going through the IRB process and getting the project off the ground was probably the most frustrating aspect of conducting my study, and the process took longer than I expected. So, my research advice to other DU graduate students would be don’t let the IRB process get you down or discourage you from working to get a project approved.

I hope to see you all at DURAPS on Friday April 7th, 2017 where I’ll be presenting my research!

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Jiade Xiao

The DU Research and Performance Summit (DURAPS) is just around the corner pios! Graduate Student Government is working hard to organize an awesome event for you all, filled with prizes, lunch, and some truly fascinating research! Today we’re happy to share with you the work of master’s student Jiade. Jiade will be highlighting two intellectuals who were highly influential in Chinese and Islamic independence movements in her presentation this year.


Researcher: Jiade Xiao is a first year student in the Josef Korbel’s International Studies master’s program.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Comparative Analysis on Chinese and Islamic Modern Political Thought Pioneers – A Case Study on Liang Qichao and Sayyid Qutb

Harnessing my knowledge of Chinese modern political thinkers I will be doing a comparative study for my DURAPS presentation focusing on movements in China and the Middle East. Both China and the Middle East region experienced long lasting glorious ages with splendid culture and great wealth before the modern period, an era faced with the shock of Western influence and the threat of colonization. Western nations significantly challenged the traditional lifestyle and regimes in these two regions. In my presentation I will compare two thought pioneers: China’s Liang Qichao and Egypt’s Sayyid Qutb. These two intellectuals were pivotal figures in their respective countries and played important roles in the salvation of their homelands, facilitating a realization of strength and development. While you might not see similarities between China and the Middle East initially, both have had to deal with increasing Western influence and invasion. As a result, both regions experienced the rise of local intellectuals whose work help encourage movements focused on independence.

Collaborators: Dr. Hashemi, who teaches INTS 4526, Modern Islamic Political Thought, was a huge help and mentor for the work I am doing.

Research Advice: Professors are always nice and helpful at DU. Frequent meetings with professors to brainstorm newly emerged ideas has been vital to developing my research.

Hope to see you all at DURAPS on Friday April 7th, 2017!

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Emily Krebs

emily-krebsCommunication Studies master’s student Emily Krebs stirred things up at last year’s DURAPS (yes, her’s was the one with “Motherf***ing” in the title). In her 2016 DURAPS presentation she discussed the transgressive qualities of Kanye West’s Monster video and highlighted the representations of the ways Black men are (mis)treated in modern society. Since her title catching presentation Emily has moved on to shake things up in the quantitatively dominated health communication sphere. She’s complicating the field biomedicine by peering into sucidality through a “theories of the flesh” lens and uncovering notions of societal abjection. This line of inquiry was made possible by the GSSW suicidologists she met at DURAPS! Take a look at what she’s doing now and what she learned at last year’s summit.

Researcher: Emily is a second year master’s student in Communication Studies.

Current Research: My interest in health topics is rooted in personal experiences with illness and how others in my life respond[ed] to these roadblocks. In terms of the critical perspective on this topic, I took a really awesome class with Dr. Bernadette Calafell called “Monsters in Popular Culture” as an undergrad. Dr. Calafell taught me how to view horror differently—how it could be critically analyzed to reveal a society’s fears and how they intertwine with privilege and oppression. Suicide and mental health issues are huge aspects of horror, so I wanted to dive deeper into notions of societal abjection with those topics.

I’m working on several projects focused on bringing a critical edge to health communication. Most traditional research in this arena is quantitative, which reflects notions of unbiased science—the most valid (and often only) way of knowing in biomedicine. To complicate this, I focus on more experiential ways of knowing that honor personal narratives and theories of the flesh (term coined by Chicana feminists Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa). After all, science is deeply intertwined with history, identity, and sociocultural morality. My research goal is to highlight this while elevating marginalized voices and perspectives.

My thesis explores this medical-social blend in terms of suicidality, and I’m co-authoring papers on endometriosis and eating disorders as well. I also work with The Scraps of the Heart Project (SOTHP): a community/art-based research collective centered around baby loss that’s led by Dr. Erin Willer, my awesome advisor.

Collaborators: I’m lucky to have tons of AMAZING people who work with me on these projects. Many of them took me under their wings even as an undergrad. (I was a huge nerd.) Drs. Erin Willer, Christy-Dale Sims, and Beth Suter, as well as fellow grad students Kelsea Kohler, Antonia Alvarez, Nivea Castaneda, and Shadee Abdi, plus the SOTHP Crew…This list could go on for days.

DURAPS Presentation: Last year I presented a paper about Kanye West and his controversial “Monster” music video. The video was filled with gruesome, rape-implied portrayals of female corpses, which many white audiences jumped to critique as horrifically misogynistic. My paper argued that the video could also be read as a satirical critique of the way Black men are (mis)treated in modern society—that, based on the lyrics, West was very much aware of his transgression and performed in that matter in order to highlight the racism he faces as a Black man in our society. For those of you who attended the conference or received emails about the awards, this paper was the one with “Motherf***ing” in the title. It’s a great claim to fame. Jokes aside, it’s currently under review for journal publication; I’m super excited about that!

Most of the time in grad school we’re stuck in our own departments. DURAPS is an amazing way to find other people across campus doing similar work. For me, this was huge because no one in my department explicitly studies suicide, and it’s one of my core academic interests. By attending DURAPS, I made connections with suicidologists from the Graduate School of Social Work and the Iliff School of Theology. These people have been central to my research, and there’s no way I would’ve connected with them without this conference.

Research Advice: If you love what you research (which you should!), share that passion with your audience. And don’t be afraid to show enthusiasm for other students’ work too. There’s this weird taboo in academia surrounding showing emotion. It’s silly. Don’t be afraid to get stoked.

Want to present your research at DURAPS? GSG welcomes complete or work-in-progress submissions. Be sure to submit your abstract by 2/27!