A woman with long black hair wearing a teal dress stands outside with an orange cement structure behind her.

UMBC’s Sharon Tran receives a Career Enhancement Fellowship for writing on Asian girlhood and anti-Asian racism

During the summer of 2021, several months into an uptick in racist violence against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, six Asian women were shot and killed in Atlanta, Georgia. Sharon Tran, assistant professor of English, found herself dismayed by public reluctance to denounce these acts of violence as hate crimes. For Tran, the Atlanta shooting was yet another example of anti-Asian racism in the United States and how it intersects with sexism and misogyny—a focus of her research. 

The Citizens and Scholars Institute has now recognized Tran’s work through a Career Enhancement Fellowship supporting her new book project, Minor Forms: The Affective and Aesthetic Economies of Asian Girlhood. The book examines how the minor figure of the “Asian girl” can provide a new way of understanding U.S. racism and imperialism.

Asian girlhood

Tran’s research centers the Asian girl, in contrast to current practices in both Asian American studies, which subsumes her within theoretical frameworks of Asian women’s experiences, and girlhood studies, which strongly emphasizes Black-white experiences. Her book provides important explorations of how histories of imperialism, militarism, commodity capitalism, and trans-Pacific migration have shaped Asian girlhood while intersecting with and exacerbating anti-Black racism. 

Additionally, Tran explores how the Asian girl, as a minor and dependent figure, can create new feminist paradigms going beyond individualist, adult models of subjectivity and agency privileged in Western liberal politics.

Through this fellowship, the Citizens and Scholars Institute has recognized Tran’s work for its distinctive point of view in the field of English and for fostering diversity and inclusion through scholarship. 

A woman in a blue dress and boots and man in button-up shirt talk, wearing face masks, as they walk down stairs inside a building.
Drew Holladay (l), assistant professor of English, and Tran in UMBC’s Performing Arts & Humanities Building

By studying the narratives of Asian girlhood, Tran plans to further public understanding of the trauma of growing up Asian in the U.S. She will research how these narratives change and vary over time and across contexts. Her goal is to help readers better grasp how racism, racialization, and their negative social, physical, and mental impacts become part of our histories and how we define racism in the U.S.

Research access and support

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the fellowship seeks to increase the presence of underrepresented junior and other faculty members in the humanities, social sciences, and arts by creating career development opportunities for scholars with promising research. Only 16 junior faculty in the nation have received a 12-month fellowship through the program this year. The award funds will support a one-year sabbatical for Tran to work on her book, as well as research and travel, mentorship, and professional development.

“Across time, literature has often served as a site of protest. Dr. Tran’s work addresses this important aspect of literary studies,” says Jean Fernandez, professor and chair of English. “The English department is proud of the recognition she has garnered with this prestigious award.”

Two women wearing dresses and one man in a light colored dress shirt and dark dress pants stand together talking with a bright orange structure behind them.
Holladay (l), Tran, and Lindsay DiCuirci (r), associate professor of English.

Tran came to UMBC in 2018 and is the fifth UMBC junior faculty member to receive the Career Enhancement Fellowship. “Fostering more institutional access and support for communities of color is what animates my research and teaching, so it feels wonderful to receive recognition for this work,” says Tran. Her mentor is Laura Hyun Yi Kang, professor of gender and sexuality studies, at the University of California, Irvine. 

“I am honored to have been awarded this fellowship because of the organization’s mission to support scholar-teachers committed to eradicating racial disparities in higher education,” says Tran. 

Banner image: Sharon Tran. All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11.