Each year, the College of Arts & Letters presents two Varg-Sullivan Endowed Graduate Awards to graduate students for their outstanding achievement in the arts or letters. One of this year’s winners is Jessica Stokes, Outstanding Achievement in the Arts recipient.
Paul Varg and Richard Sullivan are former Deans of the College of Arts & Letters who dedicated their professional lives to excellence in the College. This award was established in their name. Recipients are selected based on best performance/exhibition at a national or international event in the Arts and best presentation at a national or international event or best published article in the Letters.
Outstanding Achievement in the Arts
Jessica Stokes enrolled in the Ph.D. in English program at MSU in 2018 and has been a Teaching Assistant at MSU since then.
She is an accomplished poet and visual artist and had an art installation at the Everyday Accessible Art Event exhibit at the Broad ArtLab in East Lansing in 2019. This installation, titled Mirrors Shall Be Mounted With the Bottom Edge of the Reflecting Surface No Higher Than 40 Inches, also was accepted into the Art Walk Central exhibit that was hosted by Art Reach of Mid-Michigan. It was displayed on the campus of Central Michigan University in August 2019.
Receiving this award makes me hopeful. As conversations on accessibility and even disability justice happen here at MSU, we can begin imagining the place anew.Jessica Stokes, Ph.D. in English student
“I was not expecting the piece I created as a political commentary about the accessibility of bathrooms around the Michigan State University campus to receive recognition, let alone be commended by the College of Arts & Letters,” Stokes said. “It hung at a nonstandard height in a couple of art exhibits last year and featured many selfies of my forehead taken in bathroom mirrors around MSU’s campus that are hung at heights where I can only see my forehead from the wheelchair. People were encouraged to take selfies in the piece, which hung at a height good for some disabled people as well as some kids. People also were encouraged to touch the piece, which included Braille restroom signage and a swivel coat-hook. Receiving this award makes me hopeful. As conversations on accessibility and even disability justice happen here at MSU, we can begin imagining the place anew.”
Stokes aspires to have a career where she is a disability scholar, writer, and artist. She co-facilitated a workshop for high school teachers in the Lansing area that provided a theoretical grounding in CREE (Critical Race English Education) and Disability Studies as well as practical classroom applications. She also is the co-founder of the HIVES Research Workshop and Speaker Series here at MSU.