Blending passions for both gender studies and art at Mount Holyoke
“I definitely want to stay connected with art, and that’s ultimately where I would love my career to go — working with a museum or within the art field.”
Steph Maldonado had the desire to study politics until an Introduction to Gender Studies class taught by professor Ren-yo Hwang changed the trajectory of their college experience.
“I loved the conversations we were having,” they said. “I kept taking these courses, and I realized that’s where I really was thriving and finding a lot of joy in my studies.”
For Maldonado, taking professor Hwang’s class was a full-circle moment, after having the opportunity to sit in on one of their classes during a campus visit.
“I see how I can be a scholar and an artist and how those things can be in conversation with one another.”
Maldonado always knew they wanted to attend a small university. Their step-aunt attended Barnard and suggested they look into the Seven Sisters colleges. They described stepping foot on Mount Holyoke’s campus as a deal-sealing moment that solidified their desire to be a part of the College’s welcoming community.
Along with professor Hwang, their advisor, Sarah Smith, has had a major influence on Maldonado. They’ve worked for Smith as a research and studio assistant and have taken several courses with her.
“Professor Smith is a gender studies scholar and is also an amazing artist,” they said. “I took Race, Gender and Sexual Aesthetics with them last year, and that brought me back to my art practice. I see how I can be a scholar and an artist and how those things can be in conversation with one another.”
Maldonado will be debuting an art show in the Talcott Greenhouse on campus in April. The show explores being Latinx, queer,and nonbinary, along with their connection with land and water and ideas of family and community.
At Mount Holyoke, Maldonado has found family and community in FAMILIA, a QTBIPOC organization, and La Unidad, a Latinx organization. They have been a member of both organizations since they were a first-year student, and they sit on the board of FAMILIA. They have also served as co-host for Noche Latina, an event that occurs during Latinx Heritage Month and consists of performances ranging from spoken word poetry to dance.
“It’s just a time to be in community and highlight the diversity within the Latinx community,” they said. “I wanted other students who are Latinx, queer and trans to have a space where they can go on campus.”
Maldonado believes it’s important for the community they’ve been part of at Mount Holyoke to continue to thrive for future students. To ensure that happens, they’re paying it forward by mentoring other gender studies students. As a resident advisor, they’ve offered encouragement to homesick students who are adjusting to being out of their comfort zone and created a night filled with catered Latinx food and music to make the students feel more comfortable.
“For me, residence life has been a big part of creating a home for students and showing them that this is their home away from home,” they said.
Maldonado also had the opportunity to express their creativity by hosting a radio show titled “West Coast Blues,” which promotes BIPOC artists and queer artists. They also plan to continue to further their art after graduation.
“I’ve been speaking with Professor Smith, and she’s been helping me with looking at various artist residencies, as well as some museum internships in Los Angeles,” they said. “I definitely want to stay connected with art, and that’s ultimately where I would love my career to go — working with a museum or within the art field.”