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STUDENT PROFILE

Xavier Durham

Photo of Xavier
Major:
Sociology
Minor:
History
Graduation Year:
Spring 2018
"I know how it feels to spend a long time on a piece only to have it torn to shreds by peers and professors. But even if that happens, take it in stride and incorporate that constructive feedback; you can only get better from there."

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Simone Browne

Name of project: Violence on the Market: Race and Privatized Surveillance and Policing in Modern Brazil

Please give a brief, simplified overview of your research project.
My project looks into the privatization of surveillance technology and how the security market is appropriating all forms of legitimate violence from the Brazilian government. This violence is predominantly directed towards Afro-Brazilian populations as impoverished communities begin to chafe along the borders of consumer spaces.

Describe the tasks you engage in as part of your work.
The main tasks I engage in are reading, writing, and sending my work to advisors for feedback and revisions. It sounds boring on the surface and maybe even tedious. But in reality, the process is very rewarding and makes you even better at tackling future research projects that interest you. When you know how to read and write at an academic level, your life, even beyond research, is so much more interesting.

Describe what you thought college might be like before you came to UT. Did you consider research when thinking about college?
I came from a business magnet school and felt that the next step would be to get a marketable bachelor’s degree, get a job, and be financially stable. I did not give any thought to any sort of research before coming to UT; the sooner I could leave, the better.

How did you get involved with your research project?
The answer to this question comes in three parts. First, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after being inspired by a course on anti-black violence and politics. Second, I took a course with my advisor, Simone Browne, that focused on race and surveillance, which opened up new doors for exploration into Brazil beyond police brutality. Third, I had the opportunity to participate in the Leadership Alliance Summer Program and got to study at Princeton University. There, I found my interest in economic sociology and how it intersects with political sociology and studies on anti-black violence.

Do you see your project connecting with your plans for your future?
Broadly, my next step is to get a PhD in sociology, join the professoriate, and inspire a new generation of students to think critically about the world around them. This project, in particular, will become increasingly critical as neoliberal privatization expands its influence over global markets and states start to lose power. I want this project to begin a conversation on the intersection of technology, global markets, and the state.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve gotten to do for this project?
In all honesty, the most surprising thing was actually writing! I don’t think many people actually get the opportunity to generate new knowledge during their time as an undergraduate. Can you imagine not writing with citations on claims every third sentence? The whole experience has been revolutionary during my time here.

What advice would you give to a student who was thinking about research?
First, start early and look for mentorship opportunities that accelerate your trajectory. You like STEM? Apply to UT McNair Scholars. You like social sciences and humanities? Apply for the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. E-mail professors, look for summer programs, just never stop looking until you find a community that supports your work. Second, don’t be afraid of criticism that seeks to improve your writing. I know how it feels to spend a long time on a piece only to have it torn to shreds by peers and professors. But even if that happens, take it in stride and incorporate that constructive feedback; you can only get better from there.