Kaina Mendoza-Price is awarded a 2024-25 JHI Undergraduate Fellowship

May 16, 2024 by Siri Hansen

We are delighted to announce that Kaina Mendoza-Price has been awarded a Jackman Humanities Institute (JHI) Undergraduate Fellowship for 2024-25, under the year's theme of Undergrounds/Underworlds.  The JHI theme description notes that "undergrounds have figured powerfully in human histories and imaginations as places of alterity, concealment, exploration, and discovery; of fear, transition, transportation, and transmutation," and invited proposals "that examine what a descent into the underworlds might reveal." 

Kaina – who says she is "excited to have been selected for this opportunity" – is taking a double major in Religion and Latin America Studies and entering her fourth year of studies. She brings to U of T a background in social work, research and the arts, overseeing the coordination of programs to support during the pandemic the settlement of over 200 2SLGBTQ+ newcomers in Toronto. As a researcher, she disseminated the experiences and knowledge-bases of Trans Spanish-speaking migrants (part of the Faculty of Social Work's Tacit Knowledge Project) as well as documented experiences of Spanish-speaking domestic workers in Toronto (with the Faculty of Information). In between studies and social work, she carries out independent arts-based research on Yoruba religions while studying and training in her culture’s folkloric dance.

Her JHI project, "Cosmovisions of a Travesti: Religious Expression Amongst Trans Women in Brazil’s Underworld," is a semiotic study of how “Travestis” in Northeast Brazil engage with spirituality through documenting and disseminating their cultural and material productions for the spirits they venerate in the subaltern spaces they are bound to. Transgender women in Latin America have historically found comfort in Afro-Indigenous spiritual traditions, but efforts to institutionalize these religious practices pose a challenge for those with complex social positionalities, resulting in the creation of innovative spiritual expressions in Brazil’s social underworlds. Engaging as both a Trans Woman from Latin America and as someone who grew up in these spiritual-cultural systems, Kaína’s intention is to encourage critical discourse around what constitutes spirituality, religion, and profanity in the context of multi-layered existences of those living in socio-cultural peripheries.

Undergraduate fellows hold carrels at the JHI, and research and write an Independent Study on a topic of their own choice under supervision by one of the year’s 12-month Faculty Research Fellows. A 1.0 FCE course credit for this Independent Study is awarded by each fellow’s home unit. Fellows also receive funding and travel support. Kaina receives the Dr. Michael Lutsky Undergraduate Award in the Humanities and her JHI supervisor will be Professor Ato Onoma of the Department of Political Science. 

Kaina was also selected to participate in the JHI Scholars-in-Residence program, an intensive, 4-week paid research fellowship that provides the opportunity to acquire advanced research skills and experience while collaborating with an interdisciplinary and intellectually vibrant community of peers, professors, and research professionals. Over the month of May 2024, Kaina is working with DSR affiliate faculty member Professor Kamari Clarke on her project Rethinking Absence and Presence in the Black Atlantic World.


With files from the Jackman Humanities Institute and Victoria College, University of Toronto.