Graduating from the College of William and Mary with their undergraduate degree in 2020, the pandemic complicated Maxwell Cloe’s ’20, M.A. ’21 post-grad plans.
“I was applying to a couple of grad programs outside of William and Mary, just to kind of see what was out there, and those did not really pan out,” Cloe said. “And then when the pandemic hit, I was like, ‘I really don’t know what I’m going to do.’”
Then their advisor, professor of American Studies, history and gender, sexuality and women’s studies Leisa Meyer, suggested that Cloe spend an extra year in Williamsburg to obtain a master’s degree in American Studies. Little did Cloe know, their decision to spend an extra year at the College would lead to at least several more years with it.
“Pretty much the entire thing was on Zoom, which was a really weird way to get a master’s degree,” Cloe said.
During their year in graduate school, Cloe worked as a graduate assistant with the Sharpe Community Scholars Program. This program is a living-learning community for freshmen students at the College interested in community engagement, social justice and collaborative research. According to the College’s website, the program works to advance community-based research and teaching in courses with integrated community partnering.
As an undergraduate student, Cloe was a Monroe Scholar but did not learn about Sharpe until they worked with the program in graduate school.
“I really enjoyed my time doing that, and as I was approaching the end of my master’s degree, I was thinking about what careers I wanted to pursue,” Cloe said.
According to Cloe, their top career option was to work for a museum. However, Cloe also considered working in higher education and applied for jobs in both sectors. During their search, Cloe received an email from Monica Griffin, the director of Engaged Scholarship and the Sharpe Community Scholars Program, about an opening.
Cloe started working part-time at the Roy R. Charles Center with the Sharpe Community Scholars Program in 2021. Throughout the year, they began taking on more responsibilities and started full-time in July 2022 as program coordinator for the Charles Center. In this role, Cloe implements and manages the Sharpe Community Scholars program, the Woody Internship in Museum Studies and the Sharp Journalism Seminar.
“I think the Charles Center is also something that helps with the research project as it begins,” Cloe said. “We have fellows for all our different scholars programs that are really there to help develop you as a researcher and strengthen your research ability to answer questions as it relates to research and help point you towards the right direction and connect you with other resources that might be able to help you. So I think every step along the way, the Charles Center is there to help support research, whether that be you’re just interested right after your first year and you want to do something, or if you’re writing an honors thesis and you’re a senior year finishing up.”
In an attempt to increase its visibility within the College community, the Charles Center started an undergraduate communications team to report on student research affiliated with the Center.
“I think the communications team is doing a lot of really cool work getting the Charles Center out there, and I think we’ve seen a lot of increase in student traffic since then,” Cloe said.
Cloe reflected on what the College means to them, and how the College supports their personal research, too.
“I love the people here,” Cloe said. “But I think also more broadly, William and Mary is a place that I can call home, at least academically. And working with William and Mary provides me with a lot of lenience and ability to focus on things that I’m interested in, as well as things that serve the mission of the Charles Center, because the research that I do in my free time is community-based. So working with community-based research and Sharpe is really helpful.”
“But I think also more broadly, William and Mary is a place that I can call home, at least academically.”
Cloe’s research focuses on LBGTQ+ histories and cultures in the Appalachian Mountains. According to Cloe, their interest in the subject began during the 2016 elections and emerged from personal experiences in the Appalachian Mountains visiting their grandmother.
“I grew up, spending a lot of time in that area in the mountains and getting to know a lot of the people up there,” Cloe said. “Then in the 2016 election, when we had Donald Trump being elected, we saw all of these news stories come up, from all sorts of outlets talking about how Appalachia is Trump country, and it was painting this region with a pretty broad brush. I think hearing that sort of rubbed up against my understanding of the region. I was really interested in exploring the parts of the region and the people in the region and the organizations there who are doing work that is counter to this understanding that we have of the region.”
As Cloe dug deeper into the research, their focus started to narrow.
“I started enjoying that so much, and then I was coming into some more realizations about my own identity,” Cloe said. “So I was like, ‘I’m really interested in how the queer aspect of this really fits into it.’ And so I would say the overall big goal of my research is to investigate why Appalachia is seen as this sort of stereotypically rural area in the United States, and what does it mean to be a queer person in this rural area?”
Much of Cloe’s research focuses on oral history and art.
“I’ve set up this oral history practice where I talk to artists, I interview them,” Cloe said. “I’ve also integrated some digital aspects to it. I have a website where I’ve loaded up all of these artists and my interviews with them, as well as their art and their thoughts on the artistic process.”
Cloe then reflected on their enjoyment of oral history as a method for conducting research.
“I’m talking to human beings, especially artists,” Cloe said. “They always have some very interesting ideas. They present themselves very interestingly. I think they present their surroundings very interestingly. Naturally conversations are going to flow and tangent, and they’re going to vary in all sorts of ways that maybe reading a document might not. And so I think there’s a lot of value in these sorts of person to person connections.”
Recently, Cloe conducted research on the intersection of LGBTQ+ Appalachian artists and environmental justice.
“How do these queer Appalachian artists not only blur the boundaries between gender and sexuality, but how do they also blur these boundaries between what we consider to be human and what we consider to be natural?” Cloe said. “I think we typically view humans and nature as two separate things, but humans are animals, too. What does it mean for us to exist alongside and within nature? I think these artists are doing a really cool job of investigating what that means.”
Cloe recalled one interview from their research that stood out from the rest. They interviewed Bob Morgan, an artist in Lexington, Kentucky that makes sculptures out of trash, old baby dolls and car parts, then burns the elements so they melt together.
“I did an interview with him, in his house, and so I was surrounded by these, which is kind of creepy, but it’s really awesome,” Cloe said. “He’s like, in the 70s, this older gentleman surrounded by some of the strangest sculptures I’ve ever seen, chatting about his experiences.”
In their free time, Cloe enjoys casual activities, including reading, watching movies and riding their bike. Cloe also enjoys playing the old time fiddle, a hobby they picked up while a student at the College.