Ashayla Byrd, a junior at Shenandoah University who is pursuing a double major in dance and English, was awarded the first Jamal Barzinji Scholar Award in recognition of her commitment to advancing inclusivity and acceptance. Her award includes a $500 cash prize to further research and was presented during the 31st Annual International Convocation on Nov. 13.
Byrd’s current research, with a working title of “Decolonizing the Syllabus,” investigates the Eurocentric focus of the dance world, particularly within dance academia. Through this study, she plans to offer recommendations for enriching current dance history coursework in ways that support a more inclusive perspective and gives attention to a wider range of movement aesthetics (African Diasporic, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc.).
Byrd will graduate in May 2021 with her Bachelor of Arts in Dance and her Bachelor of Arts in English, a dual major that she was thrilled to discover was an exciting possibility at Shenandoah University.
“When I was applying for colleges, I looked for places that provided support for students with varied academic interests . . . I’ve always loved dancing, and I’ve also always loved writing,” said Byrd. “My two loves have always seemed to argue about which one I have to dedicate my energy and life to, but I’ve found that, at Shenandoah, I don’t necessarily have to choose. I think researching dance history and writing about it has been that little sweet spot that I used to overlook. It’s been rewarding and eye-opening, and it’s given me access to so many avenues that I feel confident about pursuing.”