Scholar Spotlight - Oana Tasca

Laidlaw Scholar, Oana Tasca, on transforming children's perspectives through inclusive literature.
Scholar Spotlight - Oana Tasca
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Oana Tasca, a Laidlaw Scholar at Trinity College Dublin, on challenging stereotypes and enriching children's literature through diverse narratives.

Research title: The Dangers of a Single Story 

My research takes its title from the enlightening TedTalk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The Dangers of a Single Story”, in which she tackles the issue of misrepresentation in Western culture. Drawing on this, I started reflecting on children’s literature more specifically, as I believe children’s cultural landscape to be essential in the forming of a more informed, educated and inclusive society. I analysed how Western White authors have been depicting Black characters and how literature written by Black authors has been influenced by the Euro-centric view that to this day still shows a patronising pity towards non-White communities. I chose 6 novels written by African American writers that have won the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which recognize outstanding books for young adults and children by African American authors and illustrators that reflect the African American experience. My aim was to understand what message and image of the world these authors were trying to convey for their young audience, and what kind of counter-narrative they have been depicting in response to the Western narrative that for centuries has either excluded them or showed Black characters in a subaltern position.

Even though the representation of Black culture has increased compared to earlier decades, I've observed a consistent trend of victimisation in the portrayal of Black characters in Western entertainment. The selected books I examined make a deliberate effort to challenge this narrative, emphasising the agency and voices of their protagonists, ultimately teaching readers to be resilient fighters. Despite attempts to subvert the narrative of victimisation, I noted a lack in the creation of a new one, as the analysed texts were either historical or hyper-realistic, deviating from the magical escapism typically found in children's books. This observation raises questions about the privilege of childhood. Books for Black children often accelerate the process of growing up, exposing them to the harsh truths of the world, both in reality and fiction. Preserving the right to dream is crucial not only for providing a safe place of light-heartedness but also for contributing to the creation and development of a more just and equal society.

Where did your passion for this research originate?

Stories and words have always been my biggest passion. Their power never ceases to amaze me. They can be the weapon and the cure, they can be a balm for wounds that are generations old, and they can open up worlds and create new realities in your own world. Their power can be obviously used in harmful ways, but what I have come to realize is that it is not their misuse that is most dangerous, but their absence. Not having someone’s story does not only harm them, it makes them disappear as if they have never existed.

I first started thinking about these issues after listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedTalk The Dangers of a Single Story, where she brilliantly illustrates the consequences that depicting over and over again just one version of someone’s story and identity can have not only on them but also on the receivers of that story. A YouTube video I came across on a random afternoon many years ago might not seem much, but it truly opened up a world for me. It lit a fire that pushed me to educate myself, to be more aware of my biases and to try to bridge the gap between the depiction of the world I am constantly shown and the reality of it.

First day as an Undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin.

How have you applied your leadership skills in real life? What are some insights & lessons from your experience?

The Laidlaw Programme has been such an incredible journey so far. I have learned a lot about myself in the past year. I’ve come to realize that I prioritize service, creativity and human connections in my leadership style. However, I have also built and refined skills that I did not think I would actually enjoy performing, such as networking or project management. This inner work really pushed me to chase projects out of my comfort zone. Being a literature and arts “fanatic” can sometimes push you towards a more isolated and independent approach, but the Laidlaw programme challenged this side of me and I am so grateful for it. At the beginning of this academic year I started a Level 7 certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Trinity College, through which, with a group of peers, I developed a plan for a start-up called Transcribble, which uses generative AI to help students with disabilities (particularly dyslexia) through their education. Who would have thought I would ever become interested in business?

I also joined volunteering activities, like the English Classes for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, which have provided such valuable insights into the importance of human connection and trauma-informed approaches. It has shown me the essential value of community and support groups through hardships.

I believe the biggest lesson I’ve learned through the programme so far has been to be resourceful and courageous enough to put yourself out there. If you truly believe in a cause, don’t let doubts and insecurities stop you from achieving it. Don’t create a barrier between you and the people you need to help because you're scared you are going to fail. Skills are so much more transferable than you think, and the ones you are lacking will come to you so much more easily if you have a goal you believe in urging you.

Please provide a short list of bullet points of your top leadership tips 

  1. Be the change you want to see in the world.
  2. Find new ways of approaching problems. Your creativity can be your strongest ally!
  3. Hard work is essential, but don’t forget to nourish that balance in your life that will keep you going.
  4. Be flexible and open-minded, but never lose sight of your vision.
  5. Be humble and acknowledge your mistakes.

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

Being a Laidlaw Scholar, to me, means most of all being brave. Brave enough to be kind, to be curious, to be humble, to grow and change. It means challenging yourself and, most importantly, questioning the predefined concepts and structures that surround us. The foundation of all this is critical thinking, being able to refuse biased opinions that are sold as facts, and offering alternatives that prioritize inclusivity, equality and righteousness.

Which leaders inspire you the most and why?

I could probably write a book on this. There are so many people that inspire me, from renowned artists and human rights activists to friends and family. However, if I truly must choose, the pedestal would be shared by two incredible women. The first would be Malala Yousafzai. The passion and courage of this young woman are so encouraging. She never stopped fighting for a better world, on behalf of those most vulnerable, even when her own life was at stake. She is not only brave but incredibly humble and tenacious.

The second would be my mother. She taught me the importance of resilience and held my hand while walking through adversity. She showed me how much strength is concealed in love. She led the way for me and tried to do it on her own terms, but always put me first. Through my Laidlaw journey, I learned how to use the vocabulary to describe my leadership style, and the servant leader has always been what I’ve been most drawn to. Looking back, now I know why. If there’s anyone who truly set an example of service for me, it was my mother.

Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

I dream of creating an independent publishing house that can give voice to those authors who don’t necessarily fit into the standards and trends of the traditional publishing market. Voices that represent the world as it truly is, diverse, colourful and eclectic, and not as a mutilated and homogeneous map of what we perceive it to be. Stories that have been silenced because they don’t appeal to the usual Western gaze will be able to flourish and bring cultures and peoples together. They would not only be translated and distributed, but encouraged.

My initial idea for “The Dangers of a Single Story”, was a much more ambitious project that involved a comparative analysis between African American and African literature. However, I had to leave the latter aside as the texts I had chosen were impossible to find in Europe. These barriers not only create insurmountable walls for researchers but for people too. Just imagine, how much richer could our world be if all stories, the very glue that brings humans together, were accessible everywhere?


Quick-fire Questions

🎥 Currently Binging: The Walking Dead. Old but gold!

📚 My top book recommendation: 

Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood. An absolute masterpiece! Please read it!

🎶 My anthem: My Way by Frank Sinatra, for sure!


🎵 Podcast obsession: 

The Diary of a CEO and Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin?

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: 

Finding a new house with a garden where I can read!


 

You can find Oana on LinkedIn. If you are interested in learning more about Oana's work, explore her research here.

Oana is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at @Trinity College Dublin. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.

Find out more about the Laidlaw Scholars Undergraduate Leadership and Research Programme.

🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights: 

⚡️ Thomas Williamson, a Laidlaw Scholar at Durham University on the hidden world of stress granules.

⚡️ Keir Chauhan, a Laidlaw Scholar at University College London on the power of birds in bridging humanity and nature.

⚡️ Lucy Nyamaah, a Laidlaw Scholar at Oxford University's Saïd Business School on pushing past gender norms and envisioning a female-led future in the energy sector.

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