A love for scholarly writing and research, and a desire to reshape how histories come together are what drive Beshouy Botros ’17.
Now at Yale University, Botros was selected to receive one of this year's Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, an award given to immigrants and the children of immigrants pursuing graduate study in the United States. Botros, one of 30 fellows chosen in 2023, will use the funding to support their work toward a Ph.D. in history.
Born in Egypt, Botros came to the U.S. with their family as a child, settling in Southern California. An interest in history formed at a young age—their mother taught the subject in Egypt, and when she enrolled in community college in the U.S. to recredential, Botros helped her with research essays about figures like Frederick Douglass. “History became a really important way for me and my family to understand a society that was new to us,” Botros said.
Once at Pomona, Botros developed deep bonds with professors, including Arash Khazeni, Zayn Kassam, Ousmane Traoré, April Mayes, Susana Chavez-Silverman, Phyllis Jackson, Samuel Yamashita, Sidney Lemelle and Kyla Tompkins, and found that their new intellectual home was made up of a caring and critical community of people. Khazeni in particular was “such an intrepid and loving guide” who showed them how to locate primary sources and make arguments through historical storytelling, training that continues to benefit them.
Botros’ thesis was on formulations of race in 19th century Egypt, drawing from primary sources found in an open-air book market. “This came after a series of difficult visa-related issues that prevented me from accessing British archives, but throughout I had excellent mentorship and produced a project that still informs my work,” Botros says.
Botros was also involved with the Women’s Union, QuestBridge, and the Draper Center for Community Partnerships and helped launch the 5C Refugee Advocacy Network to assist families who had recently resettled in the area. They aided community members with tasks like applying for jobs and getting driver's licenses and drew from this experience when, after graduating from Pomona, they moved to Chicago to work as a case manager with the Middle Eastern Immigrant and Refugee Alliance.
This important work taught them how the immigration process produces a type of archive. Botros was frustrated with how narratives around migration were being constructed and believes scholars have the responsibility to “reframe debates, ask good questions, and change the terms by which the stories are told.”
While at Pomona, Botros became interested in pursuing a Ph.D. “I think my professors led by example, showing me the beauty of scholarly writing and research and teaching,” they say. Botros considered taking the legal path, working in migrant justice or refugee resettlement. A fellowship from the European Commission allowed them to understand these issues in a more transatlantic frame through a master’s degree in gender and women’s studies from Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
Botros then applied for doctoral programs and enrolled at Yale, where as a teaching fellow they run seminar-style sections for a course on histories of medicine and race. There is “a real sense of joy and energy” in the classroom, Botros says, and they found their learning at Pomona “in really intimate seminars prepared me so well for the teaching that I do here.”
Through their research, Botros examines the position of Northern Africa in the emergence of trans medicine and theorizes what made trans medicine feasible in Morocco and Egypt. “It is really striking being on college campuses where students casually discuss how the gender binary is colonial, and it seems like every week another state is passing new transphobic legislation. It keys me in on how disjointed our own cultural history is,” Botros says. Their project is not so much about the colonial history of binary gender as much as it is “an archival project and conceptual project that excavates new sources to think through race, sexual difference, relationality and language.” Botros has been able to conduct research in Morocco, Egypt, and in the Berlin archives of Schering AG, the pharmaceutical company that first developed hormone treatments.
Botros applied for a New Americans Fellowship to seek community and “meaningfully reflect on and reimagine” the uneasy sense of belonging that many immigrants feel. They found their relationship to being a new American is “pretty contested, because of having had to navigate the immigration judiciary as a child. That pain never really leaves you, and I say that as indictment of the U.S. immigration system writ large and its treatment of unaccompanied minors and separation of families specifically.”
Often as students, immigrants become “fixated on achieving particular positions that we would use to mark our success,” Botros said. They believe “if we followed the things that nourish and excited us and pay more attention to the world we want to build, that’s a more useful organizing principle or thing to dream towards than a job.”
To make change in the world, Botros believes in the importance of starting locally and engaging in institutional critique; that is something they did at Pomona College and encourage others to do as well. One example of change brought by activism is Pomona now offering legal resources and career counseling for undocumented and international students. When Botros applied to study abroad in 2015, for a green card in 2016 and then U.S. citizenship in 2020, Paula Gonzalez ’95 and Sagehen Pro Bono, a legal resources network of Pomona alumni, supported them along the way. “These resources did not come out of thin air,” Botros says. “They came because of student-led organizing. I am deeply grateful to her, to my Pomona community and to others who are involved in this work.”