Orunima Chakraborti (C'20)
News Story

Sociology Major Wins Beinecke Scholarship

May 8, 2019 — Sociology major Orunima Chakraborti (C’20) has won a 2019 Beinecke Scholarship, a prestigious award given annually by The Sperry Fund to students who plan on enrolling in an arts, social sciences, or humanities-focused graduate program.

Chakraborti is the second Georgetown College student in three years to win the Beinecke Scholarship, following Annee Lyons (C’18), who is now studying classics at the University of Oxford.


Chakraborti is fascinated by the social norms of cultural exchange, the ways we decide as a society when adopting or participating in the traditions of other groups is appropriate, especially within Western countries that are becoming increasingly multicultural.

A Philadelphia and Kansas City native of South Asian descent, Chakraborti is particularly interested in examining the phenomenon of events like Rangila, in which multicultural groups of college students put on a South Asian dance performance. She hopes to apply her sociological training to the discussions of cultural appropriation as they relate to these events and others.

“I want to be working with human stories,” she said. “I hope that I can contribute toward research of meaningful social issues of our day, including refugee and asylum issues, cultural appropriation debates, and the sociological interconnection between food and the environment.”


Issues like these were central to class discussion in Professor Timothy Wickham-Crowley’s “Race, Color, Culture,” which Chakraborti cites as a major influence on her choice of a research question.

“I found myself bringing up topics from class to discuss with the people around me, and not only do I think the class material had a real impact on the way that they thought, it subtly changed the way I thought as well,” she said. “It renewed my faith in the fact that research — especially social science research in these areas — can change minds.”

Chakraborti will spend much of the next year working on a senior thesis in sociology. She hopes to design a qualitative study of Georgetown undergraduates within the mass act of cultural exchange that constitutes Rangila.

“How does the assignment of acceptance and authority differ generationally, along ethnic lines, and negotiated among minority groups?” she asks. “How do these groups themselves reflect on the emergence and formation of cultural exchange norms? Finally, what are participants’ perceptions of whose authority is exercised in this exchange?”


Chakraborti picked Georgetown mostly because the campus “just felt right,” along with the opportunities available in a city like Washington D.C. Like many first-year students, she originally lacked a specific career plan beyond a broad interest in international studies. But her major in sociology has helped her develop real career aspirations. She’s now preparing for a career in conducting ethnographic research, either as an academic sociologist or as a professional researcher.

The Beinecke Scholarship provides Chakraborti with an extra degree of financial security on her planned path to a Ph.D. in sociology, as well as an encouraging affirmation of the importance of careers in the arts, social sciences, and humanities.

“I know that my career and future are not guaranteed by this scholarship, but I am so grateful for my research aspirations in sociology to be recognized as worth pursuing,” she said. “I grew up in within an immigrant community that understandably, but sometimes overwhelmingly prioritizes the stability of STEM career paths for their children. This scholarship makes me an example of how it’s possible to carve out a path for yourself in a more untraditional field with support from around you, and for that, I am extremely grateful.”


If all that sounds like a lot to handle, fear not for Chakraborti — she has found her own unique method of relaxation. Stop by Dahlgren Chapel, Dahlgren Quadrangle or McNeir Hall on a quiet afternoon and you might find her at it.

“Sitting somewhere and just singing for a good hour has always been one of my favorite ways to de-stress,” she said. “My favorite spots on campus are all places I’ve spent time singing. … These spots bring me some peace and quiet, which is something we all need once in a while in college.”

— Patrick Curran