Being a Member of the DLR

Greetings readers!  We at the DLR have appreciated your commitment and interest in our journal and blog throughout the year.  As the academic year winds down and the team prepares for the journal’s next chapter, we thought we would bring all of you into the daily life of a DLR team member.

In this blog post, you will dive deep into the inner workings of the DLR, discover what the class entails, and hear from the team members themselves about their thoughts on creating an academic literary journal.  As you progress through the blog, some of the team members will reveal their personal triumphs and tribulations they faced while working as a team to generate the third issue of Ball State’s own Digital Literature Review.

The Digital Literature Review is a topic-based journal created here at Ball State University by undergraduate students.  During the first semester, students conduct research on the year’s topic and create blog posts, cultural history projects, and potential submissions to the journal.  After returning from semester break, the three teams (Design, Editorial, and Publicity) begin the process of putting together the year’s current issue, all under the guidance and assistance of a professor.  Also, this portion of the class consists of the opportunity to attend a conference at Butler University and hold the DLR’s annual spring gala.


Is there something specific that drew you to the DLR?

“Not a lot of twenty-somethings can say they’ve worked on an academic journal, published an academic journal, and potentially published their own writing.  I hope to work in collegiate academics for the rest of my life, so an early start, especially an opportunity like this that I may never come across again, was not something I could pass up.”  –Cassie Grosh


What was it like to work collaboratively as editors to an undergraduate journal?

“I believe that collaborating with the other members of the team made me a stronger writer.  We bounced ideas around and learned a lot from each other.”   –Nikole Darnell


Did you find it difficult to balance the journal, other classes, and your extracurricular activities?

“I had a part-time job and several other classes that demanded quite a bit of group work, reading, and presentations, but I didn’t find myself overly stressed during the semester.  Coming to the DLR class every Monday and Wednesday was actually fun and interesting because of the work we were doing and the people that I worked with.  This class rarely ever seemed like an actual class, but more of an ideal opportunity to practice what I’d learned so far with a great group of people.”  –Brittany Ulman


Our Design Team Members:

Jessica Carducci – Fall Team Leader – Senior

Isabel Vazquez – Senior

Shannon Walter – Spring Team Leader – Senior


Design Team’s responsibilities:

  • Generate advertising material for the DLR and Gala event
  • Produce advertising material for recruiting new members every school year
  • Format the finished journal for publication
  • Work with InDesign, Photoshop, and other Adobe Creative Suite applications
  • Take and manage photos for journal purposes
  • Craft design image for journal cover


What made you decide to be a part of the Design Team?

“I decided to be a part of the Design Team because at the beginning of the fall semester, I began learning a lot about graphic design and thought that this would be an awesome opportunity to expand my capabilities!  I have always been a pretty creative person and thought that my abilities would be best utilized on this team!”  –Shannon Walter


Our Editorial Team Members:

Nikole Darnell – Junior

Olivia Germann – Junior

Cassandra Grosh – Sophomore

Kathryn Hampshire – Lead Editor – Junior

Allison Haste – Senior

Sarah Keck – Senior

Bryce Longenberger – Senior

Amory Orchard – Senior

Lauren Seitz – Senior


Editorial Team’s tasks and responsibilities:

  • Evaluate journal submissions
  • Send author acceptance/rejection
  • Copyedit accepted journal submissions
  • Review and copy edit the final DLR publication
  • Edit blog posts


How does it feel to be a part of the DLR Editorial Team?

“Being a part of the DLR is a wonderful experience where you get to collaborate with passionate and curious students.  Learning and moving forward together as both a group and a journal draws people together in a way that make this academic experience different than anything a student has taken part in before.”  –Olivia Germann


Our Publicity Team Members:

Gabriel Barr – Fall Team Leader – Junior

Jessica Carducci – Spring Team Leader – Senior

Lauren Cross – Junior

Ellie Fawcett – Junior

Brittany Ulman – Junior


Publicity Team’s tasks and responsibilities:

  • Supervise appropriate distribution of advertising materials
  • Post and advertise for DLR events
  • Maintain Twitter, Facebook, and blog
  • Organize the annual Gala
  • Promote the next year’s journal and class


What skills did you develop during your time on the Publicity Team?

“The Publicity Team does a lot of different jobs for the DLR, such as scheduling class visits, the Gala, and social media posts, so the biggest part of my work revolved around organization and managing all these various things.  I got really good at putting together checklists, schedules, and plans for what we needed to do and when it needed to happen.  Still working on following them myself though.”  –Jessica Carducci


Now that you have more specific details concerning Ball State’s own Digital Literature Review, hopefully you are considering being a part of the journey in the future—whether that be submitting your own work to the journal or joining the DLR team.

Lastly, always remember to regularly check the DLR’s blog, Facebook, Twitter, and website for any updates about the journal and the amazing research our team members have been conducting.

Sex Sells: Sex Trafficking and Its Relation to Freak Shows

By Lauren Cross

Human trafficking has become a prevalent aspect of our society, and an awareness of its impact can be seen everywhere, from college organizations to Facebook timelines and even to Hollywood movies (which raise awareness–sometimes inadvertently–by casting top actors in the roles of heroes rescuing victims from this horrendous business). While human trafficking is a large concern for the worldwide population, sex trafficking is particularly worrying for many women and children. The victims of sex trafficking are malnourished, drugged, and, at times, abused for the purpose of earning money for traffickers at the expense of the victim’s physical and emotional health.

So how does this relate to freak shows?

In the 1840s, P.T. Barnum, one of the most well known figures in show business, took over the American Museum in New York (Bogdan 23). Barnum was able to convince those who possessed physical disabilities to act as curiosities in order to gain not only fame but also fortune. By submitting their bodies to public scrutiny, he made a profit at the expense of his employees. Many of his acts were literally slaves sold to the freak show. Both freakshow owners like Barnum and sex traffickers own and exploit the bodies of others.

The widely-known human curiosity, Saartjie Baartman (also known as Hottentot Venus), shows the link between freak shows and modern human trafficking, especially sex trafficking. According to a New York Times article by Caroline Elkins in 2007, when Baartman was a young woman, a man persuaded her to join him in London. While she did voluntarily leave her country, as someone who was not aware of her rights, how much consent did she really give to her involvement in this human exhibit? Here, she began her journey as a physical marvel–her shapely figure became subject to public scrutiny. People stared at her and poked her as though she was not a woman with bodily rights. These issues of consent, rights over one’s own body, and economic exploitation link her to today’s sex trafficking.
1Each year, a report discussing the worldwide concern of human trafficking is published by the Department of State. Within this report, readers can find information regarding the different instances of human trafficking, and, more specifically, sex trafficking. The report shows readers the different levels of sex trafficking called “tiers.” By placing each country throughout the world in its respective tier, viewers can observe how countries relate to one another. In the image to the left, one can get a glimpse at one page from the aforementioned report, and we can see how different countries rank. Tier 1 indicates these countries comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, and Tier 3 indicates countries that do not currently or ever intend to follow these standards.


While the Tier 3 category does seem rather small, when observing a map, opinions may change. We can see the map to the right and observe the great impact this tier has on the rest of the world. Because the great majority of Tier 3 consists of only one country, Russia, a popular tourist site, it instills fear in tourists and travelers.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2015, the largest form of human trafficking does, in fact, involve sexual exploitation: 79% of it. Even though the victims are predominantly women and children, there is a large number of women who traffic women, which, in this case, means both men and women are now earning from this traipse around legalities.

Even though most individuals see sex trafficking as an abysmal human rights violation, those involved in the transportation and migration of sex workers may see it as a smart financial move–similar to the way those involved in freak shows thought of their own actions over one hundred years ago. Many are familiar with the way P.T. Barnum often “bought” individuals in order to present them in his circuses. According to his Biography profile, he would buy individuals who could perform acts in order to draw in enough viewers to make a profit off his purchase in a little over one week. Human trafficking organizers buy individuals–primarily for the sexual benefit of customers–and then sell them to other hosts.

According to Soroptomist, a global volunteer organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and children by leading them toward social and economic empowerment, most instances of sex trafficking occur in areas with low education and employment opportunities, as well as areas with great economic instability. By partaking in this awful trade, these individuals are advancing themselves financially.

In one horrific story, a girl named Jill was a homeless teenager desperate for any food, money, or work. Once, when a man approached her in a mall, he offered her a chance to work for him, and he said he could provide her with food, shelter, and clothing. She ended up being suspended from the ceiling in his cellar without any clothes on. For three years, she endured his cruel business–one in which his “clients” would pay him to fulfill their sexual desires with her.

Throughout the years in the freak show business, many human exhibits similar to Saartjie Baartman’s case endured taunts, emotional distress, and isolated treatment forced upon them by their owners. It seems as though these owners have now reincarnated into business owners who choose to make their victims perform in more physical ways.

If you or anyone you know have any questions concerning sex trafficking, please do not hesitate to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1 (888) 373-7888.


Works Cited

Bogdan, Robert. “The Social Construction of Freaks.” Freakery. Ed. Rosemarie Garland Thomson. New York City: New York University Press, 1996. 23-37. Print.

Elkins, Caroline. “A Life Exposed.” The New York Times, 14 January 2007. Web. 14 December 2015.

“Jill’s Story.” Human Trafficking. Human Trafficking, n.d. Web. 16 November 2015.

“P.T. Barnum Biography.” A&E Television Networks. n.d. Web. 16 December 2015.

“Sex Trafficking FAQ.” Soroptomist. Soroptomist, n.d. Web. 16 November 2015.

“Trafficking in Persons Report.” Department of State. U.S. Department of State Publication: July 2015. Web.

“UNODC report on human trafficking exposes modern form of slavery.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. UNODC, n.d. Web. 16 November 2015.

Am I Good Enough for Your Heaven?: Freakishness in Janelle Monáe’s “Q.U.E.E.N.”

By Gabriel Barr

Our society is one that prides itself on its differences but still chooses to judge others on the ones that stick out the most in relation to restrictive norms. There are stigmatizing labels for everything from sexuality to gender to whether or not one enjoys certain foods. One way that people battle the stigmas created through these terms is reclamation. Many groups (racial, sexual, gender, etc.) take back and claim the slurs that have been used against them. It’s difficult to learn about any topic related to social justice without learning about how a group has reclaimed any number of words as a form of pride. From racial slurs to homophobic names, the reclamation of derogatory labels is a great force in civil rights arguments today. In our society, the internet and similar forms of communication have made it easier to find others who share similarities with them. People are thus more easily able to organize marches and festivals around their differences from mainstream society.

One term to be reclaimed is the word “freak.” The recording artist Janelle Monáe uses her song ”Q.U.E.E.N.” to turn the word “freak” around on those who impose it on others. Monáe uses “Q.U.E.E.N.” as a declaration of independence from a society that tells her, and so many people like her, that the way they are is unacceptable.

Monáe’s “freaks” aren’t what one would normally think of when they hear the word. The connotations of the word “freak” relate back to the freak shows of the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. It conjures images of one-armed men, bearded women, and people whose gender is not identifiable with the binary system of male and female. Instead of relying on these tropes, Monáe uses both queerness and blackness as examples of modern “freakishness.” The “”freaks” here are people whose identities have been stigmatized and marginalized throughout history. The lyrics to “Q.U.E.E.N.” declare those differences as things to be proud of and to be loud about. “Q.U.E.E.N.” is a song that claims difference and individuality as prideful assets.  Monáe and fellow recording artist Erykah Badu illustrate the ways in which their blackness has been “freakified” within the larger culture by acting out parts of their largely black culture. In modern discourse, fun had by black people is often seen negatively because of racist stereotypes. The hook of “Q.U.E.E.N.” highlights these feelings, asking:

“Am I a freak for dancing around?

Am I a freak for getting down?

I’m cutting up, don’t cut me down.

Yeah I wanna be, wanna be Queen.”

Here, Monáe and Badu illustrate their confusion as to whether or not their behavior is “weird” enough for them to be called “freaks.” They use slang to build familiarity with the audience and then cause the question to be turned on the listener as to what “freakishness” entails.  “Cutting up” is a black slang term that means “having fun,”  and it’s used here to ask whether or not their joy and celebration is out of the ordinary (“Cutting+up.”)

The first verse of the song sees Monáe facing judgement from others, saying

“I can’t believe all of the things they say about me

Walk in the room they throwing shade left to right

they be like, ‘Ooh, she serving face’

And I just tell ‘em cut me up and get down.”

Here, Monáe and Badu introduce queerness as a sort of modern “freakishness,” using terms from both queer and black communities. ‘Throwing shade” is a term particularly coined by black queer persons that means “to insult in a coy manner” (“throwing+shade”).  “Serving face” is another term that means that the makeup or appearance that one has is perfect (“serving+face”).  Later on, Monáe asks “Am I a freak because I love watching Mary? Hey, sister, am I good enough for your heaven?” Here we see Monáe introduce queerness into the argument, asking point-blank whether or not queerness necessitates alienation and discrimination.  Throughout the song, Monáe doesn’t freakify queerness or blackness herself, but instead dares the listener to do it for her. By doing this, Monáe makes the listener analyze just what would make these things “freaky.” Throughout her work, Monáe has used the idea of “androids.” In a 2011 interview, Monáe stated that she sees “androids” as the “new other,” a symbol for blackness, queerness, or any other differences that society sees as worthy of discrimination (“RnB sensation Janelle Monae…”).

Monáe uses terms that are used very prominent in black queer communities to highlight the ways in which society ostracizes and excludes black, queer, and queer black persons. She proposes that what is being freakified is the act of being true to one’s self. She asks, “am I a freak?” repeatedly, forcing the listeners to answer (even if just to themselves) yes or no. If yes, the listener must analyze why Monáe is a “freak.” If no, the listener has accepted self-expression, individuality, and community as completely valid in any form. Monáe uses “Q.U.E.E.N.” as an anthem of self-love and independence in a world where people would rather have compliance than individuality. She brings queerness and blackness to the forefront in tandem, dancing, singing, and celebrating pride in herself even when the world tells her to fail.


Works Cited

“Cutting+up.” Urban Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016

Monáe, Janelle, and Erykah Badu. Q.U.E.E.N. Nate “Rocket” Lightning, 2013. MP3.766.

“Serving+face.” Urban Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“RnB Sensation Janelle Monáe Is Here Because We Need Her.” Evening Standard. N.p., 04 July 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“Throwing+shade.” Urban Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Be Kind to Yourself, It’s Not a Competition

By Brittany Ulman

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and prepare yourselves for the amazing performance you are about to witness!  Eileen Rosensteel herself has graced us with her presence to provide us intriguing insight into the worlds of five historic fat ladies!  The ladies that you are about to observe go above and beyond the everyday expectations of the freak show.  They utilize their time on stage to teach all of you about social issues, including modern day society’s outlook on body image and what is considered the “perfect” individual.  So, do not hesitate!  Gather around the stage and behold a never before seen fat lady act!

Eileen picture

Eileen Rosensteel at her performance at BSU this past April.

On the evening of Monday, April 4th, Eileen Rosensteel joined the Digital Literature Review in their investigation of freak shows throughout history and the impact they have had on both past and present societies.  Rosensteel, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, has taken it upon herself to study fat ladies from history and give them the voice that had been taken away from them at a young age.  As a fat activist, Rosensteel has an interest in the history of body image.  After enduring years of walking down the sidewalk to the sound of passers-by blurting out, “Oh my God, she’s so fat!”, she glimpsed the spark of an idea.  Jokingly, she said that she should start selling tickets for people to look at her, but, with this joke, she realized that she wanted to know more about other fat ladies from history.  So she set out to research these other women and write a poem about her experiences along with theirs.

However, she quickly learned that there were so many stories that were either not being told or being told incorrectly by individuals who had nothing in common with these women.  This lack of accurate research inspired Rosensteel to discover the truth so that she could “honor their stories and to make their lives become real to other people.”  She also wants to inspire her audiences to examine their personal feelings towards what is considered “normal” and what has influenced their opinions.  By helping her audiences rethink their current perceptions of what we all “should” look like, she encourages us all to become comfortable with ourselves because, in the end, it is not a competition.  According to Rosensteel, everyone needs to learn to “be gentle with yourself and realize that it is not a switch: there is no magic switch that you do this long enough and you finally love yourself.”

As Rosensteel went about researching the stories of her five fat lady performers, she contacted some of their family members to obtain more personal information about these women.  While doing so, she received mixed reactions from the families, some of whom even denied that their family members were in freak shows in the first place.  Others’ stories nearly contradicted what Rosensteel had found while conducting her research.  These discrepancies were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the obstacles that she encountered while striving to find the truth.  Due to the lack of accuracy in this field and the fact that these women often changed their names, there were times where Rosensteel could not find any truth at all.  However, she did not let that lack of authentic information discourage her in her quest to share these women’s stories.  Somehow, she managed to compile enough facts to create five different personas of fat ladies from our history, fat ladies who featured in her performance at Ball State University.

In her performance at Ball State, Rosensteel and her audience trekked through history as she took on the roles of five historic fat ladies followed by an exclusive glimpse into her own life as a bodacious beauty.  In these performances, Rosensteel included the numerous conflicting emotions that these women experienced during their time in the freak show.  The effects of being deemed a “freak” weighed heavily on their minds and self-confidence.  In the case of Gertrude Barnes, her life as a circus fat lady only diminished her already deteriorating self-esteem.  Barnes constantly asked why God was punishing her with a body that was contrived from a “twisted nightmare” and contained nothing but “mutilated” flesh.  Barnes’ depression had sunk so deep, she did not even want her young son to ever see her again, so as to prevent him from watching her fat lady performance.  The main thing that Gertrude Barnes wanted was to finally fly away to some glory that would provide her with the release she had so desperately been praying for.

The child performer Jolly Lottie remembered the times where little boys were afraid to pinch her fat too hard, and the older men’s hands would move around a little too much on her body.  But unlike Barnes, Jolly tried to focus on the pets that she could have while at the circus along with the hopes of one day having a family of her own away from the freak show.  Remembering the good things in life was a little more difficult for Baby Bessie.  Her life as a circus fat lady started off great, filled with the love of a man who always made her feel comfortable in her own skin.  Unfortunately, Bessie’s love and fellow performer, Jimmy, died in the war effort during Pearl Harbor.  Despite her pain though, Bessie still calls the circus her home because it is filled with a family that takes care of one another.

Even though these emotions and occurrences were part of everyday life for those deemed “freaks,” there were those like Delilah Dixon of the Georgia Dixons that chose to look at the freak show as a business endeavor.  Alongside her husband, Delilah realized that she “ain’t got time to be ashamed of being in a side show because there’s good money to be made.”  Being raised in the circus environment with her mother as a former fat lady, Delilah understood that she needed to do what she had to do to survive.  She did not want to be like those men on Wall Street taking their lives because they had too little money and too much pride.  Lady Velma Emonse was also proud to be a fat lady performer because it allowed her a way to advocate for increased human rights.  Because she wanted to travel the world and spread the word about women’s rights, Emonse saw her stance as a circus performer as the ideal platform for expressing her true love—campaigning for human rights.

Once Rosensteel had shared these stories, she took a seat center-stage and opened up a discussion with the audience.  The conversation comprised of questions about where Rosensteel had gotten the idea for her performance and how she personally deals with a topic that is often disheartening and depressing.  In response to these inquiries, Rosensteel mentioned that the entire process involved coming to grips with her own self-hatred and channeling it into something productive.  Fortunately, Rosensteel is comfortable with her body and wants to encourage that confidence in her audience.  According to her, “it’s really about owning your own space, and owning your own body.  Taking pride in who you are.”  Taking that into consideration, Rosensteel wanted to convey that many historic fat ladies prided themselves on who they were despite not fitting into society’s mold.  She also went onto mention that there should never be a mold in the first place  No matter the size, Rosensteel believes that everyone should be comfortable with themselves and not allow others to discourage them—just like the women she personifies in her act.

Other than the fat lady performance, Rosensteel also has created a movie in which she confronts images of her own body.  Even though she is comfortable with her appearance, she realized that she had never actually looked at her body.  So she had a photographer take nude photos of her which she then made into poster size images she placed around her house.  She then went onto show the film at an academic conference and several film festivals around the country.  Despite the experience being rather traumatic, Rosensteel wants this movie to be in conversation with the book that she is currently working on and hopes to finish soon.  In the end, she wants society to reevaluate their opinions of body image and what is considered “attractive.”  However, Rosensteel acknowledges that in order for this transformation to happen, constant communication is needed.  Therefore, she also encouraged her audience to interact with her and keep her updated on what they are doing.  She is currently working on recreating her website, but she is easily accessible via her Facebook account.  This communication is key to increasing awareness of society’s perceptions concerning body image and the “freak” and giving those that are considered “different” the advocacy that they deserve.