The waiting was agonizing for Asha Marie Larson-Baldwin ’22. On the day she would learn whether she had been accepted as one of only 12 class of 2023 George J. Mitchell Scholars, Larson-Baldwin was too worked up to sit still on campus. So, she and friend and mentor Emilee O’Brien ’17 went downtown to kill some time.
Earlier, following an intense, four-part video interview process spanning three months, Larson-Baldwin was told by a U.S.-Ireland Alliance representative that she would get a call if the news was good and an email if she was not among the recipients.
“I was hanging out with Emilee, and I saw my phone light up with a 202 (Washington, D.C.) number,” Larson-Baldwin said. That’s when she knew she had made it.
“It was late and super cold. I ran out of the restaurant, and I couldn’t stop laughing, because if I did, I would cry,” said Larson-Baldwin. “It just felt unreal.”
Chosen from a field of 351 applicants, Larson-Baldwin will embark on an expenses-paid, one-year master’s program in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where she will study public history at Queen’s University.
The last time Furman University laid claim to a Mitchell Scholar was in 2003 when Monica C. Bell ’03 was honored. Bell, a member of the Mitchell Scholars selection committee, is an associate professor of law and an associate professor of sociology at Yale.
Larson-Baldwin made her mark on her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, before she ever set foot on the Furman campus. She collected 10,000 signatures for a petition in support of changing the name of her high school named for Wade Hampton, a slaveholder and Confederate general during the Civil War.
“I’m really interested in how public symbolism and sites of memory can aid in the peacemaking process and in communities that have struggled with conflict,” said Larson-Baldwin, who is studying advocacy and justice as part of an individualized curriculum program at Furman.
“At Queen’s University, I’m hoping to learn more about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and to be able to apply that knowledge in the South. That’s where I see myself doing work – in things like Confederate monuments and how we reckon with legacies of slavery,” she said.
During one of her interviews, she was asked about what she’s looking forward to when she travels to Northern Ireland in 2022-2023.
The first and most honest thing that came to Larson-Baldwin’s mind probably wasn’t what the selection panel expected.
“I told them I’m excited to go on a ‘Derry Girls’ filming location tour,” she said, laughing. The Nexflix comedy series is set in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the 1990s during the latter part of the Troubles. She will be only an hour away from the filming location.
“I guess the more sensible answer is that I’m thrilled to be in a community that’s not my home,” said Larson-Baldwin. “It’s been really rewarding to get to go to college in the same place I grew up. But it will be really nice to add a new global dimension to what I’m interested in doing for work one day, and the questions I’m interested in investigating.”