Skip to main content

Meet Taisha Naomi Bayliss: Hellmann Scholar 2023-24

May 17, 2024

In this Q&A, we speak with Taisha Naomi Bayliss, a senior majoring in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Philosophy, who was selected as a 2023-2024 recipient of the Donald C. and Margery S. Hellmann Scholarship award.

Unique to the Jackson School, the award provides a $5,000 stipend to support the education and training of a Jackson School undergraduate major with demonstrated excellence in international studies, clear interest in a career in international affairs, and with a strong and creative commitment to promoting the international public good.

Taisha Bayliss

Taisha Naomi Bayliss ’24

Name: Taisha Naomi Bayliss
Degree: Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Philosophy
Expected to graduate in: June 2024
Hometown: Playas de Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

How did you choose UW?
I’m a transfer student, so my choice was a little complex but also pre-determined by my material circumstances to some degree. First, I did my Associate of Arts degree at Green River College, which has a Direct Transfer Agreement with the University of Washington, so it was easiest to transfer to UW. However, I chose Green River College in part because of the transfer agreement program with UW. I also certainly did not have the means to look outside the state for universities, and by the end of my A.A., I had decided to major in philosophy, which is also part of the reason I chose UW in Seattle specifically; it has the best philosophy program in Washington state and a really good program nationally as well.

What inspired you to major in Latin American and Caribbean Studies?
Well, I knew I wanted to major in Philosophy; however, by the time I was accepted to UW and had my first meeting with my adviser, I had figured out I actually wanted to double major. I had been working in the field of immigration and originally had gone to school with the intention to attend law school but had reignited my love of philosophy during my time at Green River College and suddenly did not know what to do with myself. I felt like the need to teach and learn philosophy was invaluable; it taught me to become self-possessed, to have true agency over myself, and act in accordance with my beliefs, but I was also devoted in my heart to my community, to Latin Americans and immigrants and I did not know how to make these things intersect. In fact, I didn’t know that things like “International Studies” or “Latin American and Caribbean Studies” majors existed. My dad never went to college, and though my immigrant mother did, she died when I was 13, so I am navigating the system on my own.

Gina Gould [Undergraduate Adviser, Philosophy Department] and Joni Marts [Senior Undergraduate Academic Adviser, Jackson School of International Studies], who have always supported me in every measure, were the ones to whom I mentioned my conundrum and my sense of being pulled in two directions. They both were immediately so excited about me and my passion. I felt so encouraged and supported even though I was just feeling around in the dark, and I felt like I didn’t know anything about anything; they were the ones who helped me figure out my double major. When I realized Latin American and Caribbean Studies to me, that was a thing I could do, I just lit up and immediately decided this was the thing. And just like that, I was double majoring and finding the intersection between these two disciplines for myself.

Tell us about your reaction on receiving the Hellmann Scholar award.
I was in a meeting with the rest of the editorial board of the Jackson School Journal when I received the email. I opened it and was supremely confused, believing it was some kind of clickbait, and closed it quickly and finished my meeting filled with anxiety. Immediately after the meeting, I slammed my hand down on my phone, opened up my email again, and re-read the email about six times (to be honest, I feel I stared at it blankly for several seconds too), and then I called out to my fiancé in tears with a great many inappropriate incredulous exhortations. It took me quite a while to compose myself, and I re-checked and re-read the email several times over the next couple of days to make sure I had not misread it or somehow fabricated it in my mind. It just felt extremely unreal. I am humbled and still a little dumbfounded to have received such an honor.

Tell us how the award helps your goals and career path.
This award will principally support my applications for graduate school and my application process throughout the year. I have several disabilities that make it difficult for me to work very much, so this will be helpful in supplementing my income while I work through this gap year and on my applications.

What Jackson School class impacted you the most and why?
States and Capitalism (JSIS 200) was a really impactful class for me, but not necessarily intrinsically. Professor Reşat Kasaba is an amazing professor. He doesn’t always teach this class, but he did when I took it, and the way that he taught the class was incredibly impactful. Human Rights in Latin America (JSIS A 324), taught by Professor Angelina Godoy, is also an incredible class. Professor Godoy’s unconventional teaching style will force you to confront yourself, but you will emerge as a better student and a more rigorous human being if you give yourself over to the process of it. Her class is a big reason I realized I needed to change my goals for the future to something more praxis-oriented rather than try to force a discipline focused on theory to expand its reach.

Key skills from the Jackson School you’ll apply to your career?
The Jackson School has taught me the importance of interdisciplinarity. I didn’t have the language to say that when I first arrived at the UW, but interdisciplinarity is what my mind was seeking. I didn’t know how to create it for myself at first, but the classes and teachers under the Jackson School and Latin American and Caribbean Studies umbrella are so varied that you do end up getting a generally pretty interdisciplinary education so long as you also are putting in the work to take classes that are situating themselves to analyze issues or regions from different disciplines, modalities or methodologies. Some of my classes seem repetitive if you look at my transcript, but they were essentially the same course from a philosophical perspective, from a Law, Societies & Justice perspective, and from a historical perspective. Each discipline focuses on something slightly different and will give you a different methodology to analyze the same subject, which, all in all, helps you become a highly rigorous and versatile thinker and interlocutor with a lot of plasticity. Similarly, even just within the Jackson School, I could take one class taught by a historian and another by an economist and get two very different analyses of the same historical moment because the methodologies and focuses of the disciplines analyze different aspects, but by studying both, you arm yourself with a more holistic understanding because nothing actually happens in a vacuum. I will definitely be this kind of interdisciplinary thinker for the rest of my life, and I think the Jackson School was a little like training wheels to figure out how to do that.

What advice do you have for prospective Jackson School students?
If you want to be a rigorous scholar or person with intellectual integrity and cogency, you have to supplement your education with information from other disciplines. Be intellectually promiscuous. Take a lot of history classes, take a lot of anthropology classes, Law, Societies & Justice classes, Philosophy classes, Labor Studies classes. Look in all the nooks and crannies, learn from all the methodologies of each discipline, do not let your knowledge become siloed and stagnant. The Jackson School gives you wiggle room to do this: to fulfill your major’s requirements from various disciplines that intersect and coexist with the Jackson School, make the most of that, be rigorous, and seek out those intersections of disciplines and methodologies.