Mercer students present, win top award at annual culture conference

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Five college students standing in front of spired building
(l-r) Cameron Hutchins, Ivana Opoku, Benjamin Smith, Laila Siyam, Aylah Birks at the 2023 PCAS/ACAS conference in New Orleans. Photo courtesy Dr. Kevin Cummings

MACON — Five Mercer University students presented at the 2023 Popular Culture Association in the South and American Culture Association in the South (PCAS/ACAS) conference Sept. 27-30 in New Orleans. 

Along with publishing two journals, PCAS/ACAS meet annually to present and discuss ideas about popular culture, American culture and culture worldwide.

Aylah Maresa Birks, a junior neuroscience major from Dry Branch, won the top student paper award for the 2023 conference, a category that includes both graduate and undergraduate students. She presented “I’ve Got a Story to Tell: The Power of Black Feminine Storytelling.”  

“The PCAS conference is always a delight to attend and present research at,” Birks said. “It is a marvelous opportunity to elevate thinking and perspectives on the analysis of popular and American culture, while growing your experienced education about the different spaces and pieces that we all gravitate towards in our culture.”  

Other student presenters at the conference: 

Cameron Denise Hutchins, a junior global health studies major from Norcross, presented “Breaking the Chains: Masculinity Unveiled in Moonlight’s Triumph.”

Ivana Opoku, a junior finance major from Lithonia, presented “Beauty and the Beast: Analyzing Gender and Race in Media Portrayals of Marilyn Monroe and Tupac Shakur.”

Laila Farid Siyam, a junior kinesiology (pre-med) major from Rocky Face, presented “Skin-Deep Heroism vs. Body-Filled Monstrosity: Edward Cullen of the Twilight Series.”

Benjamin Todd Smith, a senior biology and communication studies double-major from Macon, presented “Comparing Prison Systems: Lessons from Azkaban.” 

“I have worked closely with these five amazing students in classes in our Integrated Curriculum (INT) program and in communication studies courses,” said Dr. Kevin Cummings, professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “They are outstanding ambassadors for Mercer, and it was wonderful watching them present their work to the broader academic community. I am especially proud of Aylah Birks who won the 2023 PCAS/ACAS top student paper award.”