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People

Graduate Students

Our doctoral and graduate programs have a combined total of more than fifty students actively pursuing the PhD or MA degree in Afro-American Studies, or our graduate certificate in African Diaspora Studies. Our students come to us from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Ivy League liberal arts colleges, as well as from international institutions as far away as Japan, France, China, Colombia, Brazil, and Austria. Each year’s class forms a cohort that collaborate and support each other in a collegial way. Recent cohorts of MA and PhD students are listed below:


Picture of Elise Barnett Elise Barnett

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

ebarnett@umass.edu

2021

Elise Barnett is from Nassau, Bahamas and received her BA in English from the University of the Bahamas. Her research interests, which include critical race studies, gender studies, and theories of diaspora and decolonization, are informed by an interest in exploring the ways Afro-Caribbean women respond to traumas caused by colonialism and neocolonialism in their everyday praxis.

 

picture of Makhai Pells Makhai Dickerson-Pells

MA
History & Politics

mdickersonpe@umass.edu

2021

Makhai Pells was born and raised in the town of Barnstable on Cape Cod, Ma. He received a BA in History from UMass Amherst in 2021. Aside from academics he was involved in cultural student organizations at UMass as the former President of the African Student Association, Vice President of the Cape Verdean Student Alliance, and Event Coordinator for the Native American Student Association. His research interests include Afro-Indigenous identity, cultural syncretism, African Diasporic studies, languages (including creoles and pidgins) Black Maritime history, and the cross-cultural relationships of Black and Indigenous peoples in the Americas, especially in New England and the eastern United States.

picture of Olivia Haynes Olivia Haynes

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

ohaynes@umass.edu

2021

Olivia Haynes is from Philadelphia, PA. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa society, she received her B.A. in Visual and Material Culture with Africana Studies and Peace Studies from Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. Her research interests include unpacking historicized spaces and investigating ways of visualizing and reconstructing memories of the Middle Passage through the lens of visual and material culture. 

 

picture of Marcus Smith Marcus Smith

Ph.D.
History & Politics

mpsmith@umass.edu

2021

Marcus Smith is from Houston, Texas. He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Houston and his M.A. in African-American Studies from Georgia State University. His research interests include the study of domestic and international social movements, history of the Southern United States, critical race theory, Africana critical theory, and the construction of race, ethnicity and nationalism in the United States as it relates to interracial political relationships, ideology, and practices.

picture of Paul Michael Thomson Paul Michael Thomson

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

pthomson@umass.edu

2021

Paul Michael Thomson is an interdisciplinary scholar, theatre artist, and cofounder of The Story Theatre, 501(c)(3) in Chicago, IL. After graduating summa cum laude with a BA in Africana Studies, a BFA in Acting, and minors in Spanish and Art History from the Honors College at the University of Arizona, Paul Michael moved to Chicago, where he works as an actor, playwright, educator, and artistic producer. His plays--including Fremont Junior High Is NOT Doing Oklahoma!, Artemis Books & the Well-Meaning Man, and The G.O.A.T., or Who Is Ximone?--have been produced around the United States. Paul Michael's research centers on Black Feminist drama and dramatists, the new play development praxes of the Black Arts Movement, modalities of decentralizing power in artistic institutions, and the intersection between creativity and Black liberation. Buttressed by his experience and positionality in the professional theatre landscape, Paul Michael seeks to interrogate and dismantle racism and white supremacy through (and within) artistic practice. Past honors include being named a Flinn Foundation scholar designate, a Chicago Dramatists M.E.H. Lewis scholar, and the Outstanding Senior of the College of Fine Arts. To engage more with Paul Michael's work, please visit paulmichaelthomson.com.

Dominick Braswell

Ph.D.
History & Politics

dbraswell@umass.edu

2020

Dominick Braswell is from Brooklyn, New York. He is a community organizer who works predominantly in poor/working-class black & brown neighborhoods. Dominick received his B.A. in Africana Studies with a minor in American Studies from Brooklyn College at the City University of New York. His research focuses on public housing and the ways that despite a body of scholarship deeply critical of welfare reform (and the attacks on the social safety net), these scholars have overlooked the attack on public housing. Dominick's broader research interests include 20th Century Afro-American history, Black Social Movements, gender studies, race, and public policy

Karl Lyn

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

klyn@umass.edu

2020

Karl Lyn was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, California. He received his B.A in Africana Studies and Educational Studies from Dickinson College, and his Master’s of Education (M.Ed) from UMass Amherst. His interests include the intersections between Black cultural production, racial politics, and education in the United States.

Rodriguez Tatiana

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture
picture of Christian Woods Christian Woods

Ph.D.
History & Politics

cwoods@umass.edu

2020

Christian Floyd Woods was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts. He received his B.A. in Afro-American Studies from the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst in 2020. As an undergraduate at UMass Amherst, Woods was a member of numerous cultural organizations, including C.V.S.A., H.A.S.A., S.O.C.A., B.S.U., A.S.A., E.O.R.O. as well as serving as secretary for the Afro-American Studies Undergraduate Council. Woods is well rounded in African-American and African history as a whole but specializes in 20th century African-American music history, African-American film history, and the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. 

picture of Maya Cunningham Maya Cunningham

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

mccunningham@umass.edu

2019

Maya Cunningham is an ethnomusicologist, cultural activist and jazz vocalist. She has an MA in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She also holds a BMus. in jazz studies from Howard University and a MA in jazz performance from Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. Her research interests are in African-American and Southern African traditional music and identity, jazz, culturally responsive music education and applied ethnomusicology. In 2017 she received a Fulbright fellowship to study traditional music and national identity in Botswana and has presented her research and writing at conferences nationally and internationally. In 2017 she launched Ethnomusicology In Action, a project thatuses music, video, radio broadcasts and educational curricula to share stories about the people of Africa, African America and the Diaspora. As a part of this project Cunningham has a radio show called Music In Culture: Sounds of the Black Experiencethat airs monthly on WOWD 94.3 FM Takoma Radio. Learn more at www.EthnomusicologyInAction.com

 

 

Njoki Ngugi

MA
History & Politics

nngugi@umass.edu

2019

Njoki wa Ngugi is from Limuru, Kenya. She has a B.A in Africa and African Diapora Studies from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Njoki is interested in researching and understanding through history and politics, how Slavery and Colonialism have played a role in displacing Africans on the Continent and in the diaspora through culture, language and religion.

picture of Zia Zhang Jia Zhang

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

jiazhang@umass.edu

2019

Jia Zhang obtained her master’s degree in English Language and Literature from Guangdong University of Finance and Economics in 2018. During her undergraduate years, Jia co-translated into Chinese two novels (The Little Voiceby Joss Sheldon; Liar Girlby Andre Michael Govier) and a narrative poem (The Chronicles of Romeoby Ikenna Chinedu Okeh). She also published a paper on Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Streetand contributed an entry on Mae Cowdery to the Harlem Renaissance Encyclopedia (ed. by Professor Venetria K. Patton). 

Mtali Banda Mtali Banda

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

mbanda@umass.edu

2018

Mtali Banda grew up between Madison, WI and Atlanta Georgia. He received his B.A. in Afro-American Studies from UMass Amherst. He is interested in how black music has been used to share marginalized narratives and to help develop needed conversations. A musician himself, Mtali is on the literature and culture track.

José Gonzalez José Gonzalez

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

jigonzalez@umass.edu

2018

José Gonzalez currently resides in Springfield, MA. He received his B.A. in Sociology with a double minor in Philosophy and Ethnic Studies from Westfield State University. José is interested in investigating how Colonialism has impacted the development of African descendants in North America and the Caribbean. His plan is to bridge the divide amongst African descendants in the Americas through educational praxis.

Quaram Robinson

Ph.D.
History & Politics

2018

Biko (Jefferson) Caruthers Biko Caruthers

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

jcaruthers@umass.edu

2017

Biko Caruthers is a PhD Candidate in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Biko holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies Education from Oklahoma Christian University (2011) and a Masters degree in History from the University of Central Oklahoma (2017). Biko’s research interests include 19th- and 20th-century Black literature, Black visual culture, gender studies, queer theory, childhood studies, Afropessimism, psychoanalysis, slavery and its afterlives and Black critical theory. Biko’s dissertation-in-progress is titled “Black Changeling: The Uncanny Genius of the African Child” which explores how Black cultural producers, specifically writers and visual artists, have deployed the figure of the Black child in order to critique and disregard the category of the Human.

Yelana Sims

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

ysims@umass.edu

2017

Yelana Sims is from Spartanburg, S.C. She received her B.A. in African American and Diaspora Studies from Vanderbilt University and her M.A. in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from George Washington University. Her interests include Black female sexuality, gender and sexual performativity within social media and popular culture, as well as modern iterations of respectability politics. She has received the REAL fellowship from the University.

Bianki Torres

Ph.D.
History & Politics

bjtorres@umass.edu

2017

Bianki Torres is originally from Providence, Rhode Island. He double-majored in History, with a focus in Latin America, and Africana Studies at Rhode Island College. After a year hiatus from academia, he returned to school to receive his Master’s in Afro-American Studies at UMass’ W.E.B. Dubois Department, with a focus on African American music history. Much of Bianki’s interests have been guided by his journey in higher education and exposure to various fields. Some of these interests include Black feminisms, Marxism, Black Radical Thought, Decolonial Praxis, Prison Abolition and, very recently, Black Trans Studies. On his spare time, if he isn’t digging through record stores for vinyl, he’s playing the guitar somewhere out in the world.

Travis Davis Travis Davis

Ph.D.
History & Politics

tdavis@educ.umass.edu

2016

Travis Davis is from Mobile, Alabama. He received his BA in History from the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama, and his M.Ed. with a concentration in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has also studied at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Alabama. His interests include the intersection of race and education, and how this intersection has historically impacted the black community.

Paul Fowler

Ph.D.
History & Politics
Candace King

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

csking@umass.edu

2016

Candace King is from Maplewood, New Jersey. She studied Journalism and Politics at Ithaca College in upstate New York. Her interests are in formations of black female identities and misrepresentations in mainstream media.

Kymberly S. Newberry Kymberly S. Newberry

Ph.D.
History & Politics

knewberry@umass.edu

2016

Kymberly Newberry is from Los Angeles, California. A proud Frances Perkins Scholar, she received her B.A. in International Relations from Mount Holyoke College. Her interests include, the intersectionality of visual art and diplomacy, Francophone Africa and the influence of Africa on the Iranian Revolution. 
 

Erika Slocumb

Ph.D.
History & Politics

eslocumb@umass.edu

2016

Erika Slocumb was born and raised of Springfield, MA. She is a mother, an artist, a community organizer, world traveler and an advocate for social justice. Erika is the cofounder of the community organization the Western Mass Women’s Collective. Erika received her B.A. in Social Justice Education and a MS in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst.

Cécile Yézou Cécile Yézou

Ph.D.
History & Politics

cyezou@umass.edu

2016

Cécile Yézou is from Paris, France. She received her double License (equivalent to B.A.) in French Literature and Language / English studies from Sorbonne University Paris IV. She then pursued a M.A. in English studies, specializing in Afro-American history. Her research interests include 20th century history, women's history, and interdisciplinary approaches to history including psychology, theory and communication studies. Her current research focuses on a comparative analysis of interracial sexual assault, with an emphasis on black women's experiences.

Kiara Hill Kiara Hill

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

kiarahill@umass.edu

2015

Kiara Hill is from Sacramento, CA. She received her B.A. in Mass Communications from Sacramento State University, and her M.A. in Women’s Studies from the University of Alabama. Her interests include Black female sexuality in popular culture, transnational feminism, Black feminism, and Anti-haitianismo in the Dominican Republic.

Chloe Hunt Chloe Hunt

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

chunt@umass.edu

2015

Chloe Hunt is from Eugene, Oregon. She attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington where she studied Literature and African-American Studies. Her interests are in identity formation in contemporary Black literature and television.

Ivan Rosario Ivan Rosario

Ph.D.
History & Politics

irosario@umass.edu

2015

Ivan Rosario was born and raised in Springfield, MA. He received his B.A. in Ethnic and Gender Studies from Westfield State University. Ivan interests focus on the use of Hip Hop, sports and other forms of entertainment as social tools of exploitation and degradation of Black culture.

Olivia Ekeh Olivia Ekeh

Ph.D.
History & Politics

oekeh@umass.edu

2014

Olivia Ekeh is from Worcester, Massachusetts. She received her B.A in History and minored in Black Studies from UMass Dartmouth. Olivia’s interests include 20th Century Black History with a special interest in black identity during the Black Arts Movement of the 1950’s to 1970’s. She is also interested in researching the history of the Gullah people of the Sea Islands.

Keyona Jones Keyona Jones

Ph.D.
Literature & Culture

kijones@umass.edu

2014

Keyona Jones joined the M.A. program and is from Springfield, MA. Keyona received her B.A. in English and Afro-American Studies from UMass Amherst. She is president of her sorority, Delta Xi Phi Multicultural Sorority Inc. Keyona’s interests include Women of the Harlem Renaissance. She would like to examine the female artists, both musicians and writers of the time, with a focus on the literature of Zora Neale Hurston.

Maria Ximena Abello Hurtado

Ph.D.
History & Politics

mabellohurta@afroam.umass.edu

2012

Maria Ximena Abello Hurtado is from Cali, Columbia. She is a social worker who graduated from Universidad del Valle. As an active member of the Afro Colombian Group GAUV, she has participated as researcher in several projects related to the problems of Afro Colombian women and families. Her research has helped established complex linkages between family, gerontology and intercultural issues; effects of multiple forms of discrimination on Afro descended women in the case of access to public health care in Cali.

Anthony Phillips

Ph.D.
History & Politics

aphillips@afroam.umass.edu

2012

Anthony Phillips is from Philadelphia, PA and received his M.A. degree in Black Religion in the African Diaspora from Yale Divinity School. In 2010, he graduated as a Benjamin Elijah Mays Scholar with a B.A. in African American Studies and Philosophy from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Anthony is an alumni member of The Institute for Responsible Citizenship and is the proud Co-Founder of Youth Action, a Philadelphia based youth-led service non-profit operated by young African Americans.

Robert Williams Robert Williams

Ph.D.
History & Politics

rwillila@acad.umass.edu

2011

Robert Williams was born and raised in the Pioneer Valley. He received his B.A. in Education/History from American International College and an M.A. in Medieval History from Saint Andrews University. He is interested in examining the ghettoization and marginalization of African American experiences in American Secondary School U.S. History curricula.

Cynara Robinson Cynara Robinson

Ph.D.
History & Politics

ckrobins@afroam.umass.edu

2008

Cynara Robinson is from New Orleans, Louisanna. She received her B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in History from Howard University. Her research interests include looking at social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, inclusive of interests in the urban rebellions and those occurring on black college campuses.

DeRoy Gordon DeRoy Gordon

Ph.D.
History & Politics

gordonderoy@gmail.com

2006

DeRoy Gordon received his B.A. in Political Science from Long Island University and an M.A. in Public Administration/Management from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in N.Y. His research interests are African American politics focusing on 19th Century African American political theory.