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Current Graduate Students

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Amaris Brown


Amaris is a second year PhD student in Africana Studies at Cornell University. She previously earned a B.A. in African & Afro-American Studies and Sociology from Brandeis University. Her undergraduate thesis “A Taste of Blue Sky: Black Women Writing the Speculative in American Fiction” analyzes literary depictions of black women and girls who upset racial/social/sexual systems in order to examine the significance of imagination and improvisation as defining features of black woman and girlhood. Her current research draws mainly from literary fiction to investigate the production of myth, curse, and lore. Advancing black feminist theories of the body, studies in time, sensory imaginings, and modes of disciplining the body as they are constituted and interpreted by the narratives of those imprecated, this research attempts to work out temporalities of trauma, pleasure, and being.

Zifeng Liu


Zifeng Liu is a second-year Africana Ph.D. student from Qingdao, China and has a M.A. in American Studies from Brown University, a M.A. in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and a B.A. in English from South-Central University for Nationalities. His research interests include Black transnationalism/internationalism, the African diaspora, Black radicalism, U.S. foreign relations, and the Third World, and his current project examines the historical and theoretical intersections of the Black radical tradition and Chinese communism during the Cold War.

Afifa Ltifi


Afifa Ltifi joins the program last year from Tunisia, where she received a master's in Cross Cultural Studies and a BA in English from the University of Languages of Tunis. She was a staff writer, fixer, and a contributor to  various media outlets such as  Urban Africa, Aljazeera English and Tunisia Live. Her research interests include racial formation in the Maghreb, black minority rights, and youth culture in the newly found spaces of freedom in post-revolution Tunisia.

Alexsandra Mitchell


Alexsandra Mitchell is a first year doctoral student whose work explores the African Diaspora, spirituality, and the arts. Alexsandra earned her B.A. in Afro-American Studies from Howard University, and a dual masters in Library Science and Africana Studies from Long Island University and New York University  where her thesis, It’s All in the Music: the African-American and Afro-Latin@ Communities in New York City 1940-1960, won first place in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Threesis Competition.  She worked in various capacities at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, National Geographic Television, The Library of Congress, The West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal, The New York Historical Society, and The Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York, and was a lecturer at New York University’s Gallatin School for Individualized Study. Her many fellowships and awards include a National Diversity in Libraries Conference travel award, The Academy Awards Documenting Cinema Film Librarians Conference travel award, and two University of Virginia’s Rare Book School scholarships. She is co-author of Research Techniques and Strategies for the Study of Black Writings, Rowman & Littlefield, and a contributor to Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in Library and Information Science, both forthcoming.

Kanyinsola Obayan


Kanyinsola Obayan is investigating questions of nationalism and postcoloniality; transnationalism, diaspora, and globalization in contemporary Nigeria. She was granted a 2016 pre-doctoral fellowship, courtesy of the West African Research Association (WARA) located at Boston University’s African Studies Center, for research in Nigeria: "In Search of 'The Nigerian Dream:' Transnational Migrants and the Politics of Home.” Although born and partially raised in Lagos, Nigeria, she has spent the majority of her life in the United States. However, she proudly calls Nigeria her home. Through her many years of living as an African outside of Africa, she has become a deeply committed advocate of Africa in her social, professional, and intellectual environments and pursuits. Her life’s passion is to communicate the complexity of African cultural practices and knowledge productions. She holds bachelor’s degrees in International Relations and Global Studies, as well as African and African Diaspora Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. WARA’s mission is to foster the production and dissemination of current research on West Africa and the diaspora, to promote scholarly exchange among West African scholars and institutions and their counterparts in the U.S. and beyond. 

Kevin C. Quin


Kevin C. Quin is a first year Africana Ph.D. student from Chicago, Illinois and has a B.A., summa cum laude, from DePaul University in Journalism, Communication and Media, and African and Black Diaspora studies. His research interests include 20th century African American cultural history, gender and sexuality, and visual and material culture. He is a member of the African American Intellectual History Society and contributes regularly to Black Perspectives, the leading online platform for public scholarship on global black thought, history, and culture.

Natalia Santiesteban-Mosquera


Natalia, a second-year graduate student, was born and raised in Bogotá-Colombia, and holds a B.A in Languages and Sociocultural Studies from the University of Andes and a Master’s in Gender Studies from the National University of Colombia. Her academic production is focused on race dynamics in the capital of her country, mainly in the perspective of discourse analysis. Both her master’s and undergraduate works approach everyday racism in conversation with dominant  national discourses about race, gender, class and sexuality. Her  (auto)ethnographic  dissertation on biographic narratives of Black women in Bogotá will be published  by the Centre for Afro-Diasporan Studies (CEAF) of  Icesi University, from which she is an associate researcher.

Nadia Sasso


Nadia Sasso has a dual B.A. degree in English and Sociology from Bucknell University and an M.A. in American Studies with a certification in Documentary Film from Lehigh University. Her master’s project was a documentary film, “Am I: Too African to be American or Too American to be African?” which explores the complex identity formations of young African women living in America and West Africa who identify bi-culturally. It specifically looks at how they wrestle with concepts of race, complexion, gender, and heritage among other issues.

She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Africana Studies at Cornell University where she will continue to use film and new media to generate qualitative insights into the fusion of U.S. and African experiences, as well as identify the contours of new identity formations among immigrants beyond the first generation.

Born in America to parents who emigrated from Sierra Leone, Sasso believes in the potential for collaboration to inspire innovation. She spearheaded the corporate social responsibility initiative at Royal Dynamite so that the company donates an educational care package to children around the world when a t-shirt is purchased from the company. The initiative has led to collaboration with more than  300 organizations in countries across the globe. In 2010 she co-founded Yehri Wi Cry (YWC), an organization that distributes birthing kits in Sierra Leone to increase the successful birth and delivery rates for women. Named among Katie Couric's "Next Generation of Female Leaders," Sasso received the "Young African Committed to Excellence Award" by Face2Face Africa magazine. She is also the 2013 recipient of the Posse Foundation's Ainslie Alumni Achievement Award.

Lauren Siegel


Lauren Siegel is a first year Africana PhD student from Los Angeles, California. She graduated with honors from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Black Studies. She also earned her MA in African Literature from University of London, SOAS, where she explored male-authored feminist films in francophone West Africa. Lauren’s most recent position in Ghana allowed her to work as an international baccalaureate literature teacher to students from across 16 African countries. Her research interests include black feminist theory, cinema studies and African film, gender and sexuality, and the cultural construction of the artist.

Marshall Smith


Marshall L. Smith has been drawn to francophone culture since his childhood, spent primarily in the New Orleans area. He studied French literature as an undergraduate and received an M.A. in Français Langue Etrangère with a designated emphasis in Francophone Studies from the University of Arizona-Tucson. He has also studied and taught as a lecteur d'anglais at the Institut d'Anglais, Charles V- Université Paris Diderot-Paris 7. He was the recipient of a fellowship to study French as a second language at the Université de Mons-Hainaut in Mons, Belgium offered by La Communauté Wallonie-Bruxelles and CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana).

Smith comes to the Africana Studies doctoral program at Cornell from the French Studies graduate program at Tulane under the tutelage of Dr. Jean-Godefroy Bidima, a Collège International de Philosophie à Paris fellow. His current research examines symbolic, political, and economic questions surrounding water in relation to diaspora formation with a geographical focus on the U.S. South and the Caribbean. This study is not a mere analysis of the symbolic economics of water, but an examination of the relationship that exists between water and blood.

His choice of research is linked to his South Louisiana ancestry, which has a strong historical French, Spanish, English, and African past.  His work equally seeks to determine the plurality of memorial spaces regarding the traite negrière. For him, water and blood are such spaces.

Sarah Then Bergh


Sarah Then Bergh is a first year PhD student at the Africana Studies and Research Center, at Cornell University. Originally from Germany, she earned her BSc. Econ. (hons.) in International Politics and her M.A. (hons.) in International Relations on the David Davies Scholarship, at Aberystwyth University, Wales. Her undergraduate dissertation followed a Bourdieusian theoretical framework and feminist epistemological critiques of subjectivity formation to examine how societal structures continue to subjugate women in Western communities. Her master’s dissertation, for which she was awarded the Alfred Zimmern Prize by the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth, explored how music can act as a model for the theoretical encounter among the mainstream theoretical IR canon and ‘international relations from below’, to allow for their mutual engagement, premised on intersubjective socialization. In continuation of these projects, her current research interests are embedded in explorations of the philosophy of polyrhythmic African and African diasporic music and its relationship to: diasporic subjectivity formation; critiques of hegemonic cosmological underpinnings in the mainstream theoretical approaches to international relations; dialogical ethics in the music’s sociological settings; as well as explorations of black feminist body politics in relation to dance (and) performance.

Olumayowa Willoughby


Mayowa holds a B.A in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College which they received in 2014. Their undergraduate thesis “But The Color Stayed” explored the ways in which the lived experiences of Turks of African descent reflected for whom the Turkish nation state was – and categorically was not – intended. Their current work draws upon Africana, indigenous, and so-called Near Eastern studies in an attempt to explore the relationship between the position of Africa within the Ottoman imaginary and the interpellation of black and blackened persons within the Turkish national landscape. 

Kristen Wright


Kristen Wright previously earned an MA in African-American Studies from Columbia University, and a BA in Theater Studies and Political Science at Yale University. Her work is focused on African-American women's drama, particularly the works of Adrienne Kennedy. She is particularly interested in the ways that Kennedy and other black female playwrights transform canonical works by white playwrights. Her article "'The Killing of My Mother I Claim Myself': Adrienne Kennedy's Electra and Orestes, Aeschylus' Oresteia, and the Question of Justice," recently won the 2016 Marvin Carlson Award for Best Student Essay in Theatre and Performance from Cornell's Department of Performing and Media Arts. Kristen is also a playwright, and her play APPLE CORE will be produced as a part of Cornell's 10 Minute Play Festival this fall.