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The College of Arts Sciences

Current Graduate Students

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Amaris Brown


Amaris Diana Brown is a third-year doctoral student in the Africana Studies & Research Center. A 2018 Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow and 2018 Mellon Urban Representation Lab recipient, Brown earned her B.A. in African & Afro-American Studies and Sociology from Brandeis University where she completed a thesis titled “A Taste of Blue Sky: Black Women Writing the Speculative in American Fiction”. Brown’s research examines relationships between and among the body, belief, gender, sexuality, and time in African diasporic literary and material culture, and reads across black queer life in the U.S. South and Spanish-speaking Caribbean throughout the 20th and 21stcenturies. Situated at the intersection of narrative theory, queer studies, and black feminism, Brown engages racialized and gendered theories of the body through fiction and folklore, methods of disciplining and desiring the body, and the social life of pain and pleasure.

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 second 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's 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, 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 PhD student in Africana Studies at Cornell University with a graduate minor in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies. He holds a B.A., summa cum laude, from DePaul University in Journalism, Communication and Media, and African and Black Diaspora studies. His research interests include African American Gay and Lesbian history, political imagination, cultural production, and transnationalism. He is also an Editorial Assistant for Black Perspectives, the leading online platform for public scholarship on global black thought, history, and culture published by the African American Intellectual History Society.

Natalia Santiesteban-Mosquera


Natalia, a third-year graduate student, was born and raised in Bogotá-Colombia. She 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. She is currently exploring the intersections of Black feminist and Queer activism, life narratives and religious practices of African matrix in the Spanish speaking Caribbean.

Her first book, El Color del Espejo (the color on the mirror) analyses biographic narratives of Black women in Bogotá was published in 2017 by the Centre for Afro-Diasporan Studies (CEAF) of  Icesi University, from which she is an associate researcher.

Nadia Sasso


For Nadia Sasso, the connection to the African Diaspora has always been strong. Born in America to Sierra Leonean immigrant parents, Sasso is a leader in establishing social and entrepreneurial connections across cultures and fostering civic responsibility. Her recent film Am I: Too African to be American, Too American to be African has been featured in media platforms, such as Centric, Jet, The Huffington Post, Blavity, The ColorLines, OkayAfrica, Black Enterprise, AfroPunk and has been recognized by film festivals nationally and internationally. She is changing the conversation on what it means to be African and American in America and on the continent via the digital landscape. 

She has leveraged her background in diversity, marketing, communications, and new media across notable stages including The White House, The Smithsonian, and Universities all over the world. Through her entrepreneurial ventures along with her passion of making connections she has worked with Issa Rae, Luvvie Ajayi, Jose Antonio Vargas, Viacom, Nielson, UBS, Peace Corps and the United Nations.

Sasso has a dual Bachelor’s degree in English and Sociology from Bucknell University where she was a Posse scholar. She has a Master’s degree in American Studies with a certification in Documentary Film from Lehigh University as well as a Master’s degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Africana Studies with a minor in Film Studies from Cornell University.

Lauren Siegel


Lauren Siegel is a second year PhD student in Africana Studies. She holds an MA in African Literature from University of London, SOAS, where she explored male-authored feminist films in francophone West Africa. She also served as Programming Associate for Film Africa, London’s annual festival of African cinema and culture. Lauren earned her BA in Black Studies (honors) from UC Santa Barbara, where her undergraduate dissertation on Black entrepreneurship under the Great Recession was selected for publication in the Department’s research journal, Black Studies Review. Her most recent position in Accra, Ghana allowed her to work as an international baccalaureate literature teacher to students from across 16 African countries. Prior to joining Cornell, she was Program Coordinator at MIT-AFRICA Initiative, which encourages mutually beneficial relationships in research, education, and innovation across the continent. Her research interests include Black feminist theory, body politics and forms of agency, and cinema studies and African film.

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


Bam Willoughby is a 4th year PhD student in the field of Africana Studies at Cornell University. They received their B.A in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College in 2014. Their undergraduate thesis “But The Color Stayed” was an interdisciplinary exploration of how the lived experiences of Turks of African descent reflected for whom the Turkish nation-state was—and was not—intended. Their dissertation uses literary analysis, archival research, and ethnography to argue that African-descended Turkish people’s relationships to land are critical indexes of modern Turkish history. Their works insists on the necessity of recuperating subjugated sites of historical inquiry and tending to the primacy of African genealogies of being within a contemporary Turkish landscape. In 2016 they were awarded the Foreign Language Areas Studies Fellowship through the U.S Department of Education. In 2018 they were awarded the Koc-Holding Fellowship through the Institute of Turkish Studies. Bam will spend the 2018-2019 academic year as a Visiting Researcher at Koc University, conducting ethnographic fieldwork with communities of Turks of African descent in and around Izmir, sharpening their scholastic cache rubbing shoulders with Koc University intellectual powerhouses, and meandering the Ottoman archives with great intent.

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.