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Afifa Ltifi


Afifa Ltifi joins the program this 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.

Amaris Brown


Amaris is a first 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.

Natalia Santiesteban-Mosquera


Natalia, a first-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.

Zifeng Liu


Originally from Qingdao, China, Zifeng Liu earned a B.A. in English from South-Central University for Nationalities and a M.A. in American Studies from Brown University, and is completing a second M.A. in International Relations at Beijing Foreign Studies University. His academic interests include black transnationalism/internationalism, the African diaspora, black feminism, black radicalism, modern China, U.S. foreign relations, Asian American radicalism, and the Cold War. His research examines post-World War II African diasporic-Chinese encounters and exchanges and in particular the incorporation of China into Africana radical thought and praxis during the Cold War era. His articles on African American literature and American politics have been published in the Initium Media and the Journal of Beihang University (Humanities and Social Sciences).

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. 

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 where she was honored for her commitment to social respon

Marsha-Jean Charles


Marsha Jean-Charles is interested in transnational literary studies of black women's bildungsroman and immigration novels. She endeavors to research the cosmologies and revolutionary politics aroused from forced migration and statelessness. A Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, her undergraduate thesis was titled: "Of Griottes & Pantomimes, is a work elucidating the place of Black Feminisms in the novels of Edwidge Danticat." In her Master's thesis, titled: "Embodying Goddesses: Edwidge Danticat's Literary Revolution," she mixes historical narratives and two of Edwidge Danticat's short stories to include the voices of revolutionary women in Haiti's war for independence. 

An organizer at her core she wishes to fuse her academic work with her activist work and expand understandings of the uses of literary and performance art as tools for activism.

Marsha has a BA from Wesleyan University and a MA from Columbia University.

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.

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.