Current Graduate Students

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Amaris Brown


Amaris D Brown is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Africana Studies at Cornell University. Amaris’ research examines the interrelation of the body, sexuality, and time in black experimental literature, performance, and visual culture. Situated at the intersections of queer theory, literary and performance studies, psychoanalysis, and black feminism(s), her work addresses themes of sexual comportment, temporality, and the affective life of bondage in 20thand 21stcentury black cultural production. Amaris has been awarded fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Institute for Comparative Modernities at Cornell University, the Mellon Collaborative Studies in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Zeyad el Nabolsy


Zeyad el Nabolsy is a first-year Africana PhD student from Egypt. He has an M.A. in philosophy from McMaster university and a B. Eng (chemical engineering and international studies, with a minor in philosophy) from McMaster university. His research interests include: the role of philosophy in liberation struggles on the African continent, the history of modern African philosophy, the history of African Marxism, Third World internationalism during the “Bandung period” (especially its cultural expression in journals like Lotus), and philosophy of culture in relation to the development of non-Eurocentric theories of modernity.

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, 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.

Zifeng Liu


Zifeng Liu is a doctoral student in Africana Studies at Cornell University. A C. V. Starr Fellow, he studies Black transnationalism/internationalism, the African diaspora, Black radicalism, and the Third World. His dissertation examines the historical and theoretical intersections of the transnational African American freedom struggle and China's construction of socialist modernity during the Cold War. His essays and reviews on African American literature, politics, and history have been published in the Journal of Beihang UniversityInitium Media, and SINA News

Afifa Ltifi


Afifa Ltifi is a Tunisian third year PhD student who works on the implications of trans-saharan slavery and colonialism on conceptualizations of race and blackness in North Africa, particularly in countries of the Maghreb. Through an interdisciplinary approach, her project examines the micro- histories of black North Africans, their representations in cultural production and the complex processes of their racial formation within the “African” milieu. In addition to her academic research, she is an occasional writer for various Arabophone and Anglophone media outlets such as Manshoor, Aljazeera English, Urban Africa, and 7iber. She also worked as a fixer in the Ghost Boat open investigation project, tracking the disappearance of 243 refugees from Somalia and Eritrea in the Mediterranean. Ghost Boat was ranked as a finalist for the 2016 National Magazine award in the reporting category and 2016 Kurt Schork Memorial Award. A 2017 Mellon Urbanism Fellowship recipient, Ltifi earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in cross-cultural studies from the Higher Institute of Languages of Tunis (Bourguiba School).

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 a fifth year Africana Ph.D. candidate and was granted a 2016 pre-doctoral fellowship, courtesy of the West African Research Association (WARA) located at Boston University’s African Studies Center, for preliminary dissertation  research in Nigeria.  She is currently  writing her dissertation on how tech entrepreneurs in the Lagos startup ecosystem deploy narratives and practices of technology entrepreneurship as tools to negotiate, imagine and create (global) African futures. 

Kevin C. Quin


Kevin C. Quin is a doctoral student in Africana Studies at Cornell University with a graduate minor in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies. His research interests include African American and LGBT histories, cultural production, political imagination, and the historical intersections between black nationalist and gay liberationist ideologies. Kevin has been the recipient of a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, a ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives LGBTQ Research Fellowship, and a Mellon Urbanism Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Collaborative Studies in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities. His essay, “To Stamp Out the Oppression of All Black People: Ron Grayson and the Association of Black Gays, 1975-1979,” was published in the “LGBT Themes in African American History” special issue of the Journal of African American History. His reviews have appeared in The American Historian, the quarterly magazine published by the Organization of American Historians, and Black Perspectives, the online publication of 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 second 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 is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Africana Studies at Cornell University. She previously earned an MA in Africana Studies from Cornell University, an MA in African-American Studies from Columbia University, and a BA in Theater Studies and Political Science from Yale University. Her work exists at the intersections of African-American drama (from the 19th century to the present), Black performance studies, and critical theory. She has contributed a chapter on Adrienne Kennedy to the Gale Researcher's American Literature volume and a performance review to Texas Theatre Journal. 

Kristen has been a Member-at-Large for the Performance Studies Focus Group of the Association for Theatre In Higher Education (ATHE) since 2017, and also serves on the Graduate Student Caucus of the American Society For Theatre Research (ASTR).  Her article "'The Killing of My Mother I Claim Myself': Adrienne Kennedy's Electra and Orestes, Aeschylus' Oresteia, and the Question of Justice," 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 dramaturg, and her plays APPLE CORE and MISS ANNE were produced as a part of Cornell's 10 Minute Play Festival. Her new play THE SHIRT will be featured in the 10 Minute Play Festival this fall.