Tag Archive for African American Studies

Yanique: Hurricane Irma Response Reflects Unresolved Feelings on U.S. Virgin Islands’ “Americanness”

Tiphanie YaniqueProfessor of English Typhanie Yanique writes in The New York Times on how the news media’s coverage and the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Irma’s devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands reflects a bigger failure of America to fully embrace and grant rights to the citizens who reside on the islands.

In an essay titled “Americans in a Battered Paradise,” Yanique explains that 2017 marks 100 years since the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Danish to American rule. Yet this major anniversary has been scarcely noted in the continental United States. Virgin Islanders were granted American citizenship a decade after this transfer, yet still cannot vote in U.S. general elections.

The news media made a big deal out of Hurricane Irma’s landfall on the Florida Keys, Yanique writes, “But in truth Irma had struck United States land days before as a disastrous Category 5 hurricane. That was when it hit the United States Virgin Islands, devastating my home island, St. Thomas.”

Johnson Awarded Postdoctoral Fellowship to Explore Settler-Colonialism

Khalil Johnson

Khalil Johnson

Khalil Johnson, assistant professor of African American studies, is the recipient of a National Association of Education Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship for the 2017-18 academic year.

The National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program supports up to 30 early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. These $70,000 fellowships support non-residential postdoctoral proposals that make significant scholarly contributions to the field of education.

Johnson, who will be on scholarly leave for the 2017-2018 academic year, will work on a manuscript for his book project, which examines the intersections between education and settler-colonialism in the United States. He also plans to conduct interviews in Alaska Native villages and the Navajo and Tohono O’odham nations to document the historic relationships forged between Native students and African American educators who taught in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools between 1950 and 1980.

“Although I will be living and writing in New Haven for the year, I hope to remain active in on campus events at Wesleyan,” he said.

Johnson specializes in the intertwined histories of the African diaspora and Indigenous people in North America, with emphases on U.S. settler colonialism, education and counter-hegemonic social movements. His teaching areas include courses in the history of emancipatory education and U.S. empire, early African American history, American Indian history and popular music.

Johnson has already received support from numerous institutions, including the Ford Foundation, the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation and a predoctoral teaching fellowship at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. His essays and editorials have appeared in American Quarterly, Pacific Historical Review and The Navajo Times. In 2015, he received recognition from the Western History Association for the year’s best essay on Native American history.

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

AFAM Program Welcomes 2 New Faculty

This fall, the African American Studies Program welcomed two new faculty members: Kali Nicole Gross, professor of African American studies, and Khalil Anthony Johnson Jr., assistant professor of African American studies.

Kali Gross

Kali Gross

Kali Gross is the author of Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910 (2006) and the newly released, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America (2016). She has been featured on NPR, C-SPAN2 and other television programs, and has consulted for the PBS show “History Detectives.” Gross’s op-ed pieces have appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Houston Chronicle, American Prospect, Ebony, Jet Magazine, The Root and Truthout.

“Wesleyan University has an excellent reputation,” Gross said. “It’s a school that is known for its high academic standards and super-smart students. When I learned of the opportunity to join the faculty, I was pretty excited, and I was heartened by the fact that the program was doing a cluster hire — meaning the institution had committed to more than one line; to me that suggested a sustained investment in the development and growth of African American Studies—that was and remains of paramount importance to me.”

Gross has a PhD and MA from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA from Cornell University.

This fall she is teaching a junior colloquium on African American Women, Sex, Crime and Punishment. Next spring, she will teach Introduction to Modern African American History and African American Women’s History.

“I have been so impressed by the students in the AFAM Junior Colloquium. The students are brilliant, dynamic, and tireless in their educational pursuits. They are doing graduate-level coursework—and they have done so bravely,” Gross said. “Each week we have been grappling with dense histories covering African American women and sex, crime, and punishment in U.S. history. This is not easy or light reading. It can be incredibly difficult and frustrating because few of the works end with some sort of triumph—but my students have been diligent and have critically engaged the material. They have also brought fresh insights to texts that I have been reading for nearly a decade.”

Khalil Johnson

Khalil Johnson

Khalil Johnson specializes in the intertwined histories of the African diaspora and Indigenous people in North America, with emphases on U.S. settler colonialism, education, and counter-hegemonic social movements. In his current manuscript project, Schooled: The Education of Black and Indigenous People in the United States and Abroad, 1730-1980, Johnson historicizes the Post-War migration of hundreds of African American educators to Indian Country ultimately unearthed a colonial genealogy of four generations of social reformers, missionaries, philanthropists, activists, and teachers who, since the 18th century, have used schooling to reconcile the founding cataclysms of the United States––the ongoing presence of Indigenous nations, free black people, and non-white immigrants. The result is a dramatic and transnational reinterpretation of American education and its consequences for colonized peoples across the globe.

“It’s only my first semester, but I love teaching at Wesleyan,” Johnson said. “The students are not only whip-smart, but more importantly they exemplify a politically engaged and compassionate mode of intellectual inquiry that inspires me to be more a humane, intentional, and active human in class, on campus, and in the world.”

Johnson received his PhD from Yale University and his BA from the University of Georgia.

This fall he is teaching Freedom School and Early African American History. Next spring, he will teach Black and Indigenous Foundations of U.S. Society.

The African American Studies Program at Wesleyan offers a dynamic interdisciplinary approach to the study of people of African descent in the Black Atlantic world, especially in the United States and in the Caribbean. The major enables undergraduates to bring the methodologies, theories, and insights of diverse disciplines to bear on their studies of the history, literature, politics, culture, and art of peoples of African descent. Courses, which range from seminars to larger discussion classes, are informed by theoretical and empirical approaches and explore topics such as conceptualizations of race, issues of race and identity, as well as the social structures, cultural traditions, and political realities of Africans in the Diaspora.

Gross Uses Detective Notes, Archival Documents to Write Disembodied Torso

Kali Gross, professor of African American studies, details the 1887 crime of the disembodied torso found near a pond outside Philadelphia, and the subsequent, scandal-driven trial of Hannah Mary Tabbs and George Wilson, in her most recent book Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America, published February 2, 2016.

Gross explains in an editorial published on her website, her use of “detectives’ notes, trial and prison records, local newspapers, and other archival documents to reconstruct this ghastly who-done-it true crime in all its scandalous detail and in doing so, gives the crime context by analyzing it against broader evidence of police treatment of black suspects and violence within the black community.”

Copies of Gross’ Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Oxford University Press.   

AFAM Program Welcomes Its First Core Faculty

This fall, the African American Studies Program hired its first core faculty members. They include Kali Nicole Gross, professor of African American studies, and Khalil Anthony Johnson Jr., assistant professor of African American studies.

Wesleyan opened the Afro American Institute in 1969 and offered minimal courses on African American history. In 1983, students could major in African American studies, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the university created the African American Studies Program. Now the program is poised to make institutional history by African American Studies gaining departmental status, which would put Wesleyan on par with other top-tier universities and colleges.

“Having faculty members hired solely into the AFAM Program represents a real growth and commitment to the long-term stability of the program,” said Lois Brown, professor and chair of the African American Studies Program. “Kali Gross and Khalil Johnson also bring remarkable research strengths to the university.”

Gross Writes About a ‘Tipping Point’ in Relations Between Police, African Americans

Professor of African American Studies Kali Nicole Gross

Professor of African American Studies Kali Nicole Gross

Kali Nicole Gross, professor of African American studies, writes in The Huffington Post about the case of Korryn Gaines, the latest death of an African American at the hand of police. Gaines was fatally shot after a five-hour standoff with police and SWAT officers in Maryland, and had prophesied her own demise during an earlier traffic stop, in which she had also been defiant.

While Gaines’ behavior may once have appeared irrational, and possibly a sign of mental illness, Gross writes, “after these and so many other deaths of black women and men killed during minor traffic stops, killed for selling loose cigarettes, or found dead in jail after failing to signal a lane change, Gaines’ defiance may gesture toward a desperate tipping point: that the system is so corrupt there is little distinction between notions of legal and illegal. It may also mark the mounting fear that for black people there is little chance of survival during even the most routine police encounters.”

7 Faculty Promoted, 4 Awarded Tenure

In its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on four faculty members. They are Associate Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, Professor of African American Studies Kali Gross, Associate Professor of English and American Studies Amy Tang, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Erika Taylor. They join eight other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

One faculty member, Louise Neary, was promoted to adjunct associate professor of Spanish.

In addition, six faculty members are being promoted to full professor:

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, professor of American Studies and anthropology
Matthew Kurtz, professor of psychology
Cecilia Miller, professor of history
Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, professor of theater
Andrea Patalano, professor of psychology
Michael Singer, professor of biology

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Associate Professor Fowler specializes in political communication and directs the Wesleyan Media project, which tracks and analyzes all political ads aired on broadcast television in real-time during elections. Her work on local coverage of politics and policy has been published in political science, communication, law/policy, and medical journals. Most recently, she co-authored Political Advertising in the United States (Westview Press, 2016). Professor Fowler teaches courses on American Government and Politics; Media and Politics; Campaigns and Elections; and Polls, Politics and Public Opinion.

Professor Gross is a scholar of African American history whose research concentrates on black women’s experiences in the United States criminal justice system between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her book, Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores a crime and trial in 1887 against broader evidence of biased police treatment of black suspects as well as violence within the black community. Professor Gross will offer courses on race, gender and justice and Black Women’s Studies.

Professor Kauanui’s research lies in the fields of comparative colonialisms, indigenous politics, critical racial studies, and anarchist studies. Her book, The Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty (Duke University Press, due in 2017), explores the cultural and legal politics of the contemporary Hawaiian nationalist movement in relation to land, gender, and sexuality. Professor Kauanui teaches courses on Colonialism and Its Consequences; Race and Citizenship; United States in the Pacific Islands; Hawai’i: Myths and Realities; Decolonizing Indigenous Middletown; and Anarchy in America: From Haymarket to Occupy Wall Street.

Professor Kurtz’s research seeks to clarify the cognitive and social impairments associated with schizophrenia, to develop and assess behavioral treatments for these impairments, and to critically evaluate the history and current status of ideas regarding treatment of the severely mentally ill. He has received significant grant support from the NIH, and has received a Fulbright-Nehru U.S. Scholar Award for Academic and Professional Excellence. He offers courses on Schizophrenia and Its Treatment, Clinical Neuropsychology, Statistics, and Behavioral Neurobiology.

Professor Miller is a European intellectual historian with a focus on the long eighteenth century. Her recent book, Enlightenment and Political Fiction: The Everyday Intellectual (Routledge, 2016), examines five works of fiction to argue that the accessibility of political fiction in the eighteenth century made it possible for any reader to enter into the intellectual debates of the time and that ideas attributed to philosophers and political and economic theorists of the Enlightenment actually appeared first in works of fiction. She offers courses on European Intellectual History, Political Fiction, Theories of Society, and Contemporary Europe.

Professor Tatinge Nascimento is a theater artist and scholar with a special interest in experimental performance and Brazilian contemporary theater. She has performed and published internationally, and most recently is the author of a book manuscript, The Contemporary Performances of Brazil’s Post-Dictatorship Generation, under review with Palgrave Macmillan for the series Contemporary Performance InterActions. At Wesleyan she directs main stage productions and teaches courses on acting, theory, and performance studies.

Adjunct Associate Professor Neary teaches beginning and intermediate Spanish. She is currently collaborating with a colleague on an online Spanish course for the general public, titled Wespañol, and with McGraw Hill on a test bank project for an elementary Spanish language textbook. She has served as head of Spanish, has chaired the Romance Languages and Literatures Honors Committee, and has served on the Language Resources Center Faculty Committee.

Professor Patalano is a cognitive scientist whose research focuses on mental and neural processes involved in human reasoning, judgment, and decision making. Her lines of research address indecisiveness and decision deferral, clinical and neural correlates of discounting, numeracy and choice behavior, and the role of categories in thought. She teaches courses on Cognitive Psychology, Psychological Statistics, Decision Making, and Concepts and Categories.

Professor Singer is an evolutionary ecologist whose research focuses on the plant-feeding habits of caterpillars in the context of threats from predators and parasites of caterpillars. He uses this research focus to inform issues of broad biological interest, such as animal medication, dietary specialization, dynamics of ecological networks, and evolutionary diversification. He teaches courses on Ecology, Conservation Biology, Evolutionary Biology, and Plant-Animal Interactions.

Professor Tang’s research focuses on the relationship between aesthetic form and politics in Asian American literature and theory. Her first book, Repetition and Race: Asian American Literature After Multiculturalism (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores how Asian American writers use structures of repetition to register, and creatively inhabit, the impasses generated by multiculturalism’s politics of identity and recognition. She teaches courses on Asian American Literature, Afro-Asian Intersections, and Literary and Cultural Theory.

Associate Professor Taylor’s multidisciplinary research investigates problems at the intersection of biology and chemistry. Her work strives to advance medicine and environmental sustainability with two long-term goals – developing bacterial enzyme inhibitors and other small molecules with medicinal applications, and engineering microorganisms to improve the efficiency of biomass to biofuel conversion. Professor Taylor has received significant grant support from both the NIH and the Department of Energy, enabling numerous impactful publications in her field. She offers courses in Organic Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, and Biomedicinal Chemistry.

McAlister Authors New Paper on the Militarization of Prayer in America

Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister is the author of a new paper, “The Militarization of Prayer in America: White and Native American Spiritual Warfare” published Jan. 4 in the Journal of Religious and Political Practice.

In the article, McAlister examines how militarism has come to be one of the generative forces of the prayer practices of millions of Christians across the globe. She focuses on the articulation between militarization and aggressive forms of prayer, especially the evangelical warfare prayer developed by North Americans since the 1980s. Against the backdrop of the rise in military spending and neoliberal economic policies, spiritual warfare evangelicals have taken on the project of defending the United States on the “spiritual” plane. They have elaborated a complex theology and prayer practice with a highly militarized discourse and set of rituals for doing “spiritual battle” and conducting “prayer strikes” on the “prayer battlefield.” The research draws on ethnographic fieldwork at an intensive spiritual warfare boot camp organized by a group of Native Americans who have founded a training base in Oklahoma dedicated to training recruits in the theology and practical strategy of spiritual warfare.

Despite their hyper-aggressive rhetorical and ideological stance, members of this network in fact practice self-sacrificial rituals of fasting, holiness and submission to the Holy Spirit. Native prayer warriors are using spiritual warfare prayer to assert a privileged place for themselves in Christian life as heirs of God’s authority over the stewardship of North American land and as central to the project of repairing sinful pasts both on and off the reservations, reconciling present racial conflict, and defending the land in spiritual battle against new immigrant invasions by foreign, demonic forces.

McAlister also is professor of American studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Elizabeth McAlister on the State of Vodou in Haiti Today

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Professor of Religion Elizabeth McAlister spoke to The Guardian about the state of the Vodou religion in Haiti today.

“Most Americans don’t know that they don’t know what Vodou really is,” said McAlister, who specializes in Haitian Vodou.

The article describes the actual practice of Vodou, and discusses its critical place in Haiti’s history as the first black republic. And turning to McAlister for her expertise, it addresses Vodou’s stance on homosexuality.

“Many, many gays and lesbians are valued members of Vodou societies,” explains McAlister, who has devoted years to researching LGBT in Haitian religion. “There is an idea that Vodou spirits that are thought to be gay ‘adopt’ and protect young adults who then become gay.”

“Vodou ‘does gender’ totally differently than the Christian tradition,” McAlister explains. After all, Vodou has gender fluidity at the core: men might become mediums for female spirits, women for male spirits. “But Christians, especially evangelicals, have zero flexibility for this; they see homosexuality as a sin, period.”

Stigmatized as a primitive, or even wicked religion, Vodou is inherently progressive and inclusive, McAlister continues.

“Vodou tends to be radically unjudgmental,” she explains. “The alcoholic, the thief, the homeless, the mentally ill, all of these people are welcomed into a Vodou temple and given respect.”

In reality, McAlister emphasizes, Vodou is far more similar to a close-knit church community than most Americans could ever imagine.

McAlister is also professor of African American studies, professor of American studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and professor of Latin American studies.

Collaborative Cluster Provides Perspectives in Dance, Music, English, African American Studies

Faculty Jay Hoggard, Lois Brown,  Nicole Stanton, and L’Merchie Frazier are teaching the new Collaborative Cluster Initiative Research Seminar.

Faculty Jay Hoggard, Lois Brown, Nicole Stanton, and L’Merchie Frazier are teaching the new Collaborative Cluster Initiative Research Seminar. The cluster enables faculty to develop a shared research project with a unifying theme. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

#THISISWHY
This year, four Wesleyan faculty are coordinating a year-long interdisciplinary project that enables students from an array of majors and academic disciplines to collaborate, create and work together as a learning community under the theme “Renaissance Projects: Reclaiming Memory, Movement and Migration.”

The Collaborative Clusters Initiative of the Allbritton Center enables faculty from a variety of departments and programs to develop a shared research project with a unifying theme. Cluster courses in 2015-16 provide perspectives from dance, music, English, and African American studies on the ways performance practices have engaged the past and present in the face of great migrations. The collaborative project is rooted in a multi-faceted conception of renaissance, and explores states of past and present, of vitality and decay, and of presence and absence.

Students, in collaboration with peers, faculty and visiting artist/scholars, develop original research in writing, performance or visual art around the cluster theme.

This year, faculty members Nicole Stanton, Jay Hoggard, Lois Brown,  and L’Merchie Frazier are teaching courses in the Collaborative Cluster Initiative Research Seminar.

Bria Grant ’17, an African American studies and dance double major, was ecstatic to take classes in the new cluster because it addressed both her interest in the arts and black people in America in one initiative. She’s enrolled in Stanton’s and Hoggard’s class this fall.

“The discussions we have each week, coupled with the nurturing aspect of breaking bread and eating dinner together, create a familial and intellectual space that both comforts and stimulates my mind simultaneously,” Grant said. “Furthermore, the research seminar itself gives me the space to immerse myself within the subject matter in a way I personally see fit, and explore specific aspects without the heavy burden of a strict curriculum.”

McAlister Speaks on American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, professor of African American studies, professor of American studies, spoke at DePaul University on May 11. The topic of her talk was “American Evangelical Spiritual Warfare and Vodou in Haiti.”

According to the flyer for the talk, one strand of American evangelicalism practices so-called “spiritual warfare” in which Christian “prayer warriors” pray against “territorial strongholds.” This group believes the world to be mapped into either Christian or demonic space, where Satanic forces operate as “strongholds” of evil. They believe that Haiti is under the influence of Satan. McAlister draws on recent ethnographic fieldwork in Haiti to examine how American missionaries are waging spiritual warfare on the traditional Afro-Haitian religion of Vodou, and how some Haitian Vodou practitioners are responding, paradoxically, by adopting evangelical modes of prayer, publicity and self-presentation.

Back in January, McAlister spoke on “The Militarization of American Prayer” at the Social Science Research Council.