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Melody Barnes

Melody Barnes is executive director of the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute of Democracy and the W.L. Lyons Brown Family Director for Policy and Public Engagement for the Democracy Initiative in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. She is the J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center and is also a senior fellow and affiliated faculty member at the School of Law. 

Ms. Barnes was Assistant to the President and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Administration of President Barack Obama. Prior to her tenure in the Obama Administration, she was executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and chief counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Her experience includes an appointment as director of legislative affairs for the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and serving as assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. She began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City.  

Barnes is narrator and host of LBJ and the Great Society, described as one of the best podcasts of 2020 by the New Yorker, and co-editor of Community Wealth Building & The Reconstruction of American Democracy:  Can We Make American Democracy Work?.  Ms. Barnes earned her B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated with honors in history and her J.D. from the University of Michigan.

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Laura Sachiko Fugikawa

Laura Sachiko Fugikawa is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Colby College. Fugikawa received a PhD from the University of Southern California and an MA from the University of New Mexico. They are currently writing a book titled Displacements: The Cultural Politics of Relocation, and have published in American Quarterly, Critical Ethnic Studies, and Sounding Out!

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jesús j. hernández

jesús hernández (he, him, his, i) is Associate Director of Engaged Scholarship at the Swearer Center for Public Service at Brown University, where he also holds a courtesy appointment as Adjunct Assistant Professor of American Studies. He received his PhD and MA degrees in American Studies and Ethnicity from the University of Southern California, where his research focused on representations of illegitimate familial figures and relations in Cuban diasporic cultural production (including bastards, wayward daughters, paper families, queer uncles/aunts, and orphans). jesús taught Latinx Studies with a focus on literature, cultural studies, political theory, and the humanities at USC, Williams College, and Mount Holyoke College. Prior to returning to Brown, jesús was the inaugural Mellon University Press Diversity fellow at the MIT Press, where he worked in acquisitions on the Communication and Information Science lists. He has also worked as a freelance editor for academic writers. At the Swearer Center, jesús collaborates with faculty and students who are interested in connecting community action to academic knowledge production towards collective liberation and eudaimonia.

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Sarah Willie-LeBreton

Sarah Willie-LeBreton is Provost and Dean of the Faculty of Swarthmore College. An applied sociologist, her two book-length publications are Acting Black: College, Identity and the Performance of Race (2003, Routledge) on the college experiences of five dozen African American alumni at comparable historically black and historically white universities after the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement and Transforming the Academy: Faculty Perspectives on Diversity and Pedagogy (2016, Rutgers), an edited volume to which she is also a contributor which explores contemporary U.S. campuses from the perspectives of faculty from previously excluded groups. 

At Swarthmore, she has coordinated the Program in Black Studies, chaired the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, served as Associate Provost and was appointed to three task forces—for Diversity, the Living Wage, and the President’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct, which she chaired. She joined Swarthmore’s faculty in 1997 after having taught briefly at Bard and Colby Colleges. Willie-LeBreton received a bachelor’s degree from Haverford College and master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University, each in the field of Sociology. 

She has written on a wide variety of topics including multiracial identity, higher education, and racial inequality, and she engages organizations that are working toward greater inclusivity, mutual understanding and justice. Board service has included the American Sociological Association’s Executive Office and Budget, the Massachusetts Bay Path Colonial Girl Scout Council, Haverford College, Pendle Hill Quaker Center, Benchmark School, and the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. Willie-LeBreton lives with her family in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

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Jamila Michener

Jamila Michener is an associate professor of Government and Public Policy at Cornell University. She studies poverty, racism, and public policy, with a particular focus on health and housing. She is author of the award-winning book, Fragmented Democracy: Medicaid, Federalism, and Unequal Politics. She is Associate Dean for Public Engagement at the Brooks School of Public Policy, co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity, co-director of the Politics of Race, Immigration, Class and Ethnicity (PRICE) research initiative, and board chair of the Cornell Prison Education Program. Michener’s research has been supported by the Institute for Research on Poverty, the Russell Sage Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, and the Ford Foundation. Her public writing has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon and other outlets. Prior to working at Cornell, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholar at the University of Michigan. She received her MA and PhD from the University of Chicago and her undergraduate degree from Princeton University.

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Christina Sharpe

Christina Sharpe is a writer, Professor, and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Black Studies in the Humanities at York University in Toronto. She is also a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Race, Gender & Class (RGC), at the University of Johannesburg and a Matakyev Research Fellow at the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands at the Arizona State University. Sharpe is the author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Her third book Ordinary Notes will be published in March 2023 by Knopf (Canada), Farrar, Straus, Giroux (US), and Daunt (UK). Recent essays appear in Art in America; Alison Saar Of Aether and Earthe; Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America; Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America; and Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied With Seeing. “The abacus of her eyelids,” a critical introduction to Nomenclature: New and Collected Poems of Dionne Brand will be published in 2022 (McClelland & Stewart and Duke). She is working on a monograph called Black. Still. Life. (Duke 2025).

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Nitasha Sharma

Nitasha Sharma is a Professor of African American Studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University where she was the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence. Nitasha Sharma is a comparative race studies scholar trained in anthropology whose work centers on an ethnographic approach to inter-minority relations. Her areas of interest include Afro-Asian Studies, Black and Native Studies, Critical Mixed Race Studies, Hip Hop Studies, and the Black Pacific. Her work in the university has also centered on mentoring students at the undergraduate and graduate level, including as a Faculty Mentor for the Posse Program as well as the Director of Graduate Studies for the African American Studies PhD Program. Dr. Sharma is on a fellowship this year as a Faculty Fellow with the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research.

She is the author of Hip Hop Desis: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a Global Race Consciousness (Duke UP 2010) and Hawai‘i Is My Haven: Race and Indigeneity in the Black Pacific (Duke UP 2021). She is the co-editor of Beyond Ethnicity: New Politics of Race in Hawai‘i (University of Hawai‘i Press 2018), Who Is The Asianist? The Politics of Representation in Asian Studies (Columbia UP 2022) and a special issue of the Critical Ethnic Studies journal on Trans-Pacific and Pacific Islands Studies (U Minnesota Press 2022).

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Meiver De la Cruz

Meiver De la Cruz (she/they) has taught movement and performance for over 20 years. Her teaching is informed by queer, diasporic, feminist of color politics and her investment in performance ontologies as paths towards knowing and sensing otherwise.  Prof. De la Cruz has served as faculty at Oberlin College, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Smith College, Eastern Michigan University, and currently at the University of California at Santa Barbara and at Scripps College, teaching dance studies, queer, feminist and performance theory, critical theory, feminist ethnographic methods, and dance technique. She writes about diasporic movement practices as well as performance epistemologies in a global context. She has toured internationally performing with several dance companies and as a solo artist.  She is excited to meet you all. 

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Stephanie Y. Evans

Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans is a Professor of Black Women’s Studies, faculty in the Institute for Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and affiliate faculty in the Department of Africana Studies at Georgia State University. Her research interest is Black women’s intellectual history, specifically memoirs, mental health, and wellness. She served as department chair and director for twelve years at GSU, Clark Atlanta, University, and University of Florida. At GSU, she is also affiliate faculty in the Center for the Study of Africa and Its Diaspora as well as in the Center for the Study of Stress, Trauma and Resilience.

Dr. Evans is author of three books: Black Women’s Yoga History: Memoirs of Inner Peace (SUNY, 2021); Black Passports: Travel Memoirs as a Tool for Youth Empowerment (SUNY, 2014) and Black Women in the Ivory Tower, 1850-1954: An Intellectual History (UF, 2007) as well as lead co-editor of four books, Black Women and Public Health: Strategies to Name, Locate, and Change Systems of Power (SUNY 2022), Black Women and Social Justice Education (SUNY, 2019), Black Women’s Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability (SUNY Press, 2017), African Americans and Community Engagement in Higher Education (SUNY, 2009).

Evans is also co-chair of “Chair at the Table: Black Women Department Chairs on Academic Service, Leadership, and Balance” (a 2021 special issue of Palimpsest journal). She is curator of the Black Women’s Studies Booklist ( and editor of the Black Women’s Wellness book series at SUNY Press. Her full portfolio is available online at

Symposium Committee

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Touba Ghadessi is Associate Provost for Academic Administration and Faculty Affairs and Professor of the History of Art at Wheaton College. She is also the co-founder the Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities, the past chair of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, a member of the inaugural executive committee for the New England Humanities Consortium’s Faculty of Color board, a board member of the Providence Athenaeum, and the past joint president of the oldest Renaissance society in America, the New England Renaissance Conference.

Her last book, Portraits of Human Monsters in the Renaissance, focuses on how human difference has been historically represented, categorized, and interpreted in various Italian and French courts of the Renaissance. Her new research addresses theoretical constructs of monstrosity, as well as gender fluidity in images of French Valois rulers. From alchemy, to wilderness, and to hermaphroditic bodies, this project traces how different bodies led to alternate ruling epistemologies and framed the dialogue between a monarch’s political intentions and the public’s perception of authority.

She has been invited to discuss her work at numerous venues (Mahindra Center at Harvard University, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University…) and her work has been published in books and journals, such as the Harvard University I Tatti Studies and the Oxford University Journal of the History of Collections.

The courses Ghadessi teaches highlight intellectual concepts and material that often fall outside of the common canon of art history. It is through these discourses that she encourages students to become critical thinkers, inside and outside of the classroom.

To pursue her scholarly interests, Ghadessi has been awarded grants to study at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (Paris), to conduct archival research in Paris, Florence, and Rome, and to participate in the Centre national de la recherche scientifique’s sponsored seminars in Paris.

A passionate advocate for the true and concrete value of the humanities, particularly in a professional, civic, and political context, Ghadessi believes that knowledge, in all its forms, is what constructs a just and innovative society.

Of Persian descent, Touba Ghadessi was born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, where she grew up in an international environment that emphasized the importance of diplomacy, cultural curiosity, and dialogue. She obtained a Maturité fédérale scientifique before moving to the United States and receiving her PhD from Northwestern University.

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Darryl Harper is Associate Professor of Music and director of the Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College. Before coming to Amherst, he served as chair of the Department of Music in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Harper is a jazz musician interested in how race, culture, and political economy intersect with music. His performance credits as a clarinetist include dates with Orrin Evans, Tim Warfield, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roscoe Mitchell, Dave Holland, Uri Caine, Claudia Acuña, and Regina Carter. He recently toured with The Harlem Hellfighters: James Reese Europe and the Absence of Ruin, pianist Jason Moran’s multimedia meditation in tribute to the iconic World War I veteran who helped to disseminate African American music in Europe. As a composer, Harper has published and recorded over two dozen works, including a film score he co-wrote for the award-winning documentary film Herskovits: At the Heart of Blackness. He has recorded seven albums as a leader, including Y’All Got It: The Music from The Wiz by Charlie Smalls (Hipnotic 2004), Stories in Real Time (Hipnotic 2009), The Edenfred Files (Hipnotic 2013), and The Need’s Got to Be So Deep (Hipnotic 2014).

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Kareem Khubchandani is the Mellon Bridge assistant professor in theater, dance, and performance studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Tufts University. He is the author of Ishtyle: Accenting Gay Indian Nightlife (University of Michigan Press, 2020), co-editor of Queer Nightlife (forthcoming, University of Michigan Press), recipient of the 2019 CLAGS Fellowship, and curator of He has published in Scholar and Feminist Online, Transgender Studies Quarterly, SAMAJ, South Asia, Journal of Asian American Studies, and the Velvet Light Trap. Kareem is currently working on two new book projects: Decolonize Drag and Auntologies: Queer Aesthetics and South Asian Aunties.

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An interdisciplinary scholar, Noliwe Rooks’ is the chair of and a professor in Africana Studies at Brown University and the founding director of the Segrenomics Lab at the school. Her work explores how race and gender both impact and are impacted by popular culture, social history and political life in the United States. She works on the cultural and racial implications of beauty, fashion and adornment; race, capitalism and education, and the urban politics of food and cannabis production.

The author of four books and numerous articles, essays and op-ed’s, Rooks has received research funding from the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson School among others. She lectures frequently at colleges and universities around the country and is a regular contributor to popular outlets such as The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Chronicle of Higher Education, Time Magazine and NPR.

Rooks’ current book, in which she coined the term “segrenomics,” is Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education which won an award for non-fiction from the Hurston/Wright Foundation. Her current research, for which she has received a Kaplan Fellowship and a fellowship from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, will explore relationships between capitalism, land, urban food politics and cannabis legalization in the United States.

Symposium Coordinator


Hasan Khan

Hasan Khan (all pronouns) is a graphic artist, dancer, gamer, graduating senior at Tufts, and an incoming first year medical student also at Tufts. When they aren’t drafting emails or designing earrings, Hasan loves to connect and play with the messy identities of being queer, Muslim, diasporic, rural-surburban Massachusetts-raised, and more. Having studied and worked in the field of Child Development, her interests range widely from reflecting on religious and spiritual development to mastering practical solutions for children of varying ability status to understanding the lasting effects of oppressive hierarchies plaguing the American public education system. While her only teaching experiences have been at the elementary school level, he aspires to be a faculty of color one day as well.