Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Graduate Students (ABD)

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Graduate Students (ABD)

Graduate Students (ABD)

Student Name: Akash Belsare

Field: English & African American and Diaspora Studies

Dissertation Director(s): Tina Chen and Cynthia Young

Dissertation Description: Akash Belsare is a dual-title Ph.D. candidate in English and African American and Diaspora Studies. His areas of interest include contemporary multiethnic literature, critical race and feminist theory, animal studies, and genre studies. His dissertation project explores how authors of color engage with animals in contemporary literature–despite (or due to) a deep history in which nonhuman animals and raced bodies have been primitivized, animalized, or otherwise marginalized alongside each other–and what results from this engagement. He argues that the (Western) categories of human/animal are interrogated and productively redefined within imaginative and indeterminate literary spaces and genres. He is the former managing editor for Verge: Studies in Global Asias (UMN Press), a journal in Asian and Asian American Studies, headed by PSU Professor Tina Chen.

Student Name: ShaVonte’ Mills

Field: History & African American and Diaspora Studies

Dissertation Director(s): Christina Snyder and Courtney Morris

Dissertation Description: Mills is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in History and African American and Diaspora Studies under the direction of Drs. Christina Snyder and Courtney Morris. Her broad research interests are 19th century U.S. abolition movements, Black education, and Black intellectual history.

Her dissertation, currently titled “Visionaries: The Black Educational Network as Transnational Diasporic Politics, 1840-1880,” examines the impromptu black education network that emerged in juxtaposition to the Oberlin Missions’ curricula of freedom and citizenship which was taught in the Americas and the Caribbean.

Student Name: Brandon Erby

Field: English & African American and Diaspora Studies

Dissertation Director(s): Keith Gilyard

Dissertation Description: Brandon M. Erby is a dual-title Ph.D. Candidate in English and African American and Diaspora Studies. His research interests include African American rhetoric, new literacy studies, rhetorical education, and the rhetoric and historiography of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Brandon’s dissertation, “I’ve Got a Job to Do: The Rhetorical Campaigns of Mamie Till-Mobley,” examines the activist work of Till-Mobley and traces the ways Emmett Till’s lynching influences American culture and the field of rhetorical studies.

Student Name: Tyler Sperrazza

Field: History & African American and Diaspora Studies

Dissertation Director(s): William Blair and Shirley Moody-Turner

Dissertation Description: Sperraza is a sixth-year doctoral candidate in the Departments of History and African American & Diaspora Studies under the direction of Dr. William A. Blair and Dr. Shirley Moody-Turner. He has served as the Editorial Assistant for the Journal of the Civil War Era and as President of the History Graduate Student Association. My dissertation—Defiant: African American Legal and Cultural Responses to Northern White Supremacy, 1865-1915—explores the work of African American activists in northern cities who fought to gain equal access to leisure spaces during post-bellum, pre-Harlem era. While white northerners attempted to use municipal laws and statutes to segregate public spaces of leisure—particularly theaters—northern black activists used the courts and the newly adopted Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875 in order to expand their rights as citizens. My work expands our understanding of racial segregation in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. It combines the cultural history of theaters and leisure spaces with the legal history of civil rights legislation and constitutional law. This juxtaposition highlights different strategies used to both segregate spaces and fight for desegregation. Municipal customs governing theaters came into conflict with newly written civil rights legislation and changed the ways African Americans could fight discrimination. My research also illuminates previously unpublished documents that provide a window into the lives of African American theatrical performers during the twentieth century. These documents expand our understanding of African American life and the various strategies African Americans used to combat white supremacy.