New hirings bolster African diaspora studies

Professors Jasmine Johnson and Gregory Childs, and Kay Fellow Derron Wallace join Brandeis this fall

Two professors and a fellow have joined the faculty at Brandeis as part of a measured approach to expand studies of the African diaspora.

The appointments, which cross programs and departments, are the first phase of a multi-year cluster hire initiative aimed at broadening the scope of study on the African diaspora to a global level and put it in context with other diasporas. They also underscore Brandeis’ commitment to fostering and investing in faculty excellence, a central goal of the university's strategic plan.

"We want to think not just about the African diaspora, but the Jewish and other diasporas, and they way they coalesce," said Chad Williams, chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies Department, who oversaw the hirings. "This is not exclusively an AAAS endeavor, this will be truly interdisciplinary."

The professors were selected last spring after a yearlong search. Assistant Professor Gregory Childs joins the Department of History, and Assistant Professor Jasmine Johnson has been appointed to a joint position shared by the Department of African and Afro- American Studies and the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program.

Assistant Professor Gregory Childs, courtesy image

Childs received his doctorate from New York University in 2012 and was previously an assistant professor of history at George Washington University. His studies focus on the African diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"It's an incredibly invigorating time for the field. More and more people, including students, are becoming aware that the African diaspora means so much more than African-Americans," said Childs. "We're at a moment where there's an interest in looking at the vastness of it."

Johnson received her doctorate from University of California at Berkeley and was most recently a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. Fitting for her role under multiple programs, Johnson studies diaspora theory, dance of the African diaspora and black feminism.

Assistant Professor Jasmine Johnson, courtesy

"This joint appointment is a very immediate embodiment of what my work is about," she said.

Johnson said she sees the field of diaspora studies widening its lens.

"We're seeing more institutions looking to include a global focus on black studies," she said.

Along with the new professors, Derron Wallace was appointed as the Florence Levy Kay Fellow, a a post-doctoral position in the Education Program and the African and Afro-American Studies Department.

Wallace, who received his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. in African diaspora studies and his doctorate from University of Cambridge, said he was in part attracted to the Kay fellowship because key figures and scholars in Afro-Caribbean studies are Brandeis alumni, including Nancy Foner and Bernard Coard.

Derron Wallace, photo by Mike Lovett

"As I dug deeper and deeper, between the latitude of the position and the history here, all roads led to Brandeis," said Wallace.

Along with the new faculty, a new working group on diaspora studies that will include faculty, staff and students from around the university will be formed and meet at the Mandel Center, Williams said. New programming will also be developed in coming years.

The professors will be teaching new courses they designed, Williams said.

"They're really going to bring a lot of excitement and energy to the classroom," Williams said.

Categories: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Research

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