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School of Arts and Sciences

Building out a Department

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora welcomes two accomplished faculty members and looks ahead to a promising future.

Sarah Fong and Kerri Greenidge

By Dan O'Sullivan

Social movements dedicated to dismantling systemic racism have unfolded nationwide in recent months. Against this backdrop, studying systems of social power along with the cultures and creativity of racialized and colonized communities could not be a timelier pursuit. That is the focus of Tufts' Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora (RCD), established in July 2019.

The RCD is home to six curricular tracks in Africana, American, Asian American, colonialism, Latino, and Native American and Indigenous studies. Students examine race, colonialism, transnational migration, and struggles for social justice and cultural sovereignty.

Last year, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts a $1.5 million grant, which will fund the hiring of three faculty within the department. The first of those additions is Mellon Assistant Professor Kerri Greenidge, who was promoted from a full-time lecturer to a tenure-track position for this fall. She and another talented new hire, Assistant Professor Sarah Fong, will join the RCD's interdisciplinary group of seven founding faculty.

"The RCD is thrilled to welcome two stellar tenure-track faculty colleagues," said Kris Manjapra, RCD chair and associate professor of history. "Their arrival is part of an exciting time of transformation and growth for the department. They bring vibrant and vital research agendas and teaching approaches that will benefit our whole campus."

This fall, Greenidge and Fong will co-teach Introduction to Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora, a required course for all RCD majors.

An Acclaimed Author

Kerri Greenidge
Kerri Greenidge,
Mellon Assistant Professor,
The Department of Studies in Race,
Colonialism, and Diaspora

Greenidge, a historian who joined Tufts as a lecturer in 2018, is director of the RCD's American Studies track. She earned her doctorate in American studies from Boston University (BU) and has taught at schools including BU, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Emerson College.

Greenidge's research focuses on late 19th and early 20th century African American and African diaspora, literature, and politics. "I look at how blackness is viewed across the Americas and the West and at how Black communities themselves create politics, effect the dominant politics in which they live, and create their own radical politics within that context," she said.

Outside of her teaching, Greenidge is co-director of the African American Trail Project. She and co-director Kendra Field, an associate professor in the Department of History, have led the ambitious effort to create the interactive map highlighting more than 200 African American historical sites in Greater Boston.

Greenidge is also the author of two books, including Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter (2019), a biography about the civil rights hero who edited a Black weekly newspaper in Boston in the early 1900s. Black Radical received the J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Award in history from the Nieman Foundation and was named one of 2019's top books by The New York Times. (Greenidge shared her experience in the publishing industry in this New York Times article from July.)

"RCD has assembled some of the best teachers and scholars on the topics of race, colonialism, and diaspora in the region and in the country," Greenidge said. "With the unique faculty and resources that we have, we can make it so that studies of race, colonialism, and diaspora don't just pop up when there's a crisis. We can make it a mode of thinking, a way of scholarship, that a student will develop at Tufts."

An Interdisciplinary Mind

Sarah Fong
Sarah Fong, Assistant Professor,
Department of Studies in Race, 
Colonialism, and Diaspora

Fong, whose comparative work connects Black studies with Native American and Indigenous studies, completed her doctorate at the University of Southern California in June. She also holds a bachelor's degree in ethnic studies from the University of California, Berkeley, a highly interdisciplinary program. While pursuing opportunities in academia, she quickly recognized that the RCD would be a perfect landing place.

"It would have been tricky to fit myself into a traditional disciplinary department," she said. "When I read the mission statement of this department and the description of this job, it felt exactly as I see myself as a scholar. As a department that studies race, colonialism, and diaspora from these many disciplinary perspectives, it was easy to see myself working here."

For her PhD dissertation, Fong conducted a comparative historical analysis of two boarding schools from the post-Civil War era. One institution, in Kansas, primarily taught Native youth. The other, in Virginia, taught Native and Black youth. Her dissertation examined how these state education projects shaped the historical experiences of Indigenous and Black people.

Moving forward, Fong intends to apply many of the same questions she had about 19th century residential schooling to contemporary issues. "I want to see how state ethics of care and inclusion through education and social welfare inform categories of racial difference as well as settler-colonial relationships in the United States," she said.

Fong added that her research nicely complements that of her fellow RCD faculty. "I'm trying to understand the relationships between the histories of racialization and of colonization, and that's what ties me to the department more broadly," she said. "The department is interested in trying to trace these global connections of entanglements between the histories and experiences of different populations, even beyond the United States."

'Ahead of the Curve'
According to Greenidge, her colleagues in the field consider the establishment of the RCD to be "cutting-edge stuff" that shows Tufts is "really ahead of the curve."

"At a time when many universities are getting rid of or compromising ethnic studies, African American studies, or colonialism studies, Tufts is expanding theirs while attracting all these brilliant scholars. That's an exciting thing," she said. "From this point, very few academic institutions are going to have this opportunity to create something like the RCD from the ground up."

Fong believes the RCD has assumed heightened relevance given the current political climate. She noted that the department can provide a broader historical context for contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Standing Rock resistance along with perspective on the connections between these and other social justice movements.

"It's critical for materials from departments like this to be made available to as many people as possible to make sense of this intense flashpoint moment," she concluded. "Concepts like intersectionality, white supremacy, and settler colonialism are starting to circulate more widely. I feel that the RCD is at the new edge of that kind of research, and I'm excited to be part of those conversations and to bring this type of knowledge to the broader public."