The School of Humanities Black Studies Cluster is a collaboration among Ph.D. programs in Comparative Literature, Culture & Theory, English, History, Spanish & Portuguese, and Visual Studies designed to support research in Black Studies.

The Black Studies Cluster begins from the belief that researching, critiquing, and redressing the legacies of slavery and anti-Blackness, in the US and across the globe, is crucial to the ongoing struggle for racial justice and Black thriving.

Our coalition of humanities doctoral programs, anchored by the School of Humanities’ Critical Theory Emphasis, provides additional funding and resources to support graduate students interested in Black thought, literature, and media; histories of domestic and international Black resistance movements and freedom struggle; comparative histories of race and racialization; and critical theories of anti-Blackness, colonialism, and violence. The Black Studies Cluster is particularly interested in fostering Black studies scholarship that creatively mobilizes the resources of critical theory to reveal the entanglement of modern political and aesthetic traditions with anti-Blackness and that forges truly new political imaginaries, activist strategies, and cultural narratives.


Participating Doctoral Programs

Students interested in coming to UCI to study with the BSC should indicate this interest when applying to any of our partner Ph.D. programs.




Admissions Information

                   Application Deadline for Fall 2023

Comparative Literature

January 5, 2023

Culture & Theory

January 15, 2023


January 15, 2023

Film & Media Studies

December 1, 2022



Spanish & Portuguese

January 2, 2023

Visual Studies

December 1, 2022


Why Study with the BSC?

Collaborate: The BSC was developed to sustain humanities research that is collaborative and communal. By approaching research as a social practice, we support each other to think what has previously been unthought, ignored, or undervalued.

Critique: Participants in the BSC draw on and transform the tradition of critical theory for which UCI is well-known. Together, we unpack the relationship of that tradition to the history of anti-Blackness while also imagining radically new futures for critical thought. 

Create: The importance of collaboration and critique is most evident when we turn our scholarly practices into new ways of engaging in larger efforts to address racial inequality, whether writing an article, producing a podcast, programming a video game, organizing a grassroots campaign, curating an art exhibit, or teaching outside the university. The BSC is committed to ensuring that academic research engages with and intervenes in the culture, politics, and thought of the larger worlds in which the university exists.


The BSC Workshop

The Black Studies Workshop is the backbone for intellectual community amongst first-year Black Studies Cohort students in the School of Humanities. This year, the Workshop, in collaboration with the Critical Theory Emphasis, welcomes an exciting list of guest speakers, including Axelle Karera, Christina Sharpe, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, and Christopher Harris. It also will convene panels of UCI faculty to present on their current Black Studies research and will include skills sessions and other student-led activities as determined by participants in the cohort. One of the most innovative community-building elements of the Cluster is that students have access, through the Workshop, to collective research funds to use as they wish to support and foster team-based research under the guidance of two current UCI Ph.D. students working in Black Studies, who will serve as their peer mentors.


Meet the 2023 Cohort

These students represent a wonderfully interdisciplinary cohort, with wide-ranging topical and theoretical interests.


Muhammad Rafi


Rafi's interests are in social justice movements and resistance to systemic oppression. Rafi's current research examines intersecting systems of racial and economic inequalities, policing, and mass incarceration and the ways in which they impact and affect people of color in urban centers, with a particular interest in Los Angeles. 



DaShane Fugate

Culture & Theory

DaShané’s research sits on the intersection of social justice and healing. She seeks to investigate ways Black individuals/communities create spaces for authentic embodiment, communion, and liberation. Using ethnography and critical Black feminist epistemologies, DaShané (re)imagines the relationship we have to our own bodies and with other bodies under the overarching systems of domination that assault the wellness (mind, body, soul) of Black people in the U.S. and globally.

Olamina Sanchez

Culture & Theory


olamina’s research focuses on negrophobia and fetishism in environmentalist thought. Their fields of interest include black studies, anarchist studies, and psychoanalysis.


Jiajia Duan



Jiajia's research focuses on social movement, transnational activism, and multi-ethnic solidarity in the Cold War arena, specifically Third World internationalism, Black Radicalism, and Asian American movements in the 1960s and 1970s. She endeavors to understand how Black and Asian American radical activists articulated Third World solidarity to construct a revolutionary ideal of global anti-imperialism in America and appropriate the Third World revolutionary ideology to enrich their own domestic political agendas. Further, by situating their political imaginary in the scope of global Third World anti-imperialism, She hopes to explore how these non-state actors negotiated their ideologies and priorities within the changing geopolitical context of the Cold War.



Laurence Hall


Laurence's research interests are in 20th Century Social/Political Thought, Double Consciousness, Deconstruction, Self-identification. 


2022 Cohort


Munyao Kilolo

Comparative Literature

Munyao’s research is on inter-African language translation and the movement of stories across the linguistic divide through translation. He is especially interested in the comparison of African and European languages and their interactions. This research interest is informed by some of the projects he has been involved in. He is founder and editor-in-chief of Ituĩka – A Literary Platform devoted to African Languages and Translation. Munyao received his BA in Journalism from the United States International University – Africa, and a Postgraduate Certificate from Seagull School of Publishing.



Glaydah Namukasa

Comparative Literature

Glaydah’s research interest is in the comparative analysis of the intersection of literature and medicine, with particular interest in questions of postcoloniality, and representations of disability in African and Global Black literatures. Her work aims to probe the comparative representations of illnesses, diseases, and other disabilities in these literatures. She is a Honorary Fellow of the International Writing Program, University of Iowa. Her publications include: The Deadly Ambition (novel), Voice of a Dream (novella), and three children’s books. She has completed her third novel, My New Home. Glaydah holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside, a BA in Community Psychology from Makerere University, a diploma in Midwifery Nursing from Rugaba Hospital School, and additional certificates in content editing and in midwifery.


Bianca Borrero

Culture & Theory

Bianca’s research interests include a critical look at identity politics in relation to liberation or emancipation and the work of Éduoard Glossant in envisioning relation within the context of the Caribbean, the violence of the Middle Passage, the movement of the ocean, and its relationship to the U.S. South.  She has an MA in Women’s Studies from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and an MA in Social Sciences at the University of Chicago with a concentration in political theory. 


Francisco Reyes-Betancourtt


Francisco is interested in African-American literature and its intersections with Latinx literature and identity, including Afro-Latinx voices, Black diaspora across the Americas, and shared cultural resistance against institutional oppression. In addition, he utilizes the frameworks of affect/attachment theory and narrative theory to analyze literary representations of Black Trauma, ranging from Zora Neale Hurston’s works to Octavia Butler’s science fiction. With a focus on contemporary literature, Francisco focuses on literary theory to examine how Black/Latinx authors utilize language and narrative to mediate cultural perceptions of philosophy, race/racism, and intergenerational trauma. He received his B.A. from UCLA in English with a minor in Spanish, where he was awarded Highest Departmental Honors. Francisco is a recipient of the Eugene Cota Robles fellowship.

Martha Tesfalidet

Martha Tesfalidet


Martha comes to UCI eager to use her own experience as a first-generation Eritrean American woman as the basis for her research into the culture of the African diaspora, postcolonial theory, and African-American literature. Martha studied psychology as a undergraduate, went on to earn her MA in English, and will begin doctoral work at UCI as a recipient of the Graduate Opportunity Fellowship. 


Randy Felder


Randy earned a BA in History and Political Thought from Concordia University in 2020 and is currently completing an MA at Chapman University in History and War and Society. His MA thesis focuses on Black internationalism in Asia. At UCI, Felder will pursue research about post-WWII Black radical engagements with Marxism broadly, especially Maoism. 


Catherine (Katie) Literte


Catherine earned a BA in Dance and History from Loyola Marymount in 1998 and an MA from CSU Los Angeles in History and another from CSU Fullerton in American Studies. Her MA thesis focused on Black women’s activism and literary accomplishments in the nineteenth century. Catherine proposes to work on the intersections of race and gender in the nineteenth century.


Meet the Inaugural 2021 Cohort

These students represent a wonderfully interdisciplinary cohort, with wide-ranging topical and theoretical interests.

Hannah Bacchus smilingHannah Elizabeth Bacchus

Hannah’s research concerns 20th-century African American literature as well as contemporary African American literature. She is also focused on globalization, Black diasporic literature, and postcolonial literature. Her work explores themes of identity, Black authenticity, neoliberalism, class, and gender. Her interests also include transnational capital as well as representation and performance. She received her B.A. from Kalamazoo College and her M.A. from University of Illinois at Chicago, both in English literature.

Librecht Baker



Librecht is interested in rhetoric and composition, Black feminist theory, and identity and language, and more specifically, in the the affects of identity(s) and the ways language and communication shift based on identity(s). She earned an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College and a dual BA in English and Print Journalism from CSULB. Her writings can be found in Q Youth Foundation's 2021 Eastside Queer Stories Radio Plays, ACCOLADES: A Women Who Submit Anthology, Solace: Writing Refuge, & LGBTQ Women of Color, Sinister Wisdom 107 - Black Lesbians: We are the Revolution!, and other publications.


Cienna Benn smilingCienna Benn

Visual Studies
Cienna Benn’s research explores the modern development of Black aesthetic theory and its disciplinary logics practiced by Black photographers and filmmakers during social movements and initiatives throughout the twentieth century. Her work utilizes the Unbroken Genealogy approach to explore the meaning-making practices of contemporary visual artists and activists along the lines of visuality, gender and sexuality, sociocultural theory, and the Black Radical Tradition. As a Mellon Mays and CAMRA Mellon Fellow, Cienna makes use of multimodal methods to fill apertures between the humanities and art history through the creation of visual scholarship. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Africana studies and sociology from Howard University.
Ben Bieser looking into the camera Ben Bieser

Comparative Literature
Ben’s research repositions Marxian approaches to the question of value in relation to theoretical ruptures induced by recent work in Black studies. Through attention to 19th-century American and Caribbean legal cases, they hope to dilate the concept of fungibility to trace the ways in which slavery’s abstractions have served to render the reproduction of the regime’s material, (anti-)social, and libidinal relations impervious to the event of emancipation — and, in turn, trouble distinctions drawn between political economy and political ontology. Ben is looking forward to thinking with and learning from their fellow members of this new cohort!
Tariq Edwards staring at an upward angle towards the cameraTariq Edwards

Visual Studies
Research Interests: The absence of Black women as directors in the film industry, sports and its interaction between race, society, politics; horror films and their commentary on society
Ronnese Glover smiling Ronnese Kirton Glover

Culture & Theory
Ronnese’s research concerns the long-lasting consequences of chattel slavery literacy laws and the ways in which they materialize in contemporary composition pedagogy. More specifically, her work draws critical attention to how academic language norms disadvantage Blacks students and Black vernacular knowledge, contributing to anti-Blackness in the classroom. This work employs composition theory and pedagogy, critical race theory, Black studies, literature and culture, and critical university studies. Further engaging theories of racial passing, decolonization, and critical university studies, Ronnese’s work aims to project alternatives to anti-Blackness in educational spaces. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from California State University, Los Angeles.
Chasia Jeffries smilingChasia Elzina Jeffries

Culture & Theory

Chasia's research looks at ideas of knowledge production, community, embodiment, resistance, and credibility amongst Black women, primarily using Black Feminist Theory, dis/ability theory, poetic theory, and affect theory.

Chasia received her B.A. in Law, History, & Culture with a minor in Gender & Social Justice from the University of Southern California where she was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. At UCI, she is also a student in the Feminist Studies Graduate Emphasis.

Mariel Rowland smilingMariel Rowland

Culture & Theory
Mariel’s research centers radical Black womxn educators. She studies the lives and pedagogical work of womxn who have made space in educational systems where there seemingly was none. Tracing their different methods of rupture, Mariel considers the ways in which Black feminist pedagogy moves across time and space, and in between people. With a background in art museum education, Mariel’s own practice as an educator informs her research.

Brie Smiley

Culture & Theory


Brie’s research seeks provocations to the questions of ontology, madness, and deviance. Using psychoanalysis, Black Critical Theory, memoir, and Black queer theory, Brie’s work constantly seeks to use slavery as a theoretic for the past, present and future of Black positionality in the world. Brie is also interested in the fallacies of multiculturalism, reform, and representation and their wider connections to antiblackness. Additionally, Brie seeks to research Brazilian archives and American archives of slavery and law, as well as the stratification of Blackness between the United States and Latin America. They received their Master’s in Women’s Studies and Bachelor’s in African American Studies from the University of Alabama.


Gabrielle Straughn smilingGabrielle Straughn

Gabi’s research has focused on the gendered nature of Native American boarding schools, and she plans to expand this research into broader histories of education among Black and Indigenous women in colonial America. She received her B.A. in history from San Jose State University and her master’s in history from New York University.
Konysha Wade smilingKonysha Wade

Culture & Theory

Konysha’s research interests include an intersection of Black Studies and Black Theology; the oral histories of the Black church being her primary concern. Konysha also studies Black energy transferability and what it means to exist in oneness through shared experiences.


The BSC has thus far been supported by the following programs, departments, and schools:

  • The Office of Inclusive Excellence Black Thriving Initiative
  • UCI Graduate Division
  • The School of Humanities
  • The UCI Humanities Center
  • The SOH Dean’s Climate Council
  • The Critical Theory Emphasis
  • The departments of African American Studies, Comparative Literature, Culture & Theory, English, History, and Visual Studies.

BSC News

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