Inaugural OAD Research Collective 2016

OAD Research Collective

The GSAS Office of Academic Diversity Research Collective is an interdisciplinary group of PhD students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University who are researching topics—such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class—that are of particular interest to underrepresented groups. Building on the Graduate School’s understanding of diversity as an academic value that drives research innovation, the collective seeks to create a safe environment where students can share their research with colleagues of different personal and disciplinary backgrounds. Two main principles guide the collective: interdisciplinarity and public scholarship. The collective also aims to promote awareness about the experiences and working conditions of scholars who are traditionally underrepresented in the American academy.

Sahar Ullah

Sahar is a PhD Candidate in Arabic and Comparative Literature, Public Humanities Fellow, and Senior Lead Teaching Fellow at Columbia University, where she is completing her dissertation and working as an editorial intern for Public Books. A South Floridian daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, Sahar earned her BA from the University of Miami in Literature, Religious Studies and Political Science and her MA from the University of Chicago in Middle Eastern Studies. As a CASA Fellow, Sahar studied Arabic at the American University of Cairo for two years. Sahar is also a founder, the creative director, and a writer for the Hijabi Monologues. Her short stories have recently been featured by Columbia's Say Word on WKCR and StorySpace, and she has consulted for theater and television productions on Muslim cultures.


“Āʼishah al-Bāʻūniyyah: The Life and Poetry of a Medieval Damascene Scholar”

Contrary to popular beliefs about the lack of women intellectuals and the decline of Arabic literary production in medieval Muslim societies, the sixteenth-century Damascene scholar Āʼishah al-Bāʻūniyyah is considered one of the most prolific women writers of the medieval period. Most recently, she has been translated for the first time into English and has been described as composing more works in Arabic than any other woman prior to the twentieth century; however, very little is known about her and her works in American and European academia and within a larger context in which Arab and Muslim societies are popularly vilified as historically misogynist and anti-culture. This talk will introduce and shed light on the life and poetry of Āʼishah al-Bāʻūniyyah. Specifically, I will closely read her Wine Ode in T, the Tā’iyyah, and demonstrate Al-Bāʻūniyyah’s performance of scholarly citation and engagement with other famous medieval writers along with unique departures in rhetorical style. During a time when histories are irreparably being destroyed in Syria and other parts of the Arabic and Muslim world, highlighting an Arabic love poem by a medieval Muslim woman is a small contribution to resisting the erasure and vilification of a people.

César Colón-Montijo

César Colón-Montijo is a journalist and doctoral candidate in Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. He obtained a master's in Anthropology and Audiovisual Communication from the University of Barcelona, Spain, in 2005, and previously completed a BA in communications at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, in 2003. César is the editor of the Cocinando Suave: Ensayos de Salsa en Puerto Rico (2015), a landmark collection of scholarly, historical, and journalistic essays, poems, and photo essays about the histories of salsa. He recently published Viaje a La Casita: Notas de Plena en el Rincón Criollo (2016), an ethnographic chronicle based on his research about Puerto Rican music and culture in the South Bronx. His doctoral dissertation studies the life and music of the foundational Afro-Puerto Rican singer Ismael “Maelo” Rivera (1931-1987) through an ethnographic research conducted in Venezuela, Panamá, Puerto Rico, and New York since 2006. 


 “Aquí en Colobó: Relating Race, Nature, and Song.”

In this paper, I tell the story of Colobó, a mass-mediated popular song, originally written as a poem on a turtle shell by a fisherman from the neighborhood of Colobó in Loíza, a coastal town in northeastern Puerto Rico. The fisherman gave this poetic turtle shell to Ismael “Maelo” Rivera (1931-1987), a foundational Afro-Puerto Rican salsa singer who, deeply moved by the gift, transformed the poem into a song featured in the album Traigo de todo from 1974.Telling the story of Colobó, however, inevitably implies relating a larger story: a tale about a place and its people—that is, Loíza and loiceños—enduring the specter of race amidst empire and colonialism in Puerto Rico. I relate how the Puerto Rican “racial imagination” (Radano and Bohlman 2000) has been articulated through a racist imagining of the Puerto Rican nation as a racial democracy. By telling the story of Colobó, I thus examine critically how ideas about race and nature have been deployed as essentialist markers of Loíza and loiceños as a racially folklorized place and people (Pérez 2002, Godreau 2006). Therefore, this paper is not only the story of a song. This is a story about how song is constituted as a genre not only by its formal characteristics, but additionally—and perhaps more importantly—by the stories people cherished about it. In this case, these stories my interlocutors tell about Colobó help us think critically about race in Puerto Rico, having in mind that racial matters are not bounded, but pervasive, resilient, malleable, and context-specific.

Brittany Fox-Williams

Brittany Fox-Williams is a PhD candidate in Sociology and Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow at Columbia University. Brittany’s research interests include children and youth, education, race and ethnicity, social inequality, and public policy. Her research examines young people’s relationships with authority figures in the education and justice systems. Brittany completed her undergraduate studies in Business Administration at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated as valedictorian in 2008. In 2012, she earned a Master of Public Administration degree with a concentration in Urban and Social Policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). Prior to starting her graduate studies, Brittany worked in commercial banking (in New York City and Philadelphia) and micro-finance (Ho, Ghana). Brittany is a Spring 2017 intern in the GSAS Office of Academic Diversity. She also serves as a graduate student co-coordinator of the interdisciplinary Race, Ethnicity and Migration Workshop at Columbia University.


“The Rules of (Dis)Engagement: Black Young People and their Strategies for Negotiating Police Contact.”

Prior work on youth-police relations has examined young people’s general perceptions of the police, their differential treatment by police officers, and officers’ discretion in dealing with youth. Yet, researchers have largely neglected the question of how young people attempt to shape these encounters. I address this critical gap, while also incorporating the experiences of young women—a group that is not exempt from personal and vicarious police contact, but is traditionally ignored in the youth-police literature. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with nineteen young men and women living in New York City, I investigate the strategies they employ or subscribe to in navigating police contact. Three types of strategies emerged from my analysis: avoidance, management, and symbolic resistance. Avoidance strategies are marked by young people’s attempts to preemptively steer clear of officers on the street. Management strategies are employed by young people during police encounters to limit risk or harm, while symbolic resistance is a technique used by some youth to preserve their dignity in these interactions. This study also offer new insights into how black youth assess their police interactions in an era of highly publicized incidents of police brutality.

Lindsey Cienfuegos

Lindsey Cienfuegos is a doctoral student in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her research focuses mainly on Central American representative politics. In 2016, she completed her MA degree in English at Georgetown University, where she researched the play between the dominant and counter-rhetorics surrounding Salvadoran gang membership. Her studies focus on queer theory, queer of color critique, disability studies, representation in the media and Latinx studies. She hopes her time at Columbia will help her consider how one might utilize the digital humanities to better contextualize concepts of race and inequality in the United States.


“San Salvador’s Post-Generation: The Past and Future Body Politic of Nayib Bukele.”

Nayib Bukele wears colorful socks. As the current mayor of San Salvador, Bukele’s socks––usually red––clash against his classic grey, black, and blue suits. But somehow, this clash works for Bukele. Everything about the young mayor is contradictory, and his self-branding is no different. This project explores what Bukele’s socks represent, and how these socks function in the context of El Salvador’s postwar generation. Following his socks will quite literally take us on a journey that illuminates how Bukele has managed to shift the rhetoric that surrounds his city, his country, and those dispossessed among the Salvadoran diaspora. However, while Bukele’s socks manage to subvert the global gaze of El Salvador’s current state of poverty and violence in order to “move forward,” they also metaphorically represent a reestablishment, or, reattachment to the very conditions in which these inequalities emerged.

The humor of placing such importance in Bukele’s socks provides a space of expansion for Salvadoran agency that purposefully detracts from the hostile cultural gaze imposed by global media circuits. Bukele’s socks represent the complicated new forms of Latin American politics that traverse between the US and Central America, and connect the thousands of severed families that currently live between borders.

Terrell D. Frazier

Terrell Frazier is a PhD student in Sociology and Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow at Columbia University. He is also a 2016 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholar. His research interests include political sociology, social movements, social networks, organizations, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and stratification and inequality. His current research—a study of activist network structures in New York City—investigates the relationship between social movement actors’ social positions and their capacities for strategic action. His research also examines health and disease at the intersections of identity, social position, and processes of advantage and disadvantage, to illuminate the etiology of health disparities in marginalized communities. Prior to joining the Department of Sociology, Terrell completed his MA in African-American Studies at Columbia, where he has also worked as a researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE).


“Fundamental Interventions: Taking on the Fundamental Causes of HIV/AIDS, 1987-2016.”

In contrast to the prevalent risk-factor epidemiology, recent work has challenged the fields of epidemiology and medical sociology to take seriously the “fundamental causes” of disease like lack of access to resources such as money, knowledge, and social support. But despite increasing attention to the social determinants of health and health inequalities, there has been only limited research into—or theorizing about—the most effective practices by which individuals or communities might address such fundamental causes of disease. I address this gap through a comparison of two organizations, ACT UP, founded in 1987, and VOCAL-NY, founded in 1998, and their approaches, in different historical moments, to address the fundamental causes of HIV/AIDS mortality — one focused on anti-gay stigma alone, the other representing an intersectional approach. Drawing on multiple data sources including social network information and primary individual interview data, as well as secondary data, this study elaborates the relationship between the social patterning of disease and the patterning of related social movements to analyze the increasing association of HIV/AIDS mortality with race and class. This study illuminates how efforts to address only one fundamental cause of disease makes other causes more salient.

Estela Bernice Diaz

Estela Bernice Diaz is a doctoral student and Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow at Columbia University. She is also a National Science Foundation (NSF) GRFP Fellow and a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. Her current research interests include gender and sexuality, early childhood education, queer theory, and social inequality. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, Estela organized an interdisciplinary conference with Princeton’s Office of Religious Life on “Poverty and Peacemaking,” structured around a series of roundtables with diplomats, religious leaders, scholars, philanthropists, artists, and students. She then worked as an undergraduate admissions officer at Princeton University for two years. Originally from Los Angeles, Estela received her BA in Sociology with a certificate in gender and sexuality studies from Princeton University in 2014.



“Anxious Adults and Teaching Gender in Preschool Classrooms.”

Early schooling plays an important role in improving a child’s long-term academic, social, and financial success. However, as access to preschools continues to grow, little research accounts for the ways preschools unconsciously establish gender norms and practices at the earliest stage of schooling. To better understand how preschools teach and understand gender, I plan to conduct substantial fieldwork and participant observation in two preschools with similar demographic breakdowns and different curricula in New York City. By including families in this study, I will also observe how familial gendered teachings may differ from those in the classroom. Previous findings suggest that teachers are constrained by interactional-level forces as they work to manage the children’s gender. This study has the potential to illuminate the opportunities and limitations these gendered teachings create for children.