Throughout my professional life I have been dedicated to exploring diversity in pedagogically productive ways: creating media projects to increase visibility of underrepresented communities, teaching in public schools, and founding mentorship programs for students from challenging backgrounds.
This commitment comes in large part from my own experiences as an outsider. In 1984, my mother fled the Soviet Union to escape persecution because my father was Haitian. I was left behind at a military base with my grandmother as a guarantee to the KGB of my mother’s future return. A survivor of WWII, my grandmother always taught me that education meant freedom and opportunity because “knowledge can never be taken away.” When I was 11 years old, my mother sent for me to immigrate to the United States. Driven by my grandmother’s words, I excelled in my studies despite my limited English, and was admitted into the Hudson Preparatory School
with a full academic scholarship. Within three years, I completed all AP coursework and entered Rutgers University at 16 years of age.
At Rutgers, I joined the LGBT Union (LLEGO!)
to raise awareness of race, class, gender, and sexuality issues faced by students of color on campus. Working with students from diverse backgrounds taught me to see how people of color, especially those who are transgender or gender nonconforming, are often so marginalized in society that they are not recognized at all. I founded a mentoring program to redress issues of visibility and belonging. Fostering connections between incoming students, upperclassmen, and graduate and postgraduate alumni, this program encouraged students to draw upon their personal experiences to promote self-advocacy, academic success, and preparation for the future. After graduation, I immediately moved into education by working as a kindergarten teacher for HeadStart
. My experience of working with “at risk” youth taught me the importance of community engagement and positive representations of difference in the public sphere. As the only teacher of color in a minority school, I understood that diversity was more than just a box to be checked off in a multicultural curriculum; rather it could be deployed as an educational resource to motivate my students to succeed academically. To build my students’ self-esteem and embolden their sense of cultural empathy, I founded a multigenerational mentorship program to connect kindergarteners with seniors from a local retirement home. At graduation, my students performed a play about their neighborhood based on our oral history storytelling exercises. The overwhelming positive response from the community affirmed my pursuit of a career as a scholar who combines research and service.
In 2007, I joined the American Studies Ph.D. program
at Rutgers to specialize in public scholarship because of my belief that a Ph.D. would give me the intellectual and research skills to undergird my work in community organization and documentation. As founder and president of the Rutgers American Studies Student Association, I organized academic conferences and professionalization workshops to support the recruitment and retention of graduate students who have been traditionally underrepresented in the American professoriate. Within the classroom, I combine oral history
, and archival research
to create original documentaries that bring visibility to the rich and varied experiences of the people of Newark. From uplifting accounts of art cooperatives to inspirational battles of activists against foreclosure, my scholarship aims to remind viewers that equity is still an issue that must be fought for today. I do not take my sense of belonging and academic freedom for granted. I am committed to embody my grandmother’s belief in education as a vehicle for freedom and opportunity by working as a university professor to advocate for visibility of marginalized Americans and access and opportunity for all.