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The Juneteenth Scholars Program is designed to recognize the importance of university scholarship in understanding connections between the Juneteenth holiday and contemporary struggles against institutional racism, the exposure of structural inequality, and support for vulnerable populations.

Initiated in June 2020 in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, this program is intended to support faculty members in early stages of their careers who are involved in research on topics such as emancipatory movements, structures of oppression, institutional silences about violence, the courage of activists, and the need for systemic structural change, in the United States and globally. 

Juneteenth Scholars will produce outcomes that benefit the scholarly trajectory of the faculty members, including publications, presentations, and other steps needed to move toward promotion and career progression. The purpose of this program is to support faculty research, without any expectation of additional service or teaching or other activities.

The inaugural Juneteenth Scholars will receive a summer salary in the amount of $5,000 for research conducted between July 1 and August 10, 2020. In addition, each Juneteenth Scholar will be asked to identify one undergraduate who can perform funded research to support the faculty’s scholarly activities. The student may begin work this summer, and can work through the fall semester.

The faculty scholars and their students will be invited to present research at a forum during the next academic year. They will also be invited to contribute to discussions of steps to make Juneteenth Scholars Program a permanent form of faculty support in the college and at Virginia Tech.

Amaryah Armstrong

Amaryah Armstrong, assistant professor of race in American religion and culture, will use the funding to finish the last two chapters of her book and revise a paper for publication. The new chapters will discuss how Christian ideas of redemption create racial distinctions in Western societies. Examining the work of Hortense Spillers, an American literary critic and Black feminist theorist known for her essays on African American literature, Armstrong will explore how concepts of freedom for Black people are shaped by ideas of family and redemption – especially in how they control Black sexuality and reproduction. It will analyze Black women's sentimental literature at the turn of the century to show how romanticized theologies of the Black family correspond to the contradictions in Black political forms of the long 19th century that she said still exist today. 

Her paper is based on a presentation highlighting the work of Orlando Patterson, a Jamaican American historian and cultural sociologist, and his use of Christian beliefs to address freedom and slavery in Western societies. Armstrong said his ideas have been a key influence in the ways such concepts are thought of in contemporary society. The article will examine how the private and public are held together by the religious value that can be extracted from Blackness. Armstrong was previously named a Juneteenth Scholar in 2022.

Tyechia Thompson

Tyechia Thompson, assistant professor in the Department of English, will use the funding to co-edit a book, “The Routledge Companion to James Baldwin,” with Yasmin Degout, associate professor of English at Howard University –  Thompson’s alma mater. Thompson published an article on Baldwin, a writer and civil rights activist well known for his poems, novels, plays, and essays that address themes such as emancipation and structural oppression, in 2016. She also founded a website dedicated to tracking Paris references Baldwin made in his work. Thompson will edit and provide feedback for more than 40 authors who are submitting essays for the publication, which aims to provide a comprehensive overview of Baldwin’s work amid growing interest in his life. She also will draft an introduction and complete chapter summaries for sections focused on his portrayal in film, photos, and other media, as well as theoretical approaches to his literature. Thompson was also named a Juneteenth Scholar in 2022.

Paroma Wagle

Paroma Wagle, assistant professor of urban affairs and planning in the School of Public and International Affairs, will seek to understand the daily struggles of poor communities in Mumbai, India, and how they are disproportionately affected by climate change. Wagle hopes to learn from grassroot activists to better understand how urban inequalities, such as access to public services like housing, water, transportation, sanitation, and health care, can worsen already difficult living conditions. Since most of the communities consist of recently migrated workers who belong to historically marginalized groups and religions, with women often bearing the brunt of the inequalities, Wagle’s research will address how oppression and institutionalized discrimination affect access to these services. Her research is part of broader efforts to highlight how historical urban inequalities are crucial for addressing future climate challenges.

Amaryah Armstrong

Amaryah Armstrong, an assistant professor of race in American religion and culture, will use the funding to complete her book, “The Trouble of Redemption: Blackness, Desire, and the Reproduction of Christian Order.” Much of Armstrong’s research is set in the post-Reconstruction era — a period following the Civil War that sought to bring back southern states to the Union and guarantee rights to former enslaved people. Her book will serve as a guide for understanding imaginations of Blackness that push the call for Black freedom beyond Christian models of redemption.

Silas M. Cassinelli

Silas M. Cassinelli,  an assistant professor in the Department of English and teaching faculty in the Women’s and Gender Studies program, will conduct research for a book he is writing on feminist and queer kinship formations within contemporary U.S. narratives about the Korean American diaspora. His work for the Juneteenth Scholars Program includes developing a new chapter based on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s experimental novel, "DICTÉE." Given the advent of anti-Asian attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 2021 Atlanta Spa Shooting, Cassinelli will discuss Cha’s novel and 1982 murder within the broader context of sexual violence against Asian and Asian American women.

Sherri Craig

In a peer-reviewed article, Sherri Craig, an assistant professor of English in the rhetoric and writing program, will examine universities’ and colleges’ Juneteenth announcements, as well as their statements regarding anti-police violence and anti-Black racism. Craig is passionate about holding universities accountable for the texts they release. Ultimately, her research will examine the information available on university and college websites to analyze their stance, institutionally and structurally, to ensure Black students the ability to freely navigate campuses.

Cana Itchuaqiyaq

Cana Itchuaqiyaq, an assistant professor of professional and technical writing, will start a book project, and create a method that effectively and ethically uses Indigenous knowledge in research. Itchuaqiyaq is a tribal member of the Noorvik Native Community in Northwest Alaska. Her project will examine timely issues, such as Indigenous knowledge and data sovereignty.

Karin Kitchens

Karin Kitchens, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, is examining the ways in which the pandemic has influenced the minority composition of school boards. The pandemic has placed significant stress on school board members, with several media reports detailing board members’ decisions to quit and not seek reelection, Kitchens said. She is collecting information on school board members across 14 states.

Fernanda R. Rosa

Fernanda R. Rosa, an assistant professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society, researches social justice and communication sovereignty among Indigenous peoples in Latin America. Rosa intends to examine how Indigenous people’s lives and acts of resistance have played a role in the coronavirus crisis — especially the ways they have maintained their wellbeing during this time. She also plans to create a systematic literature review database to understand Indigenous scholarship, such as authors, their localities, publication outlets, and the main questions that arise.

Clara Suong

Clara Suong, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and deputy director of the Tech4Humanity Lab for Computational Social Science Initiatives at Virginia Tech, will submit a paper on ambassadorial race and influence on U.S. foreign policy to an academic journal. She also will work on a second article. Suong researches how attributes of individual policy makers — such as race and ethnicity — influence policy making and affect political, economic, and military transfers between countries.

Tyechia Thompson

Tyechia Thompson is an assistant professor in the Department of English. Her digital storytelling research project, “Never to Return Again: James A. Emanuel and His American Expatriation,” examines poems by Emanuel, which are archived at the Library of Congress. Her project aims to make 50 of his poems addressing systemic racism and police brutality digitally available to the public.

Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown

Letisha Engracia Cardoso Brown, an assistant professor of sociology, will research Black feminism related to sports. She plans to collect literature in the fields of Black feminisms and the sociology of sport, as well as compile data from news and magazine articles featuring sportswomen for an upcoming book project.

Mauro Caraccioli

Mauro Caraccioli, an assistant professor of political science and a core faculty in the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT), conducts research on the racial hierarchy and political theology of the Spanish Empire. His work for the Juneteenth Scholars Program will involve an examination of two case studies. The first is on the political context of production for the Jesuit Alonso de Sandoval’s ethnographic study of African slavery, which details the early evangelization of African slaves into the Spanish Empire. The second traces the intellectual legacies of the Afro-Peruvian mystic Ursula de Jesus and the institutionalization of Black religious servants into Roman Catholic convents.

Bikrum Singh Gill 

Bikrum Singh Gill, an assistant professor of political science and a core faculty member of ASPECT, will continue his research on the intersection of race, environmental justice, and political economy. He argues that a racialized naivety that involves the dehumanization of Indigenous and Black people informs the global economy. He will review the extent to which prominent contemporary ecological restoration projects either advance or work against anti-racist and decolonial futures.

Tameka Grimes

Tameka Grimes, an assistant professor of counselor education, explores the impact of racial trauma on the schooling experiences of Black students from kindergarten through 12th grade in predominantly white rural communities. This research builds on her previous work on rural school counselors’ professional identity construction and their role in advocating for marginalized students.

Rebecca Hester

For Rebecca Hester, an assistant professor in science, technology, and society, the focus will be on the relationship between racism and health in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided ample proof of the pathogenic entanglements between structural racism and public health. Her research examines how racism becomes embodied as chronic inflammation and then how that inflammation leads to chronic illness, an important predictor of death during the pandemic. Her research will inform a larger project on the contested terrain of who and what makes up “biological danger” in public and global health.

Javiera Jaque Hidalgo

Javiera Jaque Hidalgo, an assistant professor of Spanish, analyzes the dynamics of Indigenous resistance in the context of funeral festivities in the colonial city of Santiago, Chile, in the 17th century. She focuses her attention on the political implications of confraternities, lay religious brotherhoods, or sodalities that were founded or participated in by Indigenous people of varied origins. She argues that these funeral rituals in colonial urban contexts give crucial information to understand past and present emancipatory Indigenous modes of resistance against colonial and postcolonial oppression.

Audrey Reeves

Audrey Reeves, an assistant professor of political science and a core faculty member of ASPECT, will research the work of activists, artists, and curators involved in the project of “decolonizing” museums and memorials in the United States. Her research, which focuses on activism directed at heritage sites commemorating armed conflicts from World War II onward, looks at museums and world politics and considers the role of museum visits in shaping prevalent understandings of legitimate warfare.

Balbir K. Singh

Balbir K. Singh, an assistant professor of religion and culture and a core faculty member of ASPECT, will conduct research for a book she in writing on the visual culture, opacity, and the body politics of Muslims, Sikhs, and other minoritarian subjects under the rise of global Islamophobia and contemporary surveillance culture. As part of her Juneteenth Scholars project, she will study the politics of hair, race, nature, and the sacred through different sites of analysis, including The Crown (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act, in combating hair-based discrimination. She will also examine the maintenance of long hair by diasporic Sikhs and Native peoples, as well as contemporary art by Black, Brown, and Indigenous artists who use hair as material in their work. 

Philip Yaure

Philip Yaure, an assistant professor of philosophy, will continue his work on Frederick Douglass’ Abolitionist Republicanism. He will complete a critical examination of Douglass’ account of American citizenship as the basis for a pluralistic, inclusive republicanism.

Amaryah Shaye Armstrong

Amaryah Shaye Armstrong, an assistant professor of religion and culture, will explore political and theological visions of justice, with a focus on the apocalyptic political theology of W. E. B. Du Bois as a way to imagine Black futures beyond current forms of white supremacy.

Amaryah Armstrong’s Juneteenth Scholars research included two projects: one pertaining to racial ideas of fetal personhood and the other on the apocalyptic political theology of W.E.B. Du Bois as a way to imagine Black futures beyond current forms of white supremacy. Du Bois, a sociologist and writer, was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909 and the first Black man to earn a doctorate from Harvard University.

In the fall of 2020, Armstrong, an assistant professor of religion and culture, published “Surrogate Flesh: Race, Redemption, and the Cultural Production of Fetal Personhood” in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies.

“The paper looks at how Christian theological ideas shape racial ideas of fetal personhood,” she said. “There’s an increasing use of images of Black children and babies in anti-abortion billboards and advertisements to support a notion of fetal personhood. But this idea of fetal personhood is often used to criminalize pregnant persons, especially Black pregnant persons. So, I’m trying to understand two things. One, how does the use of these images displace the threat of anti-Blackness from white supremacist violence to Black wombs and Black reproductive justice? And secondly, how do these advertisements and images rely on Christian ideas of redemption and damnation to position anti-abortion advocates as saving Black people and children from the threat of Black reproductive freedoms?

“By making the fetus the cornerstone of an idea of Black personhood, anti-abortion advocates place Black reproductive freedom at odds with Black personhood. So, for me, examining the theological assumptions around personhood, redemption, and damnation that lie in this idea of fetal personhood becomes an important place to figure out how race, religion, and politics converge around reproduction. My hope is this contributes to an understanding of the centrality of reproductive freedom to Black liberation.”

Her work on both fetal personhood and Du Bois are at the intersection of her interest in religion and political theory.  

“The pieces I researched are attempts to think about theology in non-confessional ways and in places it may not seem apparent,” she said. “I enjoy examining how theological ideas and perceptions of the world shape imaginations of justice.”

Andrea Baldwin

Andrea Baldwin, an assistant professor of sociology, will focus on the history of Black suffering and resistance and the role of higher education in developing corrective and prescriptive measures in care and healing.

Andrea Baldwin’s Juneteenth Scholars project also involved studying predominantly white universities and the impact of their diversity and inclusion polices on those with minoritized and marginalized identities. In her research, she examined the colonial history of the university, including a decade of orientation policies and practices, particularly those geared toward inclusion and diversity. She found that these policies often portray how the marginalized and minoritized feel in and about the university in way that is different from those who are white. She said that although universities, such as Virginia Tech, acknowledge their controversial histories and take actions, such as listing preferred pronouns on student name badges and denouncing land and labor exploitation, these aren’t enough.

“This project goes beyond simply examining how Black and other folks of color, women, and queer folx navigate the institution, but also the feelings that this constant navigation produces,” added the assistant professor of sociology. “It’s largely about how minoritized and marginalized students and faculty, as well staff, feel within the university. When they come on campus, how do they feel within the structures and among the people they encounter? Just the space itself produces an affectivity, a way that they feel that differs greatly from that of white, cisgender, heterosexual majority people with those white identities. And I argue that basically, for those of us who are marginalized and minoritized to succeed at the institution, we need to take those feelings into consideration. And I posit we can’t keep doing business as usual.”

Today, institutions such as Virginia Tech, Baldwin said, are in a nebulous place as they navigate the establishment of inclusion and diversity policies and programs, while trying not to create dissention within its majority. There is still much work to be done, she added, and she cautions universities to be careful not to continue to alienate their minoritized and marginalized populations. 

“They need to ask how it feels to have to deal with this all the time, especially as universities’ rhetoric is around inclusion and diversity,” she said. “And all these things that are supposed to make you feel as though you belong, but at every turn, you feel as though you don’t belong.”

Brandy Faulkner

Brandy Faulkner, the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies in the Department of Political Science, will examine the effectiveness — including issues of motivation, organizing strategies, and political efficacy — of student-led movements advocating for social and political change.

The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and similar racial atrocities became a rallying point for many in 2020. Many Black university students became inspired to work toward changes in diversity, equity, and inclusion at predominantly white universities.

“We saw many students and student organizations put out lists of demands to university administrators, but I wanted to see the results,” said Brandy Faulkner, a collegiate assistant professor of political science and the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies. “How did administrators respond? Were the students effective? Often underrepresented students feel isolated. Did they connect with the broader community? Was it supportive? Did the students get the help and the resources they needed to be successful?”

These were the questions Faulkner researched. After studying lists of student demands, she found commonalities across the universities, including Virginia Tech, Penn State, and the University of Missouri.

“Students want better recruitment efforts,” she said. “They want to know what universities are doing to recruit underrepresented students. They want more faculty who look like them. The students perceive that by not having access to Black faculty, for example, something is missing.” 

She found that these efforts of Black student-led social movements met with mixed results.

“There was significant variation in success rates,” she said. “Some gained promises. Administrators said, ‘OK, we hear you and we’re going to do better. We promise.’ And then nothing happened. Why? In other instances, those students who kept pushing achieved the changes they sought.”

Lucien Holness

Lucien Holness, an assistant professor of history, will research the Boston Anti-Man Hunting League — a secret society that rescued captured runaway slaves — to learn whether there are any direct links between Black-led fugitive slave rescues, the formation of Black militias, and Black regiments raised during the Civil War.

Before Black communities in Texas celebrated their first Juneteenth, another historic date heralded hope for freedom from slavery. According to Lucien Holness, an assistant professor of history, West India Emancipation Day was a beacon of hope for free and enslaved Black Americans. Celebrated on August 1, it commemorated the abolition of slavery in the British Caribbean in 1834.

Traditional Emancipation Day festivities often involved the marching of Black militias in uniform. And this is where Holness’ research for his Juneteenth Scholars project begins.

“This project looks at African Americans in militia companies in Massachusetts,” he said. “During the 1850s, Northern Blacks, freeborn and formerly enslaved, sought to establish their own independent military companies.”

Holness chose Massachusetts because it was the site of the most sustained campaign to form a militia company in a place where the commonwealth’s law prohibited Black men from serving in such enterprises. 

“Because of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, people feared being taken back into slavery,” he said. “So, these militia companies were important institutions within Northern Black communities that stood against Southern slave catchers and slaveholders, who were entering these Northern locations, now empowered by the law to capture African Americans, some escaped slaves, some not. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act made all that much easier.”

The petitions and efforts to change the militia law were unsuccessful until the Civil War.  

“Many African Americans did establish their own militia companies, however,” Holness said, “and they drilled in public spaces where they could get the ire of whites. It was a very dangerous thing to do — to have young Black men under arms, parading through these Northern urban centers, which could arouse a violent reaction from a local white population. So, seeing this militancy not just as a response to the Fugitive Slave Act and protecting communities, I believe it may have been the beginning of a war for liberation, a war for emancipation.”

Holness said not only were Black men not allowed to form militias, but these same men, whose fathers and forefathers may have fought in the Revolutionary War or in the War of 1812, could not serve in the early battles of the Civil War. 

“By the second year of the war, there was a tremendous demand for manpower,” he said, “and Black men answered the country’s call, even when the military rejected their service based on race. When allowed, they served. I think there is a perfect connection to current events in terms of the patriotism of African Americans. There is the whole controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem or how a member of the U.S. Senate recently came forward to declare that racism in the military is new and has only occurred in the last six months. I would say African Americans have continued to demonstrate their patriotism for a nation that hasn’t treated them as equal.”

Allan Lumba

Allan Lumba, an assistant professor of history, will focus on conditions between the 1870s and the 1890s that led to the eventual emergence of Jim Crow laws, aggression toward Asian workers migrating into the United States, the last military engagement with Native American resistance, and the subsequent colonization of territories in the Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Allan Lumba is using the current national calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion to inspire his Juneteenth Scholars research. He is studying the history of public perceptions of early California migrants during the late 1800s and how these shaped ideas of the individual’s rights regarding work and labor.

“We looked at what we would consider white presses, publications such as newspapers that were run by white owners and white journalists,” said the assistant professor of history. “There were anxieties over newly freed Black people coming from the South. Chinese migrants were traveling across the Pacific to work in the mines and laundries. Mexican Americans were the ones who owned the land in California before being displaced. And of course, there were the Indigenous people.”

According to Lumba, the perception was that these marginalized populations were stealing jobs from white free workers. This was in opposition to holding corporations and employers accountable for hiring lower-wage workers.

“Words like coolie pop up,” he said. “Interestingly, coolie, meaning in a pejorative way, a worker who steals jobs — low-paying, wage labor that was closer to slavery than free labor. And so within the public perception, those with the label of coolie, usually Chinese workers, were the new form of slave system. Rather than seeing it as a moral issue of, ‘oh, we just got rid of slavery,’ they see it in terms of, ‘well, they’re stealing jobs from white free workers.’ It’s interesting how these political concepts of freedom, rights, and liberties got mixed in with the right to work, which they thought was being taken away from them by people who were not even citizens.”

Lumba said the struggles for economic and racial justice guided his work. He hopes that current-day issues that lead to protests and public demands for transformation will be catalysts for change, stopping current generations from sliding backward into outdated and racist perceptions.

Desirée Poets

Desirée Poets, an assistant professor of political science, will explore the impact of COVID-19, racial injustice, and community organizing in the Maré favela complex of Rio de Janeiro, with the goal of advancing understanding of processes of democratic social change.

Veering away from the world of higher education, Desirée Poets, an assistant professor of political science, focused on social justice and collective memory issues far south of the U.S. border. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when disinformation became a widespread issue, community museums and community-run newspapers in Rio de Janeiro provided needed support, unrivaled by the government, to the people in working-class and informal neighborhoods known as favelas.

“Community museums, once a space for collective memory, reorganized their resources and their capacity to support the communities during the pandemic,” she said. “They became important in community communications, starting campaigns that were also sometimes artistic on how to raise awareness on pandemic-related concerns, especially toward working-class communities. And the larger museums also became distribution centers for hygiene kits, food, and basic needs for the residents.”

But the community museums were not alone in this endeavor. Community-run newspapers also played a major role in disseminating crucial information to the public, in ways that were easily discernable to their audiences. With a team affiliated with the Institute for Policy and Governance’s Community Change Collaborative, Poets investigated how two community newspapers, Fala Roça in Rocinha and Maré Online in the Maré favela complex, supported their respective communities during the pandemic.

“We know residents run community newspapers, much like community museums,” Poets said. “The two newspapers have different institutional backgrounds, but even though they’re all centering on the residents, and telling the stories of people, they do so in very distinct ways. The strategies of communication are really specific. Some publish short and concise articles for nonreaders, and others offer longer opinion-based stories that help unpack scientific terminology related to COVID-19.”

According to Poets, Brazil differs from the United States, where publications by nonprofits and community-led organizations often fall under a neo-liberalization process focused on dismantling and taking over the state. Instead, the Brazilian groups stepped in during the pandemic to do what the government should have done while aiming to bring state services to the communities and holding the government accountable.

“The community museums and newspapers demand citizenship rights and the services that Brazil’s Constitution promises to their communities,” Poets said. “It’s a natural continuation of social justice–oriented collective memory initiatives, which are all about how the past informs what we think about the present, and then, how the future will look. For these groups, collective memory has always been a space and an agent of social change. That they’re taking on this more explicit role now, just makes sense.”

Edward Anthony Polanco

Edward Anthony Polanco, an assistant professor of history, will research the history of Black men and women in Mexican colonial society as they worked with, and at times against, indigenous people to survive and resist Spanish oppression and racism.

Weather-worn men, with hats tilted down on their foreheads, riding off into the sunset on their trusty steeds is a stereotype, but in this case, the cowboy is Black. And such were those who roamed southcentral Mexico during the colonial period of Mexican history.

Edward Anthony Polanco, an assistant professor of history, found evidence of the cowboys’ associations with other Indigenous and mixed-race people. They all used Native and entheogenic substances whose hallucinogenic properties were thought to release the God within.

“I was most shocked by finding evidence of Black cowboys in southcentral Mexico who used herbs and roots to avoid falls and injuries while riding horses and bulls,” he said. “The Black cowboys acquired these products from Native specialists who had been using these plants and herbs to avoid injuries for a long time.”

Through his research of 17th-century documents from Mexico, Polanco found that Native, Black, and mixed-race people worked together and against each other as they negotiated their positions in colonial society. Those documents had a common thread — many of the Black communities used these Native plants.

“I started noticing documents that show Spanish — that is, white — anxieties about Native and Black communities exchanging ideas, ancestry, and products,” Polanco said. “I noticed that Black communities, free or enslaved, used and adopted local plants and knowledge from their Indigenous neighbors, friends, and lovers. This made for powerful unions that scared Spaniards because such relationships presented the possibility of a united front against Spanish colonial goals. Seeing and understanding these exchanges hundreds of years ago sheds light on the struggles we now face in the United States and in Latin America.”