Campus News

Center for Diversity Innovation announces inaugural cohort of scholars

Diversity scholars.

The Center for Diversity Innovation's inaugural class of Distinguished Visiting Scholars. From left, top row: Waverly Duck, Terri Watson, John Major Eason. Middle row: Mishuana Goeman, Victoria Udondian, Patricia A. Matthew. Bottow row: Vanessa M. Holden, Nicholas K. Githuku, Eli Clare.


Published May 14, 2020

“The cutting-edge work these scholars bring with them to UB and the networks they help us create will be of tremendous value to our students and faculty. ”
Robin Schulze, dean
College of Arts and Sciences

Outstanding and varied scholarly and creative work. A uniform commitment to students’ academic success, personal and professional development, and sense of belonging. An inaugural cohort of nine outstanding scholars who will spend the 2020-21 academic year at UB as part of a new, annual program led by UB’s Center for Diversity Innovation.

Established with a $1.25 million annual commitment from UB, the Distinguished Visiting Scholars program may be the largest and most comprehensive diversity-themed visiting faculty program in the United States. The new program will launch as the university finalizes plans for the fall semester in response to the evolving coronavirus pandemic. It will provide opportunities for UB students and faculty to collaborate with and learn from leaders in their fields.

The fundamental objective of the program is to host an annual cohort of exceptionally accomplished individuals who, through their record of scholarship and/or creative endeavors, teaching, mentoring and service ─ as well as their skills, experiences, underrepresentation and areas of scholarly and creative expertise ─ can substantially advance diversity, equity and inclusion at UB.

“We are excited to welcome these distinguished scholars to UB, who I know will have broad impact on our campus and community, contributing individually and collectively to a dynamic interdisciplinary environment at UB — expanding opportunities for our students and faculty to innovate in their scholarly and creative endeavors, and ultimately, enhancing the success of our students and faculty,” said Provost A. Scott Weber.

The scholars were chosen from a highly competitive pool generated through the Center for Diversity Innovation’s extensive national outreach and recruitment efforts.

Applications were received from outstanding candidates from more than 20 academic disciplines and fields, and four different units at UB. Departments collaborated with the center to evaluate the applications, which then were forwarded to a university-wide committee that made the final selections. The selection committee, led by the center director, included nine accomplished and diverse UB faculty members whose work traversed the arts, humanities, social, physical, health and applied sciences.

University-wide selection committee.

Members of the university-wide selection committee, from left: Doreen Wackeroth, David Milling, Lindsay Hunter, Abigail Cooke, Theresa McCarthy, Yunju Nam, Luis Colon, Ndubueze Mbah and Kenny Joseph. Not pictured: Center Director Maura Belliveau.

The nine Distinguished Visiting Scholars are:

Victoria Udondian, an internationally recognized artist and 2020 Guggenheim Fellow who draws upon her experience as a West African immigrant to create large-scale art projects on global migration, repurposing clothing and other textiles to create visually stunning exhibits exploring Nigerian history and textile production.

Terri N. Watson, CUNY, a scholar who actualizes her own commitment to improving the educational outcomes and life chances of historically excluded and underserved children and families by examining parental engagement in urban schools and communities, in particular the “motherwork” of black women, empowering educators, administrators and activists across the U.S.

Patricia A. Matthew, Montclair State University, a scholar specializing in 19th-century British literature and culture whose work in progress on sugar, protest and British abolitionist culture is poised to alter the field of British literary studies, and whose edited volume on diversity and tenure illuminates how universities can achieve a more diverse and equitable professorate.

Vanessa M. Holden, University of Kentucky, a historian whose work on African American women and children’s places in African American strategies of resistance and survival reshapes the narrative of the Southampton Rebellion, and whose contributions as a public historian bring the topics of her influential scholarship to wider audiences.

Mishuana Goeman, UCLA, a scholar whose publishing has influenced the directions of literary studies and a turn to the spatial in American Indian studies, American studies, gender and feminist studies and other fields, and whose recent public work — a digital ArcGIS storytelling project, Mapping Indigenous Los Angeles has had wide scholarly and public influence, including in tribal communities. In visiting UB, she returns to her home reservation territory as a Tonawanda Band of Seneca woman.

John Major Eason, University of Wisconsin, a former community organizer who, as a sociologist, examines race, punishment and spatial inequalities in the U.S. and whose first book — a study of the politics of prison building in a southern town  —received widespread praise, challenging existing models and developing new theories of community, health, race, punishment and rural/urban processes.

Waverly Duck, University of Pittsburgh, a scholar whose first book on poverty and drug dealing was acknowledged for its notable contribution to the sociological study of social problems, and whose current work on gentrification, displacement and food apartheid emphasizes how residents of marginalized communities identify problems and generate viable solutions.

Eli Clare, a queer/trans writer, activist and scholar, whose publishing and activism have been recognized with multiple awards within the LGBTQ community, and whose interdisciplinary collaborations promise to engage and inform faculty, student and community work in disability, gender and sexuality, and performance studies, elucidating the essential role of all forms of art in creating just places.

Nicholas K. Githuku, York College, CUNY, a historian whose current book project is a comprehensive and multilayered narrative of empire-building in East Africa, British imperial agents and the radical process of social change wrought by imperialism, adding to his contributions to understanding of East Africa and the contemporary political history of Kenya in particular.

More detailed bios are available on the program’s website.

Maura Belliveau, director of the Center for Diversity Innovation and its Distinguished Visiting Scholars program, noted that the announcement of the visiting scholars caps an 18-month process that began with the center’s launch in January 2019.

The center grew out of a collaborative effort involving the Office of the Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and faculty from across the university who proposed a university-level entity that could develop and deliver empirically based trainings, educational programs, consulting and events that would help the university, SUNY institutions and organizations in the community become more diverse, equitable and inclusive.​

Their proposal earned a SUNY Performance Improvement Fund grant for diversity ─ funding that enabled Belliveau’s hiring as director and facilitated her work to design the visiting scholars program, conduct 57 events, programs and activities, collaborate with 28 different entities, and engage more than 2,700 participants in her first year.

“This center has been — and this program will be — an exceptional resource to students and faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, and across all of the university,” said Robin Schulze, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The cutting-edge work these scholars bring with them to UB and the networks they help us create will be of tremendous value to our students and faculty.”

The scholars’ visits, which will be hosted and coordinated by the center and co-hosted by academic departments, are scheduled to begin Sept. 1. Students will be invited to apply to join scholar mentoring circles for undergraduates and graduate students. To maximize the quality of scholar experiences and fulfill the mission for university-wide, coordinated engagement, interested faculty, students, staff and community groups should submit requests for presentations, meetings and events to Belliveau, who will work closely with the scholars and departmental co-hosts to prioritize activities of greatest interest and benefit to members of the cohort and UB. The entire UB community will be invited to join in welcoming the scholars, and can join the center’s mailing list for updates on virtual and/or other events with the center and scholars.

“It has been an honor to contribute to UB’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts — particularly to support our underrepresented students,” Belliveau said. “Having become acquainted with these nine amazing individuals throughout this process, I envision a very exciting year for the scholars and UB.”