Published July 7, 2022
Blood is thicker than water, especially when it comes to UB graduate student Taylor Coleman’s research.
Coleman’s father was born and raised in Jamaica, but his background can be traced to other Caribbean islands. Coleman seeks a connection to her rich family history by researching concepts related to her family’s trajectory. She explores how Caribbean people — like her family — were shifting and sharing ideas, including what it means to be Black, which influenced her upbringing as a Black woman with Caribbean descendancy.
“Black liberation is central to many freedom movements,” Coleman explains. “New analysis on the subject is a starting point to observe the power of Black social movements and how they have defined freedom for different communities.”
Coleman is the second person from UB to win the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship. Awarded by the American Council of Learned Studies, the fellowship supports graduate students in their last year of writing their PhD dissertation in the humanities and interpretive social sciences. It aims to advance the voices, narratives and subjects that have historically been underrepresented or under-studied in academe. Recipients of the fellowship receive a total award of $43,000 and may apply to take part in a seminar on preparing for the academic job market.
“ACLS is excited to support this diverse cohort of promising emerging scholars as they pursue research that will help us gain a more complete understanding of our world,” says ACLS President Joy Connolly. “We are proud to partner with the Mellon Foundation to help build a more just and inclusive future for the humanities and social sciences.”
Coleman’s dissertation concentrates on the movement of populations across territories and the ideologies around race and Black liberation in the Caribbean. She focuses on how Latinx folks contextualize Black social movements by giving a more localized meaning. Culture and history are intertwined because of the movement of ethnic groups in the Caribbean, so she explores the dynamics between Latinx and Black communities as they exchange cultural and political ideas.
Originally from Cleveland, Coleman moved to Buffalo seven years ago. She finished her master’s in humanities at UB in 2017, and expects to receive her PhD in Africana and American studies next spring.
“Ultimately, I’d like to pursue a career as a tenured professor at a liberal arts college,” Coleman says. “I’ve enjoyed teaching classes like Intro to African-American Studies at UB.”
Coleman has an extensive support network that has been by her side throughout the process of writing her dissertation and pursuing a career in academia. Her husband, Anthony, and 4-year-old son, Kasen, have motivated her to continue her research ever since she arrived in Buffalo.
When asked who her role models are, Coleman smiles bashfully.
“Wow, there’s so many people,” she says. “I would say my dissertation adviser, Dr. Dalia Muller, and my master’s thesis adviser, Dr. Cecil Foster. They are my inspiration and have helped me theorize Black people and Black thought.”
Theorizing Black people and their ways of being is about considering the ways in which their shared lived experiences throughout the diaspora not only shape who they are, but are also vital in how they are connected, she says.
Coleman attributes her success to the supportive people in her life. With the help from her mentors, Coleman confronts adversity in her field head on.
“I’m lucky enough to be mentored by Black women and women of color in academia,” Coleman says. “I’ve been learning what it’s going to look like once I’m in academia, through the experiences of my mentors.”
Being a Black woman is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome, especially when writing about your own history, she says, noting that it’s difficult to be taken seriously as a scholar — as a woman of color. She must create a space for herself to speak freely, she says.
“Regardless of the challenges, I will continue to encourage academics to think about the intricacies of Black liberation and the connection between Black and brown communities,” Coleman says.
While her dream job is a tenure-track faculty position, she is also interested in working with and developing study abroad programs to Latin America and the Caribbean across higher education institutions.
“As a former Fulbright grantee (Costa Rica, 2012) and study abroad student, these experiences really helped to shape my unique approach to this kind of research,” Coleman says.
She says she’s particularly interested in creating programs that are geared toward financially disadvantaged students of color who wouldn't normally consider these opportunities because of the hefty price tag.