Black Studies Cluster

About the Black Studies Cluster

The SOH Black Studies Cluster is a collaboration between Ph.D. programs in Comparative Literature, Culture & Theory, English, History, Spanish & Portuguese, and Visual Studies designed to support research in Black Studies. The Black Studies Cluster begins from the belief that researching, critiquing, and redressing the legacies of slavery and anti-Blackness, in the US and across the globe, is crucial to the ongoing struggle for racial justice and Black thriving.

Our coalition of humanities doctoral programs, anchored by the School of Humanities’ Critical Theory Emphasis, provides additional funding and resources to support graduate students interested in Black thought, literature, and media; histories of Black resistance movements and freedom struggle, domestic and international; comparative histories of race and racialization; and critical theories of anti-Blackness, colonialism, and violence. The Black Studies Cluster is particularly interested in fostering Black studies scholarship that creatively mobilizes the resources of critical theory to reveal the entanglement of modern political and aesthetic traditions with anti-Blackness and that forges truly new political imaginaries, activist strategies, and cultural narratives.

Participating Doctoral Programs

Students interested in coming to UCI to study with the BSC should indicate this interest when applying to our partner programs. The links below will take you to each participating program’s website, where you can find further detail about their separate application processes:

Why Study with the BSC?

Collaborate. Critique. Create.

Collaborate: The BSC was developed to sustain humanities research that is collaborative and communal. By approaching research as a social practice, we support each other to think what has previously been unthought, ignored, or undervalued.

Critique: Participants in the BSC draw on and transform the tradition of critical theory for which UCI is well-known. Together, we unpack the relationship of that tradition to the history of anti-Blackness while also imagining radically new futures for critical thought. 

Create: The importance of collaboration and critique is most evident when we turn our scholarly practices into new ways of engaging in larger efforts to address racial inequality, whether writing an article, producing a podcast, programming a video game, organizing a grassroots campaign, curating an art exhibit, or teaching outside the university. The BSC is committed to ensuring that academic research engages with and intervenes in the culture, politics, and thought of the larger worlds in which the university exists.

The BSC Workshop

The Black Studies Workshop is the backbone for intellectual community amongst first-year Black Studies Cohort students in the School of Humanities. This year, the Workshop, in collaboration with the Critical Theory Emphasis, welcomes an exciting list of guest speakers, including Axelle Karera, Christina Sharpe, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, and Christopher Harris. It also will convene panels of UCI faculty to present on their current Black Studies research and will include skills sessions and other student-led activities as determined by participants in the cohort. One of the most innovative community-building elements of the Cluster is that students have access, through the Workshop, to collective research funds to use as they wish to support and foster team-based research under the guidance of two current UCI Ph.D. students working in Black Studies, who will serve as their peer mentors.

Meet the Inaugural 2021 Cohort

These students represent a wonderfully interdisciplinary cohort, with wide-ranging topical and theoretical interests.
Hannah Bacchus smilingHannah Elizabeth Bacchus

Hannah’s research concerns 20th-century African American literature as well as contemporary African American literature. She is also focused on globalization, Black diasporic literature, and postcolonial literature. Her work explores themes of identity, Black authenticity, neoliberalism, class, and gender. Her interests also include transnational capital as well as representation and performance. She received her B.A. from Kalamazoo College and her M.A. from University of Illinois at Chicago, both in English literature.

Librecht Baker

Librecht is interested in rhetoric and composition, Black feminist theory, and identity and language, and more specifically, in the the affects of identity(s) and the ways language and communication shift based on identity(s). She earned an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College and a dual BA in English and Print Journalism from CSULB. Her writings can be found in Q Youth Foundation's 2021 Eastside Queer Stories Radio Plays, ACCOLADES: A Women Who Submit Anthology, Solace: Writing Refuge, & LGBTQ Women of Color, Sinister Wisdom 107 - Black Lesbians: We are the Revolution!, and other publications.
Cienna Benn smilingCienna Benn

Visual Studies
Cienna Benn’s research explores the modern development of Black aesthetic theory and its disciplinary logics practiced by Black photographers and filmmakers during social movements and initiatives throughout the twentieth century. Her work utilizes the Unbroken Genealogy approach to explore the meaning-making practices of contemporary visual artists and activists along the lines of visuality, gender and sexuality, sociocultural theory, and the Black Radical Tradition. As a Mellon Mays and CAMRA Mellon Fellow, Cienna makes use of multimodal methods to fill apertures between the humanities and art history through the creation of visual scholarship. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Africana studies and sociology from Howard University.
Ben Bieser looking into the camera Ben Bieser

Comparative Literature
Ben’s research repositions Marxian approaches to the question of value in relation to theoretical ruptures induced by recent work in Black studies. Through attention to 19th-century American and Caribbean legal cases, they hope to dilate the concept of fungibility to trace the ways in which slavery’s abstractions have served to render the reproduction of the regime’s material, (anti-)social, and libidinal relations impervious to the event of emancipation — and, in turn, trouble distinctions drawn between political economy and political ontology. Ben is looking forward to thinking with and learning from their fellow members of this new cohort!
Tariq Edwards staring at an upward angle towards the cameraTariq Edwards

Visual Studies
Research Interests: The absence of Black women as directors in the film industry, sports and its interaction between race, society, politics; horror films and their commentary on society
Ronnese Glover smiling Ronnese Kirton Glover

Culture & Theory
Ronnese’s research concerns the long-lasting consequences of chattel slavery literacy laws and the ways in which they materialize in contemporary composition pedagogy. More specifically, her work draws critical attention to how academic language norms disadvantage Blacks students and Black vernacular knowledge, contributing to anti-Blackness in the classroom. This work employs composition theory and pedagogy, critical race theory, Black studies, literature and culture, and critical university studies. Further engaging theories of racial passing, decolonization, and critical university studies, Ronnese’s work aims to project alternatives to anti-Blackness in educational spaces. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from California State University, Los Angeles.
Chasia Jeffries smilingChasia Elzina Jeffries

Culture & Theory
Chasia’s research prioritizes the narratives and perspectives of Black women in the contexts of resistance, irrationality, truth, and community building/kinship. She historicizes the everyday resistance of Black women, using storytelling, memory, literature, poetry, emotions, and the body as archives to produce counter-histories while critiquing and developing theoretical arguments. She is particularly interested in the historical and contemporary relationship between irrationality and Black femininity and seeks to emphasize race in current conversations in crip and affect theory. Her passion for advocacy, especially legal advocacy, allows her to investigate ideas of credibility, bodily autonomy, ability, gender, and race in relation to legal issues, such as reproductive rights, gender-based violence, and environmental racism. Chasia received her B.A. in law, history, & culture with a minor in gender & social justice from the University of Southern California where she was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. She plans to concurrently study in UCI Law’s J.D. program.
Mariel Rowland smilingMariel Rowland

Culture & Theory
Mariel’s research centers radical Black womxn educators. She studies the lives and pedagogical work of womxn who have made space in educational systems where there seemingly was none. Tracing their different methods of rupture, Mariel considers the ways in which Black feminist pedagogy moves across time and space, and in between people. With a background in art museum education, Mariel’s own practice as an educator informs her research.

Brie Smiley

Culture & Theory
Brie’s research seeks provocations to the questions of ontology, madness, and deviance. Using psychoanalysis, Black Critical Theory, memoir, and Black queer theory, Brie’s work constantly seeks to use slavery as a theoretic for the past, present and future of Black positionality in the world. Brie is also interested in the fallacies of multiculturalism, reform, and representation and their wider connections to antiblackness. Additionally, Brie seeks to research Brazilian archives and American archives of slavery and law, as well as the stratification of Blackness between the United States and Latin America. They received their Master’s in Women’s Studies and Bachelor’s in African American Studies from the University of Alabama.
Gabrielle Straughn smilingGabrielle Straughn

Gabi’s research has focused on the gendered nature of Native American boarding schools, and she plans to expand this research into broader histories of education among Black and Indigenous women in colonial America. She received her B.A. in history from San Jose State University and her master’s in history from New York University.
Konysha Wade smilingKonysha Wade

Culture & Theory
Konysha’s research interests involve Black studies with a theological intersection, examining how the Black church functions as a space for social, political, and professional development and sustainability, specifically in response to systemic racism. Challenging the Eurocentric notion of Jesus that advances agendas of oppression, she explores a representation of Jesus as Black, making connections between the life and experiences of Black people in the United States. She questions Black energy transferability and what it means to exist in oneness through shared experiences.


The BSC has thus far been supported by the following programs, departments, and schools:
  • The Office of Inclusive Excellence Black Thriving Initiative
  • UCI Graduate Division
  • The School of Humanities
  • The UCI Humanities Center
  • The SOH Dean’s Climate Council
  • The Critical Theory Emphasis
  • The departments of African American Studies, Comparative Literature, Culture & Theory, English, History, and Visual Studies.

Contact Us

Feel free to reach us at for more information.