Social Differences, Social Justice Cluster Hosts Inaugural Research Symposium

Austin Lewter, a graduate student in Pan African studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, presents at the inaugural Social Differences, Social Justice Research Symposium March 31.

On March 31, the Social Differences, Social Justice research cluster hosted its inaugural symposium, crossing interdisciplinary boundaries to showcase student and faculty research related to equity, social justice and global transformation.

Co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Center, Lender Center for Social Justice, Renée Crown University Honors Program and Whitman School of Management, the symposium featured a keynote address from Gisele Marcus ’89, a Syracuse University Trustee and professor of practice in diversity, equity and inclusion at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Today is a day of celebration, valuing and honoring,” said Kira Reed, associate professor of management in the Whitman School and member of the Social Differences, Social Justice cluster, addressing scholars during her introductory remarks. “We are excited that we now have a cohort of cluster hires and that the University recognizes the value in convening scholars of different disciplines to bring forth issues of justice and equity and ideas about how we can make improvements. We are here to value you and your contributions. Your work is meaningful and impactful.”

Ravi Dharwadkar, professor and chair of management in the Whitman School, and James Haywood Rolling Jr., co-director of the Lender Center for Social Justice and professor of arts education in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, welcomed symposium attendees before the panel discussions commenced.

The first panel on African Diasporic Studies showcased student research, featuring graduate students from the master’s program in Pan African studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Moderator Danielle Taana Smith, professor of African American Studies and director of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, acknowledged that “the Department of African American studies has a long and rich history at Syracuse University. It continues to be a space where intellectuals across many disciplines center Africa as a site of intellectual knowledge, where faculty and researchers contest pre-existing ideas of what Africa and its diaspora mean, and present alternative knowledges.”

Taana Smith then introduced first-year graduate students Joy Nyokabi, Kailey Smith and Austin Lewter.

Nyokabi presented her preliminary research on attempts by the British government to conceal documents and evidence of war crimes against Kenyans during the Mau Mau War in the 1950s.

As a critical component of the discussion about reparations, Kailey Smith’s presentation argued for the return of stolen cultural artifacts from Western museums to the African nations from which they originated.

Lewter presented his research on the legacy of lynching in the United States, arguing that lynchings have moved from public spectacle—such as the courthouse lawn—and become quieter and more institutionalized, invoking the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner as examples of modern lynchings.

The second panel, Democratizing Internet Access, was moderated by Abdullah Naimzadeh, a graduate student in the School of Information Studies (iSchool), studying applied data science. Exploring the principle of global internet access as a human right, panelists Catherine Forrest ’22, doctoral candidate Jane Asantewaa Appiah-Okyere and Professor Lee McKnight, from the iSchool, shared ongoing research on deployment of the internet backpack technology, which was co-invented by McKnight.

Use of the internet backpack to expand global internet access was presented through the lens of several contexts and projects, including for health care workers in rural and remote Central America; teachers in rural Ghana; and elementary school students in underserved areas of Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York City. The panel also addressed the moral imperative for universal internet access—especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—and the importance of championing a framework for ethical data collection.

The morning then segued into a full schedule of faculty research briefs and presentations, including:
Jamie Perry, assistant professor of management in the Whitman School, presented on the characteristics and outcomes of diverse teams;
Hector Rendon*, assistant professor of communications in the Newhouse School, presented on contemporary representations of Mexico, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Hollywood films;
Rachael Goodwin*, assistant professor of management in the Whitman School, presented on dehumanization and maladaptive perfectionism at work;
Charisse L’Pree Corsbie-Massay, associate professor of communications in the Newhouse School, presented on her forthcoming book, “Diversity and Satire: Laughing at Processes of Marginalization;”
Srivi Ramasubramanian, Newhouse Professor in the Newhouse School, presented on the personal, professional and political challenges of critical race scholar-activism;
Rashmi Gangamma, associate professor and director of graduate studies in marriage and family therapy in the Falk College; Melissa Luke, Dean’s Professor and Provost Faculty Fellow in counseling and human services in the School of Education; and Bhavneet Walia, assistant professor of public health in the Falk College, presented research on the continuation of teletherapy post-COVID-19;
Ethan Madarieta, assistant professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, presented on his forthcoming book, “The Body is Not the Land: Memory, Translation, and Territorial Aporias;”
Delali Kumavie*, assistant professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, presented on her current book project, “Aerial Geographies: Rooting Aviation in Global Black Literature;”
Warrick Moses*, assistant professor of music history and cultures in the College of Arts and Sciences, presented on racial and language identity within the mixed race or coloured community of Cape Town, South Africa;
Ruth Opara, assistant professor of music history and cultures in the College of Arts and Sciences, presented “Mirroring Motherhood/Land in Diaspora: Igbo Women in Music;”
Melissa Yuen, the curator at the Syracuse University Art Museum, presented “Teaching and Learning Social Justice at the Syracuse University Art Museum;”
Erin Rand, associate professor of communication and rhetorical studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, presented “Too Much to Tolerate: School Bathrooms, Trans Temporality, and Black Excess;” and
Carol Faulkner, associate dean and Andrew W. Cohen, Walter Montgomery and Marian Gruber professor of history in the Maxwell School, presented “Gender at the Polls: Illicit Voting and Suffrage Before the Civil War.”

*Indicates a cluster hire in the Social Differences, Social Justice research cluster.

Marcelle Haddix, associate provost for strategic initiatives and Distinguished Dean’s Professor of Literacy, Race and Justice in the School of Education, shared her thoughts on the significance of the day prior to Marcus’s keynote address.

“This inaugural symposium is exactly the type of output, the kind of research work we want to see coming from the research clusters,” Haddix said. “Today spoke to the power of interdisciplinarity, the power of connecting us, bringing us together. And what we often don’t talk about are the kinds of resources it takes to engage in this work; how we acknowledge and reward interdisciplinary collaboration; how we create spaces and opportunities for people to come together across differences. That’s what today’s event really highlighted for me.”

Haddix then welcomed Marcus to deliver her keynote address, “Belonging: Essential to Enhancing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Equation.”

Marcus began with a definition of belonging from diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers: Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion means being asked to dance; belonging is “they’re actually playing some of my music.”

She spoke of belonging as a human requirement, shared how companies can expand their DEI initiatives to include belonging to address the Great Resignation, and how increased feelings of belonging for students lead to better outcomes in higher education.

“Belonging is all about feeling welcomed in a space, feeling that you’re included, feeling that your contributions are valued,” Marcus said. “It matters because when people belong, they are going to help their organization be more productive, there’s going to be better teamwork and an increase in their pride as an employee. And all of those things can be contagious in your environment.”

Marcus earned a bachelor’s degree in management information systems and transportation management from Whitman and an MBA from Harvard University. She is a member of the Syracuse University Multicultural Advancement Advisory Council; former vice president of the Syracuse University Alumni Association; an inaugural lecturer for the University’s Sankofa Lecture Series; and a 2014 recipient of the Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence in Global Business Management. Marcus also endowed an Our Time has Come scholarship in her name in the Whitman School and joined the University’s Board of Trustees in 2021.

Patrick W. Berry, associate professor in writing studies, rhetoric and composition in the College of Arts and Sciences and member of the Social Differences, Social Justice cluster, closed the symposium, remarking on the scholarly community being strengthened through the cluster. Berry stated that this group of scholars will be prepared to inform the academy, the arts, business and society, and that including students in the endeavor prepares them to make a global impact.

The Social Differences, Social Justice research cluster includes more than 30 affiliated faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering and Computer Science, College of Law, College of Visual and Performing Arts, iSchool, the Maxwell School, the Newhouse School and the Whitman School. The group has a listserv to which interested scholars can subscribe to stay connected and learn of future events. To join, send an email request to To learn more about its work, visit the cluster’s webpage.