Faculty News: Research and Work from our Community of Scholars

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Professor Erin L. Durban's recent book The Sexual Politics of Empire: Postcolonial Homophobia in Haiti

Professor Erin L. Durban’s recent book The Sexual Politics of Empire: Postcolonial Homophobia in Haiti (University of Illinois Press) explores life in contemporary Haiti for same-sex desiring and gender creative people against the backdrop of American imperialism and intervention. The book won the National Women’s Studies Association-University of Illinois Press First Book Prize and has been positively reviewed by scholars in American studies, anthropology, Black studies, Caribbean studies, feminist studies, French and Francophone studies, Haitian studies, queer studies, religious studies, and performance studies. 

As a brief summary: Evangelical Christians and members of the global LGBTQI human rights movement have vied for influence in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Each side accuses the other of serving foreign interests. Yet each proposes future foreign interventions on behalf of their respective causes despite the country’s traumatic past with European colonialism and American imperialism. As Professor Durban shows, two discourses dominate discussions of intervention. One maintains imperialist notions of a backward Haiti so riddled with cultural deficiencies that foreign supervision is necessary to overcome Haitians’ resistance to progress. The other sees Haiti as a modern but failed state that exists only through its capacity for violence, including homophobia. In the context of these competing claims, Durban explores the creative ways that same-sex desiring and gender-creative Haitians contend with anti-LGBTQI violence and ongoing foreign intervention.

Professor Durban is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota affiliated with American Studies; Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies; and RIDGS. They also serve on the leadership team of the Critical Disability Studies Collective.


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Professor Keith Mayes's recent book The Unteachables: Disability Rights and the Invention of Black Special Education

Professor Keith Mayes's (Department of African American & African Studies, College of Liberal Arts) recent book The Unteachables: Disability Rights and the Invention of Black Special Education (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2023) examines the overrepresentation of Black students in special education over the course of the twentieth century. Excavating the deep-seated racism embedded in both the public school system and public policy, it explores the discriminatory labeling of Black students, and how it indelibly contributed to special education disproportionality, to student discipline and push-out practices, and to the school-to-prison pipeline effect

On his recent book, Professor Mayes shares, “The pages that follow historicize how race shaped ideas about disability and then in turn how disability shaped ideas about race in a reinscribing feedback loop. Black students were not placed in special education because they were incontrovertibly disabled; they were placed there because they were incontrovertibly black. Far from being undeniably disabled, placement practices consigned black students to a resegregation scheme under the auspices of special education.”

“The Unteachables offers a bold, highly insightful, and meticulously documented analysis of the racist underpinnings of special education. Keith A. Mayes shows how special education grew from white attempts to ‘protect’ white children from a racially integrated education. Drawing on his extensive background in African American history, Mayes brilliantly peels back the layers of an education system that purports to advance rights, even while it thwarts those of Black and Latinx students. The Unteachables should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand how special education came to be structured as it is.” — Christine Sleeter, coauthor of Transformative Ethnic Studies in Schools: Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Research


Assistant Professor Gabriela Spears-Rico: Anthropologist, Poet, Researcher, and Writer

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Assistant Professor Gabriela Spears-Rico is an anthropologist and a poet, a researcher, and a writer. At the University of Minnesota, she has a joint appointment with the American Indian Studies and the Chicano & Latino Studies departments. Read more. 

Professor Rich Lee creates survey to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented communities

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Like most U of M students and faculty in March of 2020, Dr. Rich Lee, Distinguished McKnight University Professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts, wasn’t sure how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last. As a researcher and professor, he was curious to know how it would impact the students and surrounding communities. Read more