• Graduate Student Picnic 2009
  • Graduate Student Picnic 2014

Current Graduate Students

Click on the names below to read about each of the current graduate students in the Ethnic Studies Department at UCSD

Bayan Abusneineh

Bayan Abusneinehabusneineh

Email: babusnei@ucsd.edu

Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.A. Political Science and Gender Studies

Sara Almalla

Sophia Armen

Christiane Assefa

Martin Boston

Martin Boston

Email: mboston@ucsd.eduMartin Boston

Research Interests: Black Diaspora Studies, Cultural Studies, African American Studies, Africana Studies, Black Popular Culture, Critical Resistance Studies, South African - US Comparative History, Race and Ethnicity

Dissertation Title: Be(Long)ing: New Africanism & South African Cultural Producers Confronting State Repression in an Era of Exile

Research: I specialize in Black Diaspora studies, cultural studies, and theories of race and ethnicity. Emphasizing visual and auditory texts, such as (auto)biography, film, theatre and music, my research and teaching focuses on long 20th century American and South African cultural studies with an investment in social movements, Black internationalism, decolonial struggle, liberation praxis and cultural production. Currently, my interdisciplinary research brings together historic, cultural, diasporic and socio-political perspectives to trace South African cultural producers working in an era of exile across the globe (roughly 1959 – the mid 1980’s). My dissertation currently titled, “Be(Long)ing: New Africanism & South African Cultural Producers Confronting State Repression in an Era of Exile,” seeks to understand exile as a function of government control, as a way to theorize global anti-Blackness and modes of Black solitaries, and as an avenue through which South African cultural producers and artistic works became active in the politics of various countries around the world, not the least of which the countries they were exiled from. The dissertation consists of four chapters, where each explores a different set of objects and subjects that add nuance to my argument of understanding exile and its connections to Pan-Africanism and struggles against anti-Blackness. My first chapter, “The Makings of Exile,” looks at two pivotal events that led to the era of exile in South Africa, the rise and fall of the township Sophiatown and its renaissance, and the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. Chapter 2, “Prelude to Departure,” is a study that situates the 1959 jazz opera King Kong and film ComeBack, Africa as key productions that critiqued the apartheid state while also, due to an (im)perfect storm of events taking place almost simultaneously including Sharpeville, the 1960 Venice Film Festival and an European run for King Kong, would eventually lead to the exile for some of the most prominent and infamous South African cultural producers in the country’s history. Chapters 3 and 4, “Armed Propaganda” (A portion of which is my writing sample attached to this application) and “Lakutshon’ Ilanga,” respectively, look at what South African cultural producers were creating, how they lived, and the politics they took up while in exile. Chapter 3 focuses on the ANC radio program, “Radio Freedom,” and Chapter 4 considers musicians and writers from Miriam Makeba to Todd Matshikiza.

Dissertation Committee:
Chair: Prof. Dayo F. Gore
Prof. Roshanak Kheshti 
Prof. Sara Clarke Kaplan
Prof. Kirstie Dorr
Prof. Daniel Widener
Prof. Ivan Evans

Keva X. Bui

Keva X. Buikeva.JPG

Email: kxb002@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. in English Literature modified with Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Dartmouth College

Research Interests: queer/feminist science and technology studies, science and speculative fiction, transnational and transpacific Asian/American studies, discourses of the category of human, and U.S. militarism and settler colonialism in Asia and the Pacific

Research: Keva’s research traces a disparate genealogy of scientific knowledge production surrounding the Vietnam War, exploring how various discourses of science have shaped formations of race, nation, the human, and the nonhuman through the transnational crosscurrents within and between Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. 

Website: kevaxbui.com

Esther Choi

Esther Choiechoi

Email: emchoi@ucsd.edu

Education: Columbia University, B.A. Economics

Research Interests: My research is on the rise of the experience economy and its relationship to race and neoliberal dispossession.

Adriana Echeverria

Burgundy Fletcher

Burgundy Fletcher

Email: bjfletch@ucsd.edu

Camila Gavin

Kimberly George

Kimberly George


Email: kbgeorge@ucsd.edu

Education: BA Westmont College; MA Yale University

Research Interest: psycho-social studies; women of color feminisms; embodied epistemologies and somatic literacies; relational psychoanalysis; critical pedagogy; critical reading practices; creative writing practices; and ethnographies of reading and writing

Research: My research investigates power and transformative pedagogy through bridging analysis of the social and historical with analysis of the psychic and affective. I am particularly interested in the imagination as a site of resistance, creativity, and healing vis-a-vis the structural violences in which we live. To that end, I am currently developing curriculum for teaching feminist ethnic studies traditions through creative writing and contemplative reading practices. As part of this work, I partner with psychodynamic therapists and psychoanalysts to consider how such learning practices need to be informed by knowledges of trauma, identity formations, and depth work

In addition to being a PhD student,  I am also a writing doula, a creative writer and essayist, and a feminist critical social theory consultant for teachers and psychodynamic clinicians. I am the editor, with David Leonard and Wade Davis, of Football, Culture and Power (2016).

Banah Ghadbian

Gregory Seiichi Pōmaikaʻi (Pōmaikaʻi) Gushiken

Gregory Seiichi Pōmaikaʻi (Pōmaikaʻi) Gushikengushiken.png

Email: ggushike@ucsd.edu

Education:  BA in English and Political Science, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, 2018

Research Interests: critical Hawaiian studies; the Kanaka ʻŌiwi diaspora in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Southern California; Hawaiian Nationalist movements;  militarism and settler colonialism in the Pacific Islands; immigration and critical refugee studies

Oscar Gutierrez

Oscar Gutierrezoscar.jpg

Email: ogutierr@ucsd.edu

B.A. in Journalism and Race and Resistance Studies, San Francisco State University (2017)

Research Interests:
Environmental Justice, Latinx Studies, Critical Geography, Land and Memory, Working-class Epistemologies, Industrial Labor, Political Activism and Social Movements, (Southeast) Los Angeles, Gender and Migration, Queer Studies, Settler Colonialism, Community-based Participatory Research, and Grassroots Intergenerational Organizing.

LeKeisha Hughes

LeKeisha HughesLeKeisha Hughes

Email: lekeisha.hughes@gmail.com

Education: B.A., Gender & Women's Studies, University of Arizona (2010)

Research Interests: LeKeisha's research interests focus around theories of sexuality, queer studies, critical race theories, and notions of desire that are articulated in black feminist thought. For her graduate work, she is interested in tracing the ways that white racism is theorized in black feminist accounts of sexuality in order to unpack the psychic and discursive mechanisms that are said to bind black female sexualities to white racist stereotypes. In doing so, she hopes to build upon and critically approach black feminist theories of sexuality by setting up frameworks that take steps toward disidentifying black female sexuality from dominant white conceptions.

Lea Johnson

Lea JohnsonLea Johnson

Email: lmj002@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. Comparative Literature - University of California, Los Angeles (2011); M.A. Ethnic Studies - University of California, San Diego (2014)

Bio: Lea Johnson is a digital curator and Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego. Her major fields of interest are African American literature and cultural history, the transnational South, black feminist theory, and speculative imaginaries. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Ceremony Press, an online publication for scholars of Black Studies to creatively recode their research across digital mediums.

Aundrey Jones

Aundrey JonesScreen-Shot-2019-05-15-at-1.43.48-AM.png

Email: amj005@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. in African-American Studies, University of California, Riverside

Research interests: Black studies, carceral studies, urban studies, 19th/20th century U.S. History, Black literature, California studies, cultural theory

Leon Lee

Mellissa Linton-Villafranco

Mellissa Linton-Villafranco

Email: mlinton@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. University of Southern California, English Literature and American Studies & Ethnicity

Research Interests: Central American studies, critical gender studies, reproductive justice, race and medicine,

 Latin American feminism, the Salvadoran diaspora, technology and revolution.

Mellissa Linton Villafranco is a creative writer, computer coder, community activist and Ph.D. Candidate. 

Her academic interests pivot around Central American studies and the legacies of imperial violence and resistance in El Salvador. Her dissertation explores the relationship between prison systems in Central America and the criminalization of reproductive rights.

América Martínez

América MartínezAmerican Martinez

Email: amm001@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. University of California, Los Angeles, 2012

Research Interests: Social justice research; migration; healing processes; metaphysical resistance; memory; (re)imaginings; Testimonios; collaborative and transformative work grounded in social change and empowerment.

Stephanie Martinez

Rochelle McFee

Naaila Mohammed

Ly Thúy Nguyễn

Ly Thúy Nguyễn

Ly Nguyen

Email: t0nguyen@ucsd.edu

Education: International student from Vietnam, BA in Sociology, Hanoi National University of Social Sciences and Humanity, Viet Nam. MA in Sociology, San Diego State University, California. 

Research Interests: Critical Pedagogy, Critical Education, US empire, Postcolonial Theories, Third World Feminism, Postmodernism, Globalization and Neoliberalism, Queer Studies, Media, Pop Culture and Fandom.

Bio: I am invested in studying education, both pedagogically and theoretically. I conceptualize education not only as a subject or an institution, but as a site of critique through which to understand the deployment of power. I am interested in developing a theoretical framework that links power/knowledge formation to colonial, imperialist and nationalist projects, and education to alternative ways of being and social justice.

I am also interested in media and pop culture in relation to the production of sexual fluidity, comparing what I believe to be deeply racist and transmisogynist narrative within certain U.S-drag practices with the homoerotic gendered presentation of mainstream Korean pop male stars and Yaoi genre of Japanese Manga.

Amira Noeuv

Omar Padilla

Omar PadillaOmar Padilla

Email: opadilla@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. Latin American – Latino Studies/Politics, UC Santa Cruz (2007), M.A. Mexican American Studies, CSU Los Angeles (2013) 

Research Interests:  Race, Immigration, Visual Culture, Chicano Studies, Transnationalism, U.S. – Mexico Transnational Networks, Undocumented Student Movements, Diaspora Studies

Faculty Mentor: Curtis Marez

India Pierce

pierceIndia Pierce

Email: ipierce@ucsd.edu

Education - Ohio University, B.A. Women and Gender Studies; The Ohio State University, M.A. African and African American Studies  

Areas of Interests - Visual Ethnography, Performance Studies, Feminist Pedagogy, Gender and Sexuality, Religion, Black Radicalism, Embodiment epistemology,  Speculative Imaginaries and Methodologies, Social Movements, Popular Culture, and Queer theory. 

Research - My work investigates the expansive spiritual freedom that is opened up when thinking about the past/present/future of queer divine embodiment. Central to that exploration is my question of how queer women of color activists queer notions of salvation in order to create alternative pathways to the divine.  Ultimately,  illuminating how those practices can be read as not only acts of self-love that demand a different type of engagement with the world around them, but also as a practice of freedom that impacts their work as organizers and activists.

Olivia Quintanilla

Olivia QuintanillaOlivia Quintanilla

Email: oquintan@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A., Urban Studies, San Diego State University (2013)

Faculty mentor: Kirstie Dorr

Research Interests: Chamorro diaspora and decolonization, immigration and critical refugee studies, urban communities, organizing practices, undocumented youth, cannabis consumption and motherhood practices.

Krys Méndez Ramírez

Krys Méndez RamírezCMendez

Email: c3mendez@ucsd.edu

Education: Brown University, 2010, B.A in Sociology and Philosophy

Research Interests: postcolonial theory, Marxist urbanism, critical geography, critical race theory, spatial studies, disability studies, medical sociology, borderland studies, political economy.

In my research, I hope to examine the intersections of race, space, health, and the political economy. Specifically, I’m interested in exploring questions of how the built neoliberalized urban environment impacts identity-formation and biopsychosocial health among residents of various racialized and criminalized communities, as well as investigate the potential for revolutionary healing through the formation of resistive identities and ‘counter-spaces.’ I aim to study migrant subjectivities in borderland cities across the Americas, drawing from multiple schools of thought in postcolonial theory, Marxist urbanism, and critical geography.

Daniel Rios

B. Pricila Rodriguez

B. Pricila RodriguezB. Pricila Rodriguez

Email: brr022@ucsd.edu                                                                 

Education: B.A. in Gender and Women Studies and B.A. in Anthropology at the University of Arizona

Research Interests: Race, space, and punishment; connections between the spaces of prisons, immigrant detention centers, reservations, ghettos, and borders

Boke Saisi

Boke SaisiBSaisi

Email: bsaisi@ucsd.edu

Education: Bachelor of Journalism, Ryerson University (2012), MA Communication and Culture, York University (2014)

Research Interests: Settler colonialism, Black feminist thought, Indigenous feminisms, carceral studies, decolonial studies, post-colonial studies, critical gender studies, transnational feminisms, social justice research, political economy, Marxism, media representation

Research: Utilizing theories of settler colonialism, I aim to investigate the racialized nature of imprisonment of Black and Indigenous women in Canada and the US examining the ways in which the Prison Industrial Complex affects and is propelled by the presence of racialized women in those spaces. Moreover, I am interested in women-led activist organizations engaged in prison abolition work and modes of resistance to carceral regimes.

Liliana Sampedro

Noelle Sepina

Hina Shaikh

Kai Small

Katherine Steelman

Katherine Steelman

Email: ksteelma@ucsd.eduGraduate Student

Education: B.A. English, University of California, Riverside; M.A. English, Cal State Long Beach

Research Interests: 

Her current project examines the effects of US cultural production on the development of queer space in Tijuana, MX, as well as the Tijuanense response to the US's narrative of the city and it's queer communities.This work juxtaposes critical analyses of cultural texts with ethnographic interviews.

Cynthia Vazquez

Cynthia VazquezCVasquez

Email: c5vazque@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. Political Science, University of Nevada Las Vegas (2008); M.A. Latin American Studies (History), UC San Diego (2014).

Research Interests: traditional/sacred knowledge, critical pedagogy, Indigenous education, transnational/borderlands, Latin American history/literature, indigenismo, Marxism, decolonial studies.

Jael Vizcarra

Jael Vizcarra

Jael Vizcarra

Email: jvizcarr@ucsd.edu

Research: Jael Vizcarra is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego. Her dissertation is entitled, "En Búsqueda de Posada: Military Rule and the Laotian Resettlement Program in Misiones, Argentina." Jael’s dissertation historicizes the 1979 Southeast Asian refugee resettlement program in Argentina and analyzes the incorporation of Laotian refugees into the Argentine labor force during and after the Argentine military dictatorship. Her research highlights the political origins of displacement and humanitarianism in South America and their relation to U.S. imperialist projects. Jael analyzes the resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees in various Argentine provinces to understand how refugees contest their ascribed role as objects of compassion and intervention.

Jael's scholarship is informed by comparative racial formation theories, Asian-American Studies, and Critical Refugee and Immigration Studies. Her research gestures towards a transnational reading of the US-centric and universalizing category of "Asian-American" by elucidating the geopolitical implications of South American racial formations that produce Asians beyond US-based racial logics and categories.  

Her work has appeared in Amerasia and the popular historiography blog Tropics of Meta.

Melanie West

R. Zach Williams

Zach Williams

R. Zach Williams

Email: rzwillia@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. Comparative Ethnic Studies - Washington State University (2011); M.A. Ethnic Studies - University of California, San Diego (2013)


RXA Williams is a MC/thinker/geographer from the Central District, Seattle WA. His research interests cohere around intersections of G/geography, blackness, gender, and sound studies focusing specifically on productions of modernity in relation to the period between Post-Reconstruction and the Great Migration in the United States. Since 2006 he has released several mixtapes under the name Xyz(X), including the forthcoming Reel/Deal/HOLYfield (2014).

“As a scholar it was never my purpose to exhaust the subject, only to suggest that it was there.” – Cedric Robinson

Syed Muhammad Abbas (Muhammad) Yousuf

Email: syousuf@ucsd.edu

Education: B.A. in Philosophy, Political Science, Gender and Women Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2017

Research interests: historical and narrative depictions of martyrdom; ideas of the self, the soul, and liberation in critical theory and decolonial thought; gender and resistance; critical Muslim studies

Learn more about the Ethnic Studies Ph.D. Alumni