The Presidential Fellowship is funded by the President of the University and awarded by The Graduate School. This highly competitive award is the most prestigious fellowship awarded by Northwestern.
All recipients become members of the Northwestern Society of Fellows (which includes former members and distinguished faculty members). Presidential Fellows still completing their degrees are listed below. See past Fellows listed by induction year.
Paul Feller-Simmons is a music PhD candidate in the Department of Music in the Bienen School of Music. He is advised by Linda Austern.
Primarily an early modernist, Paul's work engages with interdisciplinary approaches to Jewish-Christian musical exchanges, music in the Spanish colonies, and musical othering. His dissertation investigates how musical experiences mobilized culture between Jewish and Christian communities and social and territorial borders in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Northwestern Europe. Bringing together tools from varying fields—music studies, early modern and medieval studies, Jewish studies, social theory, historical anthropology, and philosophy—Paul considers the spaces for cross-cultural exchanges that the performance, composition, economics, and consumption of music opened in the Dutch Republic and the German-speaking lands. His research demonstrates the dynamism and interconnectedness of historical Jewish cultures while shedding light on the musical mechanisms through which their communities would uphold their identities.
Paul's dissertation underscores the agency and joy that music afforded Jewish musicians and audiences in their everyday lives. Yet, he also shows that a fluid musical circulation between Jews and Christians was faced with internal and external tensions with both Jewish and Christian authorities. Paul’s work has been supported by awards and grants from the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music and the American Musicological Society. His work on colonial villancicos in Chile was recognized with an honorable mention for the 2023 Otto Mayer-Serra Award. In 2022, he obtained the American Musicological Society Noah Greenberg Award with Cesar Favila for their contribution to the performance of music from nunneries in New Spain.
Paul is also a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He holds a bachelor of arts with a concentration in musicology from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and a master's degree in musicology from Northwestern University. He is also a member of Northwestern's Medieval and Jewish Studies clusters.
Monica Gallegos-Garcia is an astronomy PhD candidate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Science. She is also a graduate student in the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) at Northwestern and advised by Vicky Kalogera.
Monica’s work is at the center of a new field in astronomy known as gravitational-wave astrophysics. Gravitational waves are created by the coalescence and merger between a pair of black holes. Together with gravitational-wave discoveries and advances in modeling stars, Monica is discovering how these merging black-hole pairs are assembled in nature. She co-develops and uses a state-of-the-art stellar simulation code to model the evolution of massive stars that explode and form black holes. She studies how a black hole in an orbit with a massive star can lead to merging black-hole pairs. Her work has challenged previously accepted notions about the origin of black-hole mergers, changing how different assembly scenarios are investigated and explored. Monica aims to piece together the evolutionary histories of these mergers in a global study accounting for black-hole mergers across the entire universe and all time. Together with upcoming gravitational-waves discoveries, her work will help paint the most accurate picture of black-hole mergers and their origins throughout the universe.
Monica holds a BS in Astrophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied stars torn apart by supermassive black holes, known as tidal disruption events, and interactions of winds emanating from stars in densely clustered environments. While at Northwestern she was awarded a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship in support of her PhD work and has also been elected to the Edward A. Bouchet Honor Society, recognizing both her excellence in research and societal contributions.
Julian Gamboa González
Julian Gamboa González is a PhD candidate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering.
Julian is a member of the Lab for Atomic and Photonic Technologies (LAPT) under Professor Selim Shahriar. His primary research focuses on the development of holographic technologies for data acquisition and signal processing. Light is perhaps one of the most intriguing phenomena in the universe, being strong enough to hold up the most massive stars, yet gentle enough to stop at the touch of a flower. Ever present in our lives, light is not limited to our cameras, our screens, or even our favorite star; optical engineering has given us a plethora of technologies from medical imagers to quantum computers. However, these technologies are often too costly, complex, and large when compared to their electronic counterparts. Julian’s research aims to address these issues by developing holographic technologies—both digital and analog. He is currently working on a high-speed optoelectronic image correlation architecture that can perform target recognition faster than any computer.
Beyond his research, Julian is proactive in the sharing of knowledge and personal experiences. He believes that every life is a unique world, and through empathy, curiosity, and perseverance we can develop the tools necessary to overcome some of humanity’s most complex issues and boldly go where no one has gone before.
Before arriving at Northwestern, Julian obtained his B.Sc. in Telecommunications and Electronic Systems Engineering at ITESM CCM, in Mexico City, Mexico, where he graduated with honors. His dissertation research on high-speed OFDM fiber-optic lines was performed as a collaboration between ITESM and IINGEN, UNAM.
Paulina Jones-Torregrosa is an English PhD candidate in the Department of English in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. She is advised by John Alba Cutler.
Paulina Jones-Torregrosa works at the intersections of literary, ethnic, and feminist studies. Her dissertation, “We’re All on the Line:” Women of Color Print Solidarities, 1970-1991, analyzes U.S. women of color feminists’ rigorous critique of transnational inequalities. She conjoins works that express a sense of intimacy with women abroad by the Third World Women’s Alliance, Janice Mirikitani, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, and Cherríe Moraga. These writers protest U.S. incursions in Latin America and the Caribbean, tracing the lived legacies of racism, sexism, and imperialism. Put together, these works unsettle the boundaries of transnational feminisms and hemispheric literary studies. More importantly, Paulina’s research contends that women of color feminist literatures are essential works to understand and dismantle global networks of domination.
Paulina’s pedagogy empowers students to apply anti-racist, feminist principles to contemporary contexts. She served as a teaching assistant and a Mellon Cluster Fellow in the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. Paulina also helped launch and co-coordinate the Anti-Racist Pedagogy Graduate Reading Group within the English Department. Much of her philosophy on equitable, accessible, and compassionate instruction derives from her years teaching seventh-grade English in East Boston, Massachusetts.
Paulina’s research is supported by a WW Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies. Her writing can be found in Feminist Studies, The Chicago Review, Barrelhouse Reviews, and The Adroit Journal. Paulina earned a BA in English and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Wesleyan University.
Heather Menefee is a history PhD candidate in the Department of History in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. She is advised by Kate Masur.
Heather Menefee is an interdisciplinary scholar and teacher of U.S. and Native American histories. She is a PhD candidate in the History Department, and she finds her intellectual and community home in the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR). As an undergraduate student, Heather helped to create the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance and to combat the university’s erasure and exclusion of Indigenous nations, people, and intellectual traditions. She earned a BA (summa cum laude) from Northwestern with an ad hoc major in Native American Studies in 2015.
As a non-Native scholar, Heather remains committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty and to dismantling and transforming settler colonial institutions. She is a student of the Dakota language, an intern with Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye, and the teaching assistant for the Dakota Language program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Her dissertation, That We May Live Upon the Earth Again: Kinship in Dakhóta Makhóčhe, 1829-1939, draws from Dakota- and English-language sources to show how seven generations of Dakota people made new relatives, survived genocide, repurposed settler ideologies and institutions, and reclaimed their homelands. Heather’s dissertation draws on documents by over 200 Dakota authors that span more than a century. She also uses records from U.S. agencies to uncover systematic economic dispossession that has been alleged but never proven. Through researching historical processes of settler colonial dispossession, Heather supports Indigenous nations working to reclaim their land in the present.
Heather’s research has received support from CNAIR, where she will be a 2023–24 Digital Humanities Graduate Fellow, the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies, the Mellon Graduate Cluster in Native American and Indigenous Studies, the Clements Center at SMU, and the Royster Society of Fellows at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Ashley Murphy is a clinical psychology PhD candidate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the Feinberg School of Medicine. She is advised by Heather Risser.
Ashley is a community-engaged researcher whose work focuses on the intersection of child development, public policy, public health, and psychology. In her research, she partners with the disability community to improve the delivery of publicly funded services, particularly focusing on increasing family engagement in development-focused therapies delivered through special education, early intervention, and child welfare systems.
As a former special education teacher, Ashley saw firsthand that many children with disabilities only receive critical therapy services (e.g., physical, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapies) through school. However, limited resources prevented many children from getting the amount of therapy they needed. Based on the family-centered-care model used in other pediatric settings, she hypothesized that increasing parent involvement in school-based therapies would maximize the impact of schools’ limited therapy resources and increase children’s abilities to master important developmental skills in their day-to-day lives.
In partnership with families and cross-disciplinary providers, she developed the Parent-Therapist Partnership Survey for parents to communicate what needs they consider important to be partners in their child’s school-based therapies and if these needs are being met by providers. Her studies consistently find high rates of unmet parent needs, which are exacerbated for families of color and families with limited resources. Consequently, Ashley has broadened her research to partner with individuals with disabilities, their families, providers, and policymakers to develop community-based interventions to improve family engagement in and delivery of publicly funded therapies.
Ashley received a BA from the University of Notre Dame in English and Neuroscience & Behavior. She also holds an MS in Special Education from Dominican University and an MA in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern.
Vaidehi Srinivas is a computer science PhD candidate in the Department of Computer Science in the McCormick School of Engineering. She is advised by Aravindan Vijayaraghavan.
Vaidehi’s research focuses in on the theoretical side of computer science, specifically algorithms for machine learning. In practice, many machine learning methods are observed to work extraordinarily well, most of the time. However, we have very little theoretical understanding of why. Vaidehi’s goal is to establish mathematical guarantees that characterize the settings in which machine learning methods work. The main technical challenge she addresses is understanding when it is possible to optimize non-convex functions. She has developed new techniques to tackle this problem on the Burer-Monteiro method. These techniques have the promise to be widely applicable to a broad set of machine learning methods. Vaidehi has been extending these ideas and developing new theories to understand other standard machine learning methods and fill the gap between theory and practice.
In addition to research, Vaidehi is interested in building strong academic support systems for students of all ages by working with elementary and middle school students through Books and Breakfast and Math Circles of Chicago and by serving on the Computer Science PhD Advisory Council.
Thomas A. Berrueta
Thomas A. Berrueta is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and is a member of the Center for Robotics and Biosystems advised by Todd Murphey.
An interdisciplinary scientist and engineer, Thomas's research focuses on understanding and controlling complex systems. From termite construction to the molecular machinery of cells, emergent behaviors in nature stand as proof that collections of simple elements can become greater than the sum of their parts. Biological systems of this kind are often noisy, chaotic, and unpredictable — yet no human-made machine rivals their capabilities.
Bringing together insights from artificial intelligence, statistical physics, and chemical engineering, Thomas seeks to make engineered systems more life-like by embracing randomness and disorder. In his dissertation, tentatively titled Robot Thermodynamics, Thomas presents a novel framework from which imprecise and messy artificial elements can produce reliable and controllable emergent outcomes. Self-healing cement for buildings, minimally-invasive microrobotic insulin delivery, and aerosolizable sensor networks are among many exciting applications made possible by this approach. Thomas imagines a future where embodied intelligent systems are everywhere in all shapes and sizes, and his doctoral work lays out the foundations for such a vision.
Black StudiesRikki Byrd is a PhD candidate in the Department of Black Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
Rikki Byrd is committed to engaging the campus and surrounding communities through art. From 2020-2021, Rikki was an Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow at the Block Museum of Art, where she curated Behold, Be Held, the museum’s first outdoor installation of works from its permanent collection. Rikki also worked with high school students from Youth & Opportunity United, Inc. on the installation. In 2020, she, and her friend and colleague, Nnaemeka Ekwelum, co-founded the Black Arts Consortium Graduate Working Group, inviting graduate students from across Northwestern to engage in conversations around Black aesthetic practices. In addition to organizing reading discussions and peer workshops, the group has hosted conversations with Tina Campt and Legacy Russell.
Rikki's work is dedicated to expanding knowledge about Black contemporary art and Black people’s relationship to fashion. Her dissertation project examines the way that Black people use clothing and textiles to perform mourning. Analyzing a host of objects from material culture and contemporary art, such as Rest in Peace T-shirts, performance art, and visual art by Devan Shimoyama and Ebony G. Patterson, Rikki’s project asks how might a turn to clothing and textiles expand Black Studies’ long examination of the subject of death? How might this turn help us connect the aesthetic practices of Black people across the diaspora who have responded to death using similar materials and methods? How might this expand the archive of death that the field and popular media continue to draw on to explicate Black people’s unique proximity to death?
Rikki is an educator, curator, and writer who continually invests in merging her scholarship with community engagement. To expand her focus on Black fashion and aesthetic practices, she edits the Fashion and Race Syllabus, founded in 2016, and the Black Fashion Archive, founded in 2018.
HistoryBright Gyamfi is a PhD candidate in the Department of History in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
Bright’s work sits at the intersection of West African and African Diaspora intellectual history, nationalism, Pan-Africanism, Black internationalism, and economic development. His research examines Ghanaian intellectuals who worked to transform and radicalize the study of Africa in academic and intellectual centers around the Atlantic. The project weaves together local and transnational histories around the Atlantic based on more than five years of archival research and oral interviews in Ghana, Senegal, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It contends that networks of intellectuals can continue to produce and advance radical scholarship even if their country of origin opposes it.
Beginning with the military overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah in 1966, Bright examines how Ghana became increasingly hostile to intellectuals close to Nkrumah. Consequently, many Nkrumah-inspired scholars found intellectual homes abroad, including at the UN-funded development institute IDEP (Institut African de Développement Economique et de Planification) in Dakar and in American universities and colleges. These academics helped shape the development of Black Studies in the United States. Their efforts to stimulate a global movement of Black consciousness extended into the Caribbean as well, reaching places like Grenada and Suriname. In exile, these Nkrumah-influenced scholars maintained firm ties with their counterparts who remained in Ghana. Their efforts helped reimagine Africa and its diaspora as a terrain of unified political action and intellectual research. Their endeavors offer insight into the circulation and influence of Black internationalist thought and organizing within, and beyond, Africa.
Bright holds a BA in History and Political Science from the University of Notre Dame as well as an MSc in African Studies from the University of Oxford. His work has appeared in the Journal of African American History, African Studies Review, Africa is a Country, and The Conversation.
Joint PhD Program in Computer Science and Learning SciencesJacob Kelter is a PhD candidate in the joint Computer Science and Learning Sciences Program through the School of Education and Social Policy and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
The broad goal of Jacob's research is to create and study computational tools for making sense of complexity in the world. Novices often have difficulty understanding complex systems because they assume natural and social patterns are always due to centralized and deterministic causes rather than emerging from decentralized interactions potentially involving randomness. For example, many people assume traffic jams result only from a centralized cause, like a crash, but they can also emerge endogenously from random variations in the speeds of cars. Researchers use computational “agent-based” models to study complex systems in which large scale patterns emerge from the interactions of thousands of agents. These tools can also be used by students to hone their intuitions and make sense of how global patterns can emerge from the interactions of a system’s parts, whether those parts are atoms, animals, people, or organizations.
Jacob's dissertation research focuses on using computational modeling in science education, currently in the context of materials science and engineering. The research includes (1) redesigning the introductory materials science and engineering course to make central use of computational agent-based modeling and (2) studying the effects of the redesign on student learning and understanding of complex phenomena. Apart from his dissertation work, Jacob engages in original research on complex economic and political systems. He has published work modeling an alternative voting system (quadratic voting) and currently collaborates on agent-based models of economic systems and their interactions with the environment.
Rachel S. Russell
Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre and Drama
Rachel S. Russell is a PhD Candidate in the Interdisciplinary PhD in Theatre and Drama (IPTD) in the School of Communication.
An interdisciplinary dance practitioner and dance scholar, Rachel’s work brings together Dance Studies, Performance Studies, Black Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her dissertation focuses on the dreams and actions of Black women who practice African/African Diaspora dance and modern dance. She examines how the mothers of African American dance, and their descendants in the present, rehearse to survive the dissonance they experience between their lived reality and the world they know is possible and actively try to create. Through the creation of, and application of, a theoretical framework and conceptual space named The Waiting Room, Rachel’s research understands, documents, and conceptualizes the present-day history of dancer, choreographers, and their predecessors across time, space, and place.
Rachel has worked as an arts administrator and teaching artist. She is a member of Àṣẹ Dance Theatre Collective (Brooklyn, NY) and was a company member of Sydnie L. Mosely Dances (2014-2017). Rachel also served as a member of the Dance/NYC Junior Committee (2016-2017). Rachel is the recipient of a Mellon Interdisciplinary Cluster Fellowship in Gender and Sexuality Studies and has earned Graduate Certificates Gender and Sexuality Studies and African American and Diaspora Studies at Northwestern University. Rachel earned a BFA in Dance Pedagogy from Columbia College Chicago and a MA in Performance Studies from New York University.
Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and Driskill Graduate Program in Life Science
Samantha Schroth is a MD/PhD candidate in the Medical Scientist Training Program in the Feinberg School of Medicine.
As an MD/PhD trainee, Samantha’s work is united by the common thread of improving the quality of life and care patients receive within the health care system. Her dissertation investigates the role of an innate immune cell population, conventional dendritic cell 1 (cDC1), in establishing and maintaining tolerance to a transplanted heart. While current standard of care for patients receiving new organs necessitates the use of multiple immunosuppressant medications with a myriad of often severe side effects, Samantha’s work seeks to identify intrinsic mechanisms by which cDC1 cells promote acceptance of a foreign organ. This includes unraveling the complex signaling network between cDC1s and other immune cells in addition to the influence of metabolic programming on cDC1 function. Her studies aim to provide novel therapeutic alternatives to enhance transplant survival while minimizing side-effects and improving quality of life for patients.
Additionally, Samantha proudly identifies as a Disabled woman and manual wheelchair user after incurring a spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia in 2013. She serves as a leader and advocate in this space, having served as Ms. Wheelchair WI 2014 and Ms. Wheelchair America 2015. At Northwestern, she continues to challenge disability related bias and works to mitigate health care disparities faced by persons with disabilities while also promoting inclusion of learners with disabilities in graduate training. She serves on the executive board of the Disability Advocacy Coalition in Medicine, is on the board of directors of the adaptive sports organization Dare2Tri, and has published in the Chicago Tribune, Journal of Academic Medicine, and Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development on these topics.
Andrea Y. Adomako
African American StudiesAndrea Y. Adomako is a PhD candidate in the Department of African American Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
An interdisciplinary Black Studies scholar, Andrea’s work spans the fields of Black girlhood studies, gender & sexuality studies, literary criticism, and Black political thought. Her current research examines what we can all collectively learn from Black girls’ friendships through critical engagement with their lives and those writing about them. Transnational in scope, Andrea’s work analyzes figures/objects from the United States and Ghana to account for the gendered differences of girlhood and the feminist commitments literary movements were grappling with during the 1960s and 1970s. In revisiting literature between 1969 and 1976—which represents the height of the Black Arts Movement and Pan-African literary formations— Andrea examines texts by Maya Angelou, Efua Sutherland, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and Ama Ata Aidoo who are connected through their interpersonal diasporic friendships with one another and their authorial insistence on communicating ideas about violence and intimacy through symbols of Black girlhood. Her research reveals that politics of friendship revolve around innovative ways of being with each other, which does not rely on punishment but rather fosters a creative interrogation of the world around us.
Andrea contextualizes the labor of friendship in the diasporic Black literary tradition to understand how Black girls have become powerful racialized, gendered, and sexualized symbols that render them as the most significant movement builders, while also being highly invisible and in crisis. Working with youth organizations such as the Chicago Freedom School and the Akoma Institute, Andrea is committed to relationship building as a political commitment and intellectual practice.
She holds a BA in Africana studies and human rights from Barnard College, as well as an MA in American studies from Purdue University.
Henry K. Dambanemuya
Technology and Social BehaviorHenry K. Dambanemuya is a PhD candidate in the joint Computer Science and Communication Program in Technology and Social Behavior under the advisement of Emőke-Ágnes Horvát.
Henry works in the Laboratory on Innovation, Networks, and Knowledge (LINK) to understand and predict group behavior in networks and socio-technical systems. Trained in computer science, communication, and international peace studies, he brings a unique combination of exceptional analytical and computational skills to conduct interdisciplinary research with real-world implications in social good efforts, without limitations in technical capabilities. His doctoral work, at the intersection of machine learning and complex networks analysis, examines how people’s social networks and their opinion diversity impact their judgments in collaborative settings. The goal of his research is to devise innovative ways to support reliable collective decision-making in complex settings by identifying novel and robust collective intelligence signals and by systematically investigating the primary conditions necessary to generate crowd wisdom. As a problem-solving approach, he applies collective intelligence research to solve high-stakes problems, for instance, to generate more informed and inclusive decisions in group settings, improve access to capital for groups underserved by traditional financial institutions, and to help design better strategies for implementing peace agreements after civil wars.
Prior to Northwestern, Henry obtained his MA from the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and a BA in computer science and conflict studies from DePauw University.
Human Development and Social PolicySheridan Fuller is a PhD candidate in the Human Development and Social Policy program in the School of Education and Social Policy.
Sheridan's research addresses the American social safety net's potential to promote families' well-being while acknowledging its pitfalls. He studies children's and families' interactions with the social safety net, focusing on the effect of income support programs on children's long-term outcomes. His research is motivated by two related questions. First, how do we better design the American social safety net to support children's health and well-being? Second, how do welfare policies that prevent families from accessing critical resources impact children's developmental trajectory? His research addresses these questions by combining his professional policy experience working on income support programs with multidisciplinary training grounded in econometric methods and drawing on insights from political science and human development. His work addresses these interrelated questions through four studies that provide a historical and contemporary analysis of the public cash welfare system. As policymakers attempt to redesign the social safety net as part of the policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheridan's research highlights how policymakers can structure the social safety net to protect children and families from economic hardship and design elements that may negate these efforts.
Before joining the Northwestern community, Sheridan worked on income support programs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as a policy analyst and Presidential Management Fellow and earned his Master of Public Policy and BA from the University of Virginia.
Alicia V. Nuñez
Spanish and PortugueseAlicia V. Nuñez is a PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
Alicia’s dissertation examines the intersections of childhood with lived migratory experiences in literature, visual, and music culture. Her work demonstrates how difficult it is to categorize a child that tends to survive under institutional radars, in the shadows. Alicia’s concept of “Shadow Kids” argues that unaccompanied migrant children defy concepts of childhood by hiding and moving through multiple spatial, temporal, national, and sexual identities. Furthermore, her work explores how immigration policy and detention procedures in the United States have historically depicted Central America as a “problem child.” Alicia draws from varied materials such as novels, poetry, newspapers, legal documents, music, and art installations to voice the multisensory experiences of migrant children. More broadly, her interdisciplinary project is also in dialogue with larger, more global issues such as climate change, chronic world health problems, and mass displacement.
At Northwestern, Alicia works with the Northwestern Prison Education Program to help coordinate programming at Cook County Jail and various youth detention centers with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. Alicia has also taught at Northwestern, Cook County Jail, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
HistoryCharlotte Rosen is a PhD candidate in the Department of History in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
Charlotte’s dissertation uses Pennsylvania as a case study to examine the untold history of state prison overcrowding and the politics that this crisis of carceral incapacity produced. Far from an orderly roll-out of the postwar US carceral regime, the actual implementation of racialized mass imprisonment was far more contested than is commonly understood, in large part because United States’ decentralized political structure means that the majority of imprisoned people are arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated by local and state authorities. As Pennsylvania’s major metropolitan regions ramped up policing and as the state passed tough-on-crime mandatory sentencings laws in the 1970s and 1980s, state and county correctional systems became immediately overcrowded, subjecting disproportionately Black prisoners to horrendous and constitutionally suspect conditions and creating decades of administrative chaos, fiscal strain, and judicial intervention. State prison overcrowding also sparked a little-acknowledged period of Black-led prisoner resistance, ranging from lawsuits over overcrowding to escapes to full-scale rebellions: clear evidence of the carceral state’s contingent and unsettled status during this period.
In braiding the histories of state policymakers’ struggle to build sufficient carceral capacity with the history of prisoner resistance, Charlotte’s dissertation demonstrates that the US prison nation did not develop automatically or smoothly once the bipartisan “common sense” of tough-on-crime and carceral solutions became hegemonic. Rather, she shows that the rush to punish and imprison with impunity created a crisis of state incapacity that initially placed meaningful limits on the political project of law and order. This history shows that the rise of the carceral state is not a history of inevitability, but of defeat; where the contemporary crisis of racialized mass imprisonment was only made possible through the contested closure of an opening created by the crisis of state prison overcrowding that initially gave prisoners, their allies, and the judiciary the ability to challenge and constrain the growth of the US carceral regime.
Charlotte is a prison abolitionist and is involved in a number of projects and organizations to support imprisoned people and expand public knowledge of the history of policing, prisons, and prisoner resistance in the US. She volunteers with the Northwestern Prison Education Program and is a team member of Study and Struggle, an ongoing project to organize against incarceration and criminalization in Mississippi through four months of political education and community building, convening study groups both inside and outside prisons.
Suna's research focuses on investigating connections between our most fundamental physical theories. The marriage of gravity — as understood via the principles of general relativity — with quantum mechanics is fraught with confusing predictions and a daunting degree of computational complexity. This research hopes to overcome these barriers by using the recently discovered link between gravity and the so-called "strong force" that binds protons and neutrons together. By narrowing in on the physical properties and symmetries of the strong force, Suna has discovered patterns living within theoretical extensions of both the strong force and models of quantum gravity. These patterns indicate that the underlying mathematical structure connecting these disparate forces — only manifest through carefully focused calculation — takes on a more general form than previously understood. Suna's work then uses these patterns to thoroughly investigate the types of novel gravitational phenomena we may one day hope to observe. In addition to guiding our construction of gravitational models to describe the quantum evolution of space and time, these findings also give rise to efficient, systematic new methods for predicting quantities of interest for particle collider experiments.
PhysicsSuna Zekioglu is a PhD candidate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.