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Public Fellows

2020-2021 Public Fellows

The PublicsLab is excited to share our second cohort of Public Fellows! This cohort consists of ten doctoral students from ten different departments at The Graduate Center. Over the next two years, they will be thinking together about how to transform doctoral education in the humanities to be more publicly engaged.

Jess Applebaum is a dramaturg-scholar whose practice is rooted in contemporary performance and social action. As a dramaturg she works collaboratively with performance makers, academics, and activists to develop and facilitate creative processes. Her work pays particular attention to lifting up the cultural and political context of each project: identifying how the content developed serves both its creators and its audience in a shared, live moment. As a PhD candidate in CUNY’s Theater and Performance program, Jess’ scholarship focuses on the labor of dramaturgy: pushing the perceived boundaries of how research is performed and applied in both creative and academic work. She believes that bodies perform knowledge, process activates power, and that, together, they can inspire new pedagogical and civic practices.

Tania Avilés Vergara is a PhD student in the Department of Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures. She earned her MA in Hispanic Linguistics at University of Chile and she is a member of the Grupo de Glotopolítica at CUNY. Her research focuses on literacy practices among the lower ranks of Chilean society at the turn of the 20th century, and her dissertation explores familial letter-writing during Chile’s nation-building process. She worked in Archivo Central Andrés Bello (University of Chile) and has participated in several cultural projects funded by Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes (Chile). Currently, she explores archives as open educational resources within the CUNY classroom to rethink hegemonic narratives of social inequality.

Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, and English PhD student. Her research focuses on women’s domestic embroidery and poetry as forms of public and private resistance in Early Modern England. A co-curator of the Lunar Walk Poetry Series, Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine, and Publicity Assistant at Press Shop PR, Madeleine is dedicated to showcasing the work of underrepresented groups within and outside of academia, dissolving boundaries between art and scholarship. Her debut poetry collection is forthcoming from Trio House Press, and she has taught creative writing and humanities research at Brooklyn College and NYU, where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing.

Kyong Mazzaro is a PhD candidate in political science. She uses quantitative and qualitative methods to study violence, electoral politics, and media freedom. In her dissertation, Kyong is studying how electoral competition affects the work of journalists and communicators in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela. Before pursuing her PhD, Kyong managed and led research and stakeholder engagement initiatives at the Earth Institute and the MD-ICCCR at Columbia University. She holds an MA in Political Science from Columbia University, an MA in Migration Studies from the University of Rome, and a BA in International Studies from the Central University of Venezuela.

Britney Moreira is a doctoral student in the Critical Social/Personality Psychology program. Her research interests vary from mass incarceration to spirituality/faith, juvenile (in)justice, and Black adolescent development. They are all rooted in her desire to highlight the power, altruism, and solidarity that lives within the Black community while also using her work to fight oppressive systems that threaten it, such as the criminal justice system. She holds a BA from the University of Michigan where she studied Biopsychology, Cognition, & Neuroscience and Creative Writing & Literature. Her studies and involvement in organizations such as the Prison Creative Arts Project has sparked her interest and advocacy for arts-based approaches to youth incarceration. Apart from being a scholar and activist, Britney is also a writer of short stories and an avid book collector.

Jeremiah Perez-Torres is a PhD student in the Department of Criminal Justice. His research interests center around terrorism and war. Jay is currently examining the impact of propaganda on radicalization, group sustainability, and group ideology. He uses his work to highlight the disconnect between groups that would not typically get a voice and the general public. Before arriving at The Graduate Center, Jay was trained in Intelligence Analysis and utilized this training for NYS Police and the Erie County Crime Analysis Center in Buffalo, NY.

Cameron Rasmussen is a social worker, educator and facilitator, and the Program Director at the Center for Justice at Columbia University. He is committed to reimagining our responses to human behavior and pathways to social justice, and to contributing towards the larger movement of an anti-oppressive social work practice. At the Center for Justice, his work is focused on ending the punishment paradigm and advancing approaches to justice rooted in prevention, healing, and accountability. Cameron is currently a PhD student in the Social Welfare program and an adjunct lecturer at Columbia School of Social Work.

Matthew Timmermans is a PhD student, teacher, and podcaster. His current research explores representations of identity in opera, musical theatre, and their recordings. He also teaches music history within the CUNY system. Matt is passionate about sharing opera with new audiences. He has been featured as a lecturer at the Metropolitan Opera Guild, Canadian Opera Company and on the Metropolitan Opera Guild Podcast. Before moving to New York, he worked as a freelance writer and critic, writing editorials and reviews for Opera Canada and With his public-facing projects, Matt hopes to confront opera’s imperial and colonial past and envision a more inclusive and conscientious future.

Juliana Valente is a PhD student in the Cultural Anthropology program at The Graduate Center. She received her master’s in social anthropology from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in Brazil, and her bachelor’s in sociology and education from Vassar College. Over the last several years, Juliana has worked at an NGO in Brazil with youth who committed crimes. Her current research is focused on issues related to human rights, crime, violence, and youth in Brazil.


2019-2020 Mellon Humanities Public Fellows

The inaugural cohort of Mellon Humanities Public Fellows consists of twelve doctoral students from nine departments at The Graduate Center. Over the next several years, they will be thinking together about how to transform doctoral education in the humanities to be more publicly engaged.

Jamie Banks is a PhD student in Classics, a polyglot, and a teacher of “twice-exceptional” students, gifted students with special educational needs. Having studied math, physics and poetry before languages, they work to broaden students’ Latin (and Greek) exposure to include post-classical periods of history, technical and scientific texts, and authors from all over. They draw from their varied teaching experience, including as a mathematics TA, storyteller, writing workshop facilitator for incarcerated youth, slam poetry coach and tutor, as well as the research literature in cognitive science and Second Language Acquisition, to invent and adapt methods that will help each student define and reach ambitious learning goals. This inclusivity in content and method is, Jamie finds, one way that the discipline must begin to redress its exclusionary past and critically engage with its longstanding role supporting imperialism and racism, in part through ideas formed through it like “western civilization” and a canon of “great books.”

Mica Baum-Tuccillo photo

Mica Baum-Tuccillo is an educator, scholar-activist, and social worker. She is a student in the Critical Social/Personality Psychology program where she focuses on using social science and critical humanistic inquiry to reimagine and humanize social policy. Mica is committed to using creative and participatory methods to support depathologizing scholarship that can help us collectively redistribute power. Her interests include queer identities, critical race scholarship, transformative justice, group dynamics, and knowledge production. In another life, Mica worked as a chef and she still loves to cook big meals for her community.

Nick Benacerraf photoNicolas Benacerraf is an academic, organizer, and artist who creates and studies live performance. As a doctoral student in GC’s Theatre & Performance program, Nic’s work seeks to dismantle the stranglehold of advertising and PR on the public imagination, and theorizes the role of live performance in social transformation. As a theatre director and scenic designer, Nic engineers systems and environments for genuine human encounters in theaters, galleries, concert halls, and streets. He is a founding co-artistic director of The Assembly, a collective dedicated to building slow-cooked works about pressing social issues. He holds a BA from Wesleyan and an MFA from CalArts, and his work is available at

Miriam Laytner photoMiriam Laytner is a PhD student in cultural anthropology. She is interested in the intersections of science, faith, and the understanding of climate change. Her interest in climate change stems from six years as a scuba instructor and hiking guide across North America, Australia, and the Caribbean. She holds an MA in oral history from Columbia University, an MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Oklahoma, and a BA in History from Barnard College.


Ariel MeklerAriel G. Mekler is completing her doctorate in political science and women and gender studies. Her research interests include queer transnational scholarship, LGBTIQ rights, and international institutions. Before pursuing her PhD, Ariel worked as a graduate researcher with the inaugural LGBT policy unit at USAID. Since joining The Graduate Center, she has worked as an editorial assistant for philoSOPHIA: A journal of transContinental feminism and presented her research at the New York State Political Science Association and International Studies Association. Her most recent publication is in the Routledge Handbook of Queer Development Studies. 

Miriam MosterMiriam Moster is a first year doctoral student in sociology. She earned her MFA in poetry and BA in philosophy and draws on her humanistic background in her social science research. Her current research explores the relationship between educational outcomes and various facets of ethnic and religious identity. She is also interested in the way gender stereotypes and discourses adversely impact mothers both in the postpartum period and in custody battles.

Chinonye Otuonye PhotoChinonye Otuonye is a doctoral student in the cultural anthropology program.  Her research interests are focused on identity, racial formations, and political movements in relation to the making of the nation within Southeastern Nigeria. She holds an MA from Columbia University and a BA from the University of Connecticut. As an avid reader and someone who values the ways popular culture is entangled with knowledge acquisition, she is deeply invested in thinking through literature ethnographically, as well as the various ways that knowledge is produced and acquired.

Queenie Sukhadia photo

Queenie Sukhadia is a student in the English PhD program. Her research is focused on questions of secondary witness—how we receive the narratives of those testifying to atrocities—in global human rights literature. She is interested in thinking through the ways in which we can read testimonial narratives outside of the frames made common-sense by liberal structures such as the courtroom. A firm believer in the idea that the university is only one of many valuable spaces of knowledge production, Queenie is committed to working at the intersection of academia and external publics to facilitate public good. Apart from being a scholar, she is also a creative writer and published a collection of short stories, A City of Sungazers, in 2017. Queenie holds a BA in English (with high honors) and Psychology from Dartmouth College and an MA in English (with distinction) from Georgetown University.

Daniel Valtueña is a PhD student in the Department of Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures. He earned his BA in Art History at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and his research focuses on contemporary Iberian cultures and queer theories. His work explores the notion of celebration from both theoretical and curatorial perspectives and his dissertation will address contemporary Iberian artistic practices in the intersection of queer and national identities. In 2012 he was awarded the Certamen Nacional Jóvenes Investigadores by the Spanish Government for his early research initiatives and received the Premio Talento Joven in the category of Culture by the Madrid Region in 2016 for his arts management trajectory. Daniel is also a curator based in New York and Madrid. Follow him on Instagram at @danielvaltuena.

Andrew ViñalesAndrew Viñales was born and raised in the Bronx, New York by proud Puerto Rican and Dominican families. He is a twin and practitioner in the Lukumí Afro-Cuban Orisha tradition, as well as an oral historian and cultural worker passionate about highlighting the experiences of queer Afro-Latinx politics, culture, and spirituality. Currently, he is a PhD student in cultural anthropology. He hopes to develop his skills in digital storytelling and facilitation as tools to take his work outside of traditional academic settings and put it in service to Afro-Latinxs in the US and in Latin America.

Britton Williams photoBritton Williams holds a master’s degree in Drama Therapy from New York University, and is a registered drama therapist and licensed creative arts therapist. She is an adjunct professor in the Program in Drama Therapy at NYU and works in private practice. Britton is a PhD student in Social Welfare at The Graduate Center. Her research interests include racial bias in clinical practices and exploring the extent to which creative processes can help  mitigate racial oppression within communities. She is thrilled to be a member of the inaugural Mellon Humanities Public Fellows cohort.

Robert Yates photoRobert Yates is a PhD student in the Department of English. Robert’s research focuses on early modern literature and culture, with particular interests in drama, embodiment, and popular festivities. He is also interested in critical university studies and teaching. Before arriving at The Graduate Center, Robert worked as a Graduate Associate at Georgetown University’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS), as well as a curriculum designer of English courses at D.C. Public Schools. Robert holds an M.Phil. in Education from the University of Cambridge and a M.A. in English from Georgetown University.

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