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GWS Alumni (2010-present)

About Ash Stephens (2021) Heading link

Picture of Ash Stevens

Name: Ash Stephens (He/Him & They/Them)

Current Title: Bridge to Faculty Postdoc in the Department of Criminology, Law and Justice

GWS Affiliation: GWS Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degree: PhD in Criminology, Law and Justice, and M.A. in Criminology, Law and Justice (2021)

Bio: Ash Stephens (he/they) is Bridge to Faculty Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Department of Criminology, Law and Justice (CLJ) at UIC. He received his PhD in CLJ from UIC with concentrations in Black Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. His dissertation focused on transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people’s experiences of policing and surveillance from four sites: the family, the Department of Motor Vehicles, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and from police. Their dissertation also highlighted participants’ resistance strategies, from an abolitionist framework. During his graduate studies, he also worked as a Manager of Policy and Strategy for the Transgender Law Center, focusing on community-driven public policy priorities that prioritized trans people, and as the Director of Bail Operations for the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund (now the Envision Freedom Fund) where he worked with New York City public defender agencies to post bail for people who were incarcerated in borough jails who could not afford to post bond. He has also been a part of numerous groups to support people impacted by incarceration, such as Love and Protect, the Chicago Community Bond Fund, the NYC chapter of Survived and Punished, Prison Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP), and Transformative Justice Law Project.

About Ren Encinas (2021) Heading link

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Name: Ren Encinas (they/them)

Current Title: Co-Director of Organizing at Dissenters

GWS Affiliation: Undergraduate Major

UIC Degree: BA, GWS (2021)

Bio: Ren Encinas (they/them) is a queer Filipino community organizer based in Chicago. They are deeply committed to internationalist abolitionist organizing to dismantle militarism domestically & globally, while building life-affirming institutions and networks of care. For the past 10 years, they have organized towards collective liberation with various movements including labor, land, migrant, and climate justice, anti-imperialism, to abolition and demilitarization. As a GWS student at UIC, Ren organized with Anakbayan and Abolition at UIC to defund policing and militarism on-campus and reinvest in life-giving resources for students. Off-campus, Ren has organized to remove US troops and bases from their homeland, and to pass the Philippine Human Rights Act to end all US military aid towards the Philippine police and military. Recently, they helped launch #BoeingArmsGenocide, a Chicago-based Dissenters campaign which targeted the City of Chicago’s contract with Boeing’s HQ and blocked $2 million of public resources from going to the war-profiteer. Now, as Dissenters Co-Director of Organizing, Ren has the honor of helping grow and nourish a transformative, joyful, and leaderful anti-militarist youth movement by supporting 25+ Dissenters chapters across Turtle Island in launching and winning local direct action campaigns to reclaim power and resources away from the war industry.

About Dr. Jen Ash (2019) Heading link

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Name: Jen Ash (she/her)

Current Title: Executive Director, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Foundation

GWS Affiliation: Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degree: PhD, U.S. History (2019)

Bio: Jen Ash (she/her) is an organizer, educator, and historian specializing in African American women’s history and the history of social movements. She was a member of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) during and after the campaign for reparations for Burge survivors, and returned to working on the Burge survivors memorial in 2021 as a paid organizer. Bringing her nonprofit work experience to the table, in 2023, Jen was hired as Executive Director, overseeing CTJM Foundation operations and the construction of the Burge torture survivors memorial. She also serves as a Lecturer in the Women’s and Gender Studies program and Black Studies Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she also earned a Ph.D. in U.S. history and a graduate concentration in Women’s and Gender Studies in 2019.

What GWS Means to Me: GWS gave me a space for collaboration with both faculty and students who had common intellectual and project interests, and helped me in my professional endeavors post-graduation. Having the GWS lens strengthens my organizing and the quality of my work performance. I work in a collective and I am bound to that collective for decision making. Feminist principles guide that model in many ways.

About Dr. Eunjung Kim (2017) Heading link

Book Cover of Crip Genealogies

Name: Eunjung Kim (she/her)

Current Title: Associate Professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and the Disability Studies Program at Syracuse University

GWS Affiliation: Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degree: PhD, Disability Studies (2017)

Bio: Eunjung Kim is an associate professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and the Disability Studies Program and an affiliated faculty in the LGBTQ Studies Program at Syracuse University. She is the author of Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Korea (Duke University Press, 2017, winner of Alison Piepmeier Award, James B. Palais Prize) and a co-editor of Crip Genealogies (Duke University Press 2023) with Mel Y. Chen, Julie Avril Minich, and Alison Kafer. Her work has appeared in journals such as Catalyst; Sexualities; GLQ; and Social Politics, and in edited collections, Against Health; Intersectionality and Beyond; Asexualities; and Disability, Human Rights, and the Limits of Humanitarianism. Her research and teaching is in transnational feminist disability studies theories, asexuality theories, and crip ecologies. She is a member of the disabled women’s organization Jangaeyeosong Gonggam in South Korea.

What GWS Means to Me: The GWS concentration at UIC couldn’t have prepared me better for my role as an educator. As a graduate student instructor, I learned so much from the crucial body of literature on postcolonial feminism as well as from the faculty members’ expertise and their pedagogy. I also have deep gratitude for the amazingly diverse group of undergraduate students at UIC who taught me how to be a teacher and brought so much to every class discussion!

About M Shelly Conner (2014) Heading link

image of M

Name: M Shelly Conner (She/Her)

Current Title: Assistant Professor of Creative Writing; Co-Director or MFA Program for Writers at The University of Central Arkansas

GWS Affiliation: GWS Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degree: PhD in English- Program for Writers (2014)

Bio:M Shelly Conner, PhD is assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas where she also co-directs the MFA Program for Writers. Her debut novel everyman received the Silver Nautilus Award for Fiction from a large press. Her webisode Quare Life screened at LA’s Outfest, NY’s NewFest, Seatle’s Twist and Atlanta’s LGBT Film Fest in 2018.

About Dr. Amy Brainer (2014) Heading link

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Name: Amy Brainer (she/her)

Current Title: Associate Professor and Director of Women’s & Gender Studies and LGBTQ Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn

GWS Affiliation: Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degrees: PhD, Sociology (2014)

Bio: I am an associate professor and director of Women’s & Gender Studies and LGBTQ+ Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. My first book, published with Rutgers in 2019, is titled Queer Kinship and Family Change in Taiwan and is based on fieldwork with LGBTQ+ people throughout Taiwan and with their heterosexual parents and siblings. My current research follows queer and trans individuals and couples as they navigate marriage-based immigration to the United States. At UM-Dearborn, I am faculty advisor to Pride and teach courses on LGBTQ+ Religious Experience; Family Diversity and Power; Colonialism, Race, and Sexuality; and other topics. As is true for many researchers, my work and life experiences are intertwined. As a child, I lived in mainland China with my US citizen parents and developed an interest in family migration during this period. I am queer and femme, and navigated the US immigration process with a T (transmasculine) former partner. I’m glad to answer questions about my story and how it pertains to my research. I try to practice transparency and vulnerability in my research and teaching.

What GWS Means to Me: GWS is my intellectual home. I love the energy of interdisciplinary spaces. This is where I have found people most willing to think outside the box.

About Reverend RJ Robles (2014) Heading link

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Name: RJ Robles

GWS Affiliation: Undergraduate Major

UIC Degree: BA, GWS (2014)

Bio: Rev. RJ Robles, GWS Alum (BA 2014), is a LGBTQ afro-indigenous borikua minister-activist-healer seeking to continue the strong legacy of trans people of color mobilizing collective care for our liberation and healing. As an alumnus of UIC’s Gender & Women Studies department Class of 2014, they cherish the memories of heart to heart conversations with GWS students and faculty at UH. RJ holds a Master of Divinity (M.Div) from Vanderbilt Divinity School, where their research was on race, gender, sexuality and religion. He has professional experiences as a direct care service provider in the fields of HIV/AIDS, transgender healthcare, and domestic violence. In 2015, RJ launched a trans healthcare initiative called the Trans Buddy Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a peer-to-peer support program for accessing and navigating transition related healthcare in Nashville, TN. RJ’s work lies at the intersections of Black and Latinx LGBTQIA+ healing through decolonial spiritual and religious practices. RJ’s passion for breaking childhood, intergenerational, and colonial trauma led them to seek certifications as a sound healer, Theta Healing Practitioner, Reiki Master, and practitioner of IFA. RJ is a healing coach with the National Queer and Trans Therapist of Color Network where they enjoy continuing to co-create politicized healing for Black and Brown, queer and trans communities. RJ believes a different world is possible with revolutionary love, healing, and organizing.

About Dr. Lara L. Kelland (2013) Heading link

Book Cover of Cleo's Foot Soldiers

Name: Lara Kelland

Current Title: E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Museum Studies and Community History in the Department of History at the University of Missouri-St. Louis

GWS Affiliation: Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degree: PhD, U.S. History and Public History (2013)

Bio: Dr. Lara Kelland is the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Museum Studies and Community History in the department of History. She is also the director of the Museums, Heritage and Public History MA and graduate certificate. Her scholarship centers on questions of collective memory, cultural history and social justice. Her first book, Clio’s Foot Soldiers: Twentieth-Century US Social Movements and the Uses of Collective Memory (University of Massachusetts Press, 2018) traces the use of history by activists in the Civil Rights, Black Power, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation and American Indian Movements.

Kelland’s second book manuscript, Collective Memory in Isla del Encanto: Island and Diaspora Heritage during the American Imperial Century (under contract with the University of Massachusetts Press), traces the use of heritage through colonial, official, and oppositional visions of nationhood on the island and throughout the diaspora.

At UMSL, she directs the Digital Humanities Lab, developing public history and other cultural, public-facing and public-engaging projects on a variety of platforms. She is especially interested in producing place-based narratives in her public history practice, using digital tools to interpret the past and articulate a more complex sense of urban history and historical space in the St. Louis region.

About Dr. Brian L. Kelly (2013) Heading link

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Name: Brian L. Kelly (he/him/his)

Current Title: Associate Professor, School of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago

GWS Affiliation: Honorary Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degrees: BSW (2005), MSW (2006), PhD, Social Work (2013)

Bio: Brian L. Kelly received his BSW, MSW, and doctorate degrees in social work from University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work. His research and scholarship explore current and historical uses of recreational, art, and music-based activities in social work and related fields as sites and opportunities for strengths-based, socially just, inclusive practice. He holds an associate degree in audio engineering from Full Sail University and incorporates audio documentary and other audio-based ethnographic methodologies in his work as means to increase participatory research practices. Brian has several years of practice experience working with individuals experiencing homelessness and other forms of unstable housing, including individuals living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic health conditions. His teaching interests include social work with groups, social welfare history, qualitative research methods, and the intersections of power, oppression, and diversity. An active member of the Chicago music scene, Brian co-runs the label Harlem & Irving and performs and produces as part of the duo Harlem & Irving Presents and independently under the moniker Supplement.

What GWS Means to Me: Working with faculty from GWS during my undergraduate and graduate studies in the 2000s expanded my analytical framework, and in doing so demonstrated how to maintain a critical perspective within a professional school. Professions, such as social work, tend to have limited space for critical theories and critique due to the high volume of the need for services. Courses in GWS and the faculty that taught them, including Jennifer Brier and John D’Emilio, provided the necessary training to merge critical theories and perspectives with the practical skills of social work. I am forever grateful for that education!

About Dr. Aneeka Ayanna Henderson (2012) Heading link

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Name: Aneeka Ayanna Henderson (she/her)

Current Title: Associate Professor of American Studies at Amherst College

GWS Affiliation: Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degree: PhD, English literature (2012)

Bio: A native of Chicago, Aneeka Ayanna Henderson is a writer and scholar working across print, sonic, and visual culture. She is an Associate Professor at Amherst College in the American Studies Department, with affiliations in the English and Black Studies Departments. Her first book, Veil and Vow: Marriage Matters in Contemporary African American Culture (University of North Carolina Press) critically examines representations of courtship and marriage in fiction by Terry McMillan, Sister Souljah, and Omar Tyree as well as films such as The Best Man and Love and Basketball.

Veil and Vow was selected as a finalist for the 2021 Outstanding First Book Prize awarded by the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora and as one the Best Black History Books of 2020 by Black Perspectives | African American Intellectual History Society. The American Association of University Women Postdoctoral Research Leave Fellowship, Andrew W. Mellon Citizens and Scholars Career Enhancement Fellowship, and Duke University’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences have supported her research. Professor Henderson’s forthcoming book is an interdisciplinary study of Black vinyl culture.

About Dr. Catherine Jacquet (2012) Heading link

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Name: Catherine Jacquet (she/her)

Current Title: Associate Professor of History and WGSS and Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of History at Louisiana State University

GWS Affiliation: Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degree: PhD, History (2012)

Bio: Catherine O. Jacquet is the Luke V. Guarisco Distinguished Associate Professor of History at Louisiana State University where she holds a joint appointment in History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. At LSU she teaches courses in US history, women’s history, the history of sexuality, LGBTQ activism, and history of prisons. Her book The Injustices of Rape: How Activists Responded to Sexual Violence, 1950-1980 was published with the University of North Carolina Press in 2019. Her research has been published in the Journal of Women’s History and the Radical History Review. In 2016 she curated the exhibit “Confronting Violence, Improving Women’s Lives” at the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. The exhibit tells the story of the nurses who sought to reform the medical system and improve healthcare services for survivors of domestic violence in the late twentieth century. Her current research examines activism by prisoners and their allies against sexual violence in carceral institutions in the late 20th century.

What GWS Means to Me: Feminism has completely informed my approach to teaching, research, and scholarship. A feminist framework pushes us to ask critical questions, interrogate how we understand the world, and challenge how things are and why they are. Social justice is at the core of my research. I am a historian who is interested in how and why people make change. I study social movement activism and how people historically have defined and fought for social justice.

About Dr. Katie P. Batza (2011) Heading link

Before AIDS Book Cover

Name: Katie Batza (any pronouns)

Current Title: Associate Professor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The University of Kansas

GWS Affiliation: Graduate Concentrator

UIC Degree: PhD, U.S. History (2011)

Bio: Dr. Katie Batza earned a doctorate in United States History from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2011 along with a graduate concentration in Work, Race, Gender, and the Urban World and a graduate certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies. Before joining the University of Kansas department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in 2014 as their first 100% hired appointment, Batza was at Macalester College in St. Paul and Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Their research explores the intersection of sexuality, health, and politics in the late 20th-century United States.

Batza’s first book, Before AIDS: Gay Health Politics in the 1970s, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in February 2018 and explores gay health activism in the period before AIDS. She also has published on the history of lesbians and the fertility industry, mapping queer health history, and neoliberalism. They played an active role in the National Park Service’s LGBTQ initiative, contributing a chapter to the National Park Services LGBTQ theme study and co-founding a non-profit, Rainbow Heritage Network, that aids in identifying, preserving, and interpreting historic sites of particular meaning to the LGBTQ communities. Batza is currently an Associate Professor in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The University of Kansas. Starting in July of 2023, Batza will be Chair of the WGSS department.

About Dr. Emily E. LB. Twarog (2011) Heading link

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Name: Emily E. LB. Twarog (she/her)

Current Title: Associate Professor, School of Labor & Employment Relations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

GWS Affiliation: Teaching Assistant

UIC Degrees: MA, PhD, History – Work, Race, Gender in the Urban World Concentration (2011)

Bio: Emily earned her PhD in American History at UIC and a MS in Labor Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her book Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in 20th Century America (Oxford University Press, 2017) examines the ways in which housewives in America used food protests as political tools to gain political influence both locally and nationally. She is also the author of several articles and book chapters related to the evolution of working-class women’s leadership development as well as gender violence in the workplace. She is currently writing a book on the history of sexual harassment resistance in the service sector, Hands Off: A History of Fighting Back against Sexual Harassment in the American Workplace. In addition to an ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship (2019), Emily has received numerous research grants – the Hagley Museum and Library; the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; University of Illinois’ Campus Research Board and the Lemann Center for Brazilian Studies among others. She is currently a board member for the Mother Jones Heritage Project, the Innovations Editor at the Labor Studies Journal and an Editorial Board Member of LaborOnline, the online journal of LAWCHA, and a scholar-in-residence at the Newberry Library.

What GWS Means to Me: GWS was my intellectual and emotional home while I was working on my PhD at UIC. I came back to graduate school after working for many years and found the support of the faculty, staff, and grad students at GWS critical to succeeding in graduate school. And, while I was a GWS Graduate Concentrator drop-out, my time as a TA was amazing.