Ethnic Studies

Meet Ethnic Studies Alumnae

Renee Byrd
Class of 2004
PhD, Gender, Women and Sexuality

Renee Byrd

“My Ethnic Studies education gave me a critical vocabulary for analyzing power, and the reading, writing and speaking skills necessary to succeed in graduate school.”

Awards and honors: Reaching Beyond Award. I participated in the Institute for Civic Leadership (ICL) and was awarded an ICL Mini-grant, a Barrett Undergraduate Research Grant, and a Patrick Stewart Human Rights Scholarship from Amnesty International.

What are you doing now and what are the highlights of your achievements or experiences since graduation?
I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality studies at the University of Washington and Social Science Fellow at Marlboro College in Vermont for the 2011-2012 academic year. My scholarly interests focus on the contemporary prison, neoliberal political rationalities and the gendered and racialized logics within reentry policy discourses. I have been awarded a variety of fellowships and awards while pursuing my PhD, including a Bank of America Endowed Minority Fellowship, a GO-MAP Diversity Fellowship and a dissertation fellowship from the Sociologists for Women in Society. In 2009, I was awarded the prestigious Graduate School Medal, awarded to UW doctoral students whose academic expertise and social awareness are integrated in a way that demonstrates an exemplary commitment to the University and its larger community. During graduate school, I have also worked as a housing advocate for homeless families.

How did your Ethnic Studies degree prepare you for your current position?
The education that I acquired through the Ethnic Studies department at Mills prepared me well to pursue a PhD and to ground my scholarly work in struggles for social justice. My Ethnic Studies education gave me a critical vocabulary for analyzing power, and the reading, writing and speaking skills necessary to succeed in graduate school. When I first started teaching, it felt very natural because I had been lucky enough to experience the great teaching of Dr. Oparah, Dr. Okazawa-Rey and Dr. Santana. I was also fortunate to have been first inspired to become a scholar by faculty who embodied the possibilities of activist scholarship, who mined the tension between scholarly and community engagement and were passionately committed to changing the world. The rigor of the Ethnic Studies program gave me the critical thinking skills, the vision and the confidence to pursue my life’s work.

How did being a part of the Ethnic Studies community at Mills change you?
I gained a lot of confidence while I was at Mills. The Ethnic Studies community challenged me to think about how difference could be a positive resource for building solidarity as opposed to a threat to community. Solidarity at Mills was never straightforward or easy (just as it isn’t outside of Mills) but the Ethnic Studies community constantly struggled to keep the analysis complicated as we envisioned social justice.

What life lessons would you like to offer to current Ethnic Studies majors and minors?
My advice to Ethnic Studies majors and minors is to get out in the community and become involved in social issues that you are passionate about. You have a soul’s purpose and unique gifts that only you can bring into the world.

What are your future goals?
In the Fall of 2012, I plan to defend my dissertation, “Managing Race and Risk: Neoliberal Technologies, Housing Insecurity and the Invention of Prisoner Reentry.” After that I hope to teach at a small liberal arts college in African American Studies and to work with people exiting women’s prisons.