Africana Research Center welcomes 2017-18 Postdoctoral, Dissertation Fellows

August 22, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State's Africana Research Center (ARC) recently announced its two Postdoctoral Fellows and one Dissertation Fellow for the 2017-18 academic year and held its orientation on Monday, Aug. 21. The program supports early-career scholars and junior faculty who conduct research centered on or related to Africa and the African Diaspora and assists them in establishing themselves in academia.

The ARC Fellows are typically housed in departments within the College of the Liberal Arts. During their residency, Fellows have opportunities to showcase their research and scholarship, as well as to engage with noted scholars in their respective fields. The Fellows have no teaching or administrative responsibilities, allowing them undistracted time to focus on research and publication, as well as professional development. Each Fellow is also matched with a mentor.

Two types of fellowships are available through the ARC: the Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Humanities Dissertation Fellowship. The goal of this program is to support doctoral students at Penn State who have completed all but their dissertation and are researching topics related to Africa and the African Diaspora. Dissertation Fellows also have no teaching or related duties.

For 2017-18, the Africana Research Center Fellows are:

Postdoctoral Fellows

Neelima Jeychandran, Postdoctoral Fellow for African Studies and Asian Studies, College of the Liberal Arts

Jeychandran earned a doctorate in culture and performance in 2014 from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her dissertation research was primarily funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, Mellon Fellowship and further supported by fellowships from the UCLA International Institute, the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the Graduate Division at UCLA, and the Smithsonian Institution. From 2015-17, she worked as a Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor in the Indian Ocean Worlds Research Initiative with a joint appointment in the Departments of Anthropology and African American and African Studies at the University of California, Davis. She was a resident fellow at the Humanities Institute at New York University, Abu Dhabi, in the fall of 2015. In the past, she has co-organized international conferences at Sree Sankaracharya University, Kalady (India); New York University, Abu Dhabi; and the University of California, Davis. Currently, she is working on her book “African Memoryscapes in India: Memorial Shrines, Guardian Spirits, and Sacred Groves” and is curating a digital spatial history archive to map the sacred topographies and memorial sites of the African descent communities in India.

Alaina Roberts, Postdoctoral Fellow for the Richards Center, College of the Liberal Arts

Roberts received her doctoral degree in philosophy and history in 2017 from Indiana University’s Department of History. She received her bachelor of arts in history with honors in 2011 from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and in 2013 obtained her master of arts in history from Indiana University. Roberts has received research grants from the American Philosophical Society and the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society. Her research interests in Chickasaw freedpeople and the historical context of African-American and Native American cultural connections stem from her own family background — her paternal great-great-grandparents were slaves of Chickasaw Indians. Roberts’ research explores the lives and identity discourses of the African-American former slaves of Chickasaw Indians. Her dissertation delves into the intersection of Civil War and Reconstruction in the Chickasaw Nation and the actions of Chickasaw freedpeople to gain Chickasaw or U.S. citizenship, establish schools for their children, and stake claims on land within the Chickasaw Nation that they and their families had come to call home. Roberts also is interested in tracing the way dialogues about Chickasaw freedpeople and Afro-Chickasaws have been maintained through family oral histories.

Dissertation Fellow

Joshua R. Deckman, Latin American literature and culture, College of the Liberal Arts (fall 2017)

Deckman is currently a doctoral candidate (ABD) in Latin American literature and culture at Penn State. He received his bachelor of arts in Spanish and education from Washington & Jefferson College and a certificate from the Universidad de Guanajuato in Mexico. He earned his master of arts in Hispanic literature from Penn State in 2015 and a doctoral minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies in 2016. His research departs from a consideration of those voices that are often systematically devalued, marginalized and forgotten. His work brings together women of color and decolonial feminisms, Afro-Latinx/diasporic religious practices, and queer of color critiques in order to develop alternative methodologies and tools for the remaking of social relations, histories, intimacies, value systems, and resistance possibilities. His dissertation project, currently titled “The Poetics and Politics of Pain: Decolonial Spirituality in the Afro-Caribbean and Its Diasporas,” traces the formation of a decolonial spiritual epistemology that emerges from the contemporary literary and cultural productions of Afro-descendant women in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and their diasporas in the United States.

Parts of this project have been presented with the Haiti/Dominican Republic Section Panel at the 2017 conference of the Latin American Studies Association in Lima, Peru. During his fellowship semester, Deckman also will be presenting on Afro-descendant challenges to coloniality and black lesbian feminist activism in the artistic production of Afro-Cuban hip-hop group Las Krudas CUBENSI at the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora in Seville, Spain.

For more information about the Fellows Programs or the Africana Research Center, contact Nan Woodruff at or visit

Last Updated October 23, 2017