Co-Chairs 2018-2020

Estrella Torrez, Ph.D.

DR. ESTRELLA TORREZ is an Associate Professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. Her scholarship centers on critical pedagogy, civic engagement, multicultural education, Indigenous education and sociocultural literacy, particularly among rural migrant families and urban Indigenous youth. Dr. Torrez is a Gates Millennium Scholar, being awarded the prestigious award during its inaugural year. She attended The University of New Mexico, receiving an MA with dual concentrations in Early Childhood Multicultural Education and Bilingual Education, and a PhD in Educational Thought and Sociocultural Studies with a concentration in Bilingual Education. As a child, Torrez attended specific schools for migrant children until, at the age of twelve, she began working alongside her parents and grandparents in the fields. Later, she taught within the same migrant educational system, eventually working for the Office of Migrant Education in Washington, DC. In 2009, Torrez co-founded the Indigenous Youth Empowerment Program (IYEP), a program serving urban Indigenous youth and families in Michigan. She presently serves as IYEP’s co-director and facilitates an afterschool program for youth in Kindergarten through twelfth grades, as well as organizes a summer cultural camp for 65 urban Indigenous youth. From 2011-2013, Dr. Torrez served as a Commissioner on the Metropolitan Detroit Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where she was charged with interrogating structural racism embedded in housing, education, and criminal systems. In the spring of 2013, she initiated the Nuestros Cuentos collaborative project with the College Assistance Migrant Program and Lansing School District. Nuestros Cuentos brings together students from MSU’s RCAH and CAMP with 4th-6thgrade Lansing Latinx youth in a storytelling project. The project results in a fully illustrated children’s book sharing the Latinx youth’s experiences of living in Michigan. Since the inception of Nuestros Cuentos over eighty children have had their stories published in four volumes.

Tamara Butler, Ph.D.

DR. TAMARA BUTLER is an Assistant Professor of Critical Literacies in the Department of English. She holds a joint affiliation with the English Education and the African American and African Studies Programs. Through her BlackGirlLand project, she explores Black women’s connections to land as documented in their life stories and creative works (i.e., film, art, poetry and literature). She is currently working on her book, Rooted Literacies, which focuses on the storytelling practices and memory work of Black women living in her home community of Johns Island, South Carolina. When she’s not writing, grading or reading, she is checking out a new yoga class or trying to help her houseplants thrive.

Affiliated Faculty

Yomaira C. Figueroa, Ph.D.

DR. YOMAIRA C. FIGUEROA is assistant professor of Afro Diaspora Studies in the department of English and the African American & African Studies program at Michigan State University. Her work examines 20th century U.S. Latinx Caribbean, Afro-Latinx and Afro-Hispanic literature & culture. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in the department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and her B.A. in English, Puerto Rican & Hispanic Caribbean Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick (Douglass College). A native of Puerto Rico, Yomaira was raised in Hoboken, NJ and is a first-generation high school and college graduate. Along with Professor Rae Paris, Yomaira is the co-founder of WOCI at Michigan State. In her spare time Yomaira loves to travel, write short stories, create DIY projects, and spend time with her partner and pets: a dog and a turtle!

Delia Fernández, Ph.D.

DR. DELIA FERNÁNDEZ is a historian of Latina/o history whose work focuses on how Latina/o’s use panethnic identity to garner more political, social, and economic rights in the twentieth century. Her research and teaching interests also include the intersections of race, ethnicity, and sexuality in American history. She is particularly interested in immigration, migration, labor, social movements and women’s history.

Leslie Gonzales, Ph.D.

DR. LESLIE D. GONZALES is an associate professor of higher, adult and lifelong education. Gonzales’s research agenda consists of three overarching lines of inquiry: (1) legitimacy within the academic profession and the broader field of higher education; (2) transnational relations of power that govern the recognition of knowledge and knowers; and (3) the possibility of agency among academics to negotiate, remake or resist marginalizing structural and cultural features of academia. Gonzales is a first-generation working class student-turned-academic, and earned all three academic degrees from Hispanic-serving institutions, including New Mexico Highlands University and The University of Texas at El Paso.


Olivia Furman

Olivia is a current doctoral student in the Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education in the Department of Education. Her work engages Black women’s literacies, specifically the practice of storytelling, through explorations in multiple mediums, including ceramics, quilting, and the written word.

Briona S. Jones

Briona S. Jones is a Black Lesbian Feminist and doctoral candidate in the Department of English at Michigan State University. Her work is at the intersections of 20th century African American Literature (most specifically, poetics), Black Queer Studies, Decolonial Thought, and Feminist Theory. She is currently finishing her dissertation, and her edited collection, Mouths of Rain: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Thought, the official companion to Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought, is under contract with The New Press.