Cornell’s first Africana studies Ph.D. among newest grads

Marsha Jean-Charles was 15 years old when she read a novel that would start her on the path to making Cornell history.

“Breath, Eyes, Memory” is a semi-autobiographical novel by Edwidge Danticat. Like Jean-Charles, Danticat is Haitian-American and grew up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, a neighborhood known as Little Haiti.

Nadia Sasso

Lindsay France/Cornell University

Nadia Sasso celebrates as she is hooded by Barbara Knuth, dean of the Graduate School.

“That was the point of my own personal socio-cultural and political awakening,” Jean-Charles said. “Often for marginalized people, literature is one of the few venues in which people see themselves and feel understood.”

Now a scholar of contemporary literature by Haitian women, Jean-Charles on May 25 became the first Ph.D. in Africana studies from Cornell. Wearing a stole of Haiti’s flag, she was recognized along with approximately 300 other doctoral candidates in Barton Hall at a festive Ph.D. hooding ceremony.

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