Five African American Scholars Who Are Taking on New University Assignments

Derrick Harriell, an associate professor of African American studies and English at the University of Mississippi, is the new director of the university’s African American studies program. Dr. Harriell served as director of the master of fine arts in creative writing program at the university from 2014 to 2022.

A native of Milwaukee, Dr. Harriell holds a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing from Chicago State University. He earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Crista Johnson-Agbakwu, a professor of obstetrics & gynecology and population & quantitative health sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been appointed the inaugural executive director of the medical school’s Collaborative in Health Equity. She was the founding director of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic and director of the Office of Refugee Health in the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at Arizona State University.

Dr. Johnson-Agbakwu is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she majored in biology. She earned her medical degree at Cornell University.

Duane Watson, the Frank W. Mayborn Professor and professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, has been named associate provost for faculty development for the university. He has been serving as associate dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion for Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development.

Professor Watson, who joined the faculty at Vanderbilt in 2016 after teaching at the University of Illinois, is a graduate of Princeton University in New Jersey, where he majored in psychology. He earned a Ph.D. in brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Phylicia Rashad, dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University in Washington, D.C., has been named the inaugural holder of the Toni Morrison Endowed Chair in Arts and Humanities at the university. The chair was funded by a $3 million endowment that was part of a $40 million gift to the university in 2020 from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

An accomplished actor and stage director, Rashad is perhaps best known for her role as Claire Huxtable on the long-running television hit “The Cosby Show.” Dean Rashad is a graduate of Howard University and holds honorary doctorates from more than a dozen colleges and universities.

Misty De Berry was hired as an assistant professor of performance studies in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University beginning in the 2023-24 academic year. Dr. De Berry is currently a senior lecturer in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Dartmouth College.

Dr. De Berry is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She holds a master of fine arts degree from Columbia College in Chicago and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.


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