GSWS/FQT/PWC 50th Anniversary Symposium Bios

Bios sorted by last name



Anna Aagenes (CAS ‘10) is currently a Director at Vynamic, a healthcare consulting firm. As a consultant, Anna supports organizations with change management, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI), culture, leadership, strategic planning, and more. Anna also has extensive professional experience in the non-profit and public sectors. She was the Vice President of Program Development and Community Relations for You Can Play, an organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches, and fans. Prior to joining You Can Play, Anna served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for PA State Representative Brian Sims, Pennsylvania’s first openly gay candidate elected as a state legislator. Anna received her MBA from Columbia University and her BA from the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in Gender, Society & Culture (GSOC).


Rita Barnard is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She was director of the Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies Program and the Alice Paul Center (now renamed) from 2004 to 2011. Among her recent publications are The Cambridge Companion to Nelson Mandela (2014), South African Writing in Transition (2019), Trump, Zuma, and the Grounds of US-South African Comparison (special issue of Safundi, 2020) and many articles on postcolonial women writers, including "The Revolutions of Antjie Krog's Lady Ann," and “Reopening Agaat: Afrikaans, World Literature, and the Encyclopedic Novel,” and "Nadine Gordimer's Transitions: Modernism, Realism, Rupture."

Professor Cam (Dani S.) Bassett is the J. Peter Skirkanich Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with appointments in the Departments of Bioengineering, Electrical & Systems Engineering, Physics & Astronomy, Neurology, and Psychiatry. They are also an external professor of the Santa Fe Institute. Bassett is most well-known for blending neural and systems engineering to identify fundamental mechanisms of cognition and disease in human brain networks.

Gwendolyn Beetham is the Associate Director of GSWS at Penn. Gwendolyn has been a fellow at the Democratizing Knowledge Project and the Institute for Research on Women and is a former member of the Governing Council of NWSA. In 2022, Gwendolyn was awarded the University of Pennsylvania's Models of Excellence Award in recognition of work on trans affirming policies and care work advocacy.

Julia Bloch is Penn’s Director of the Creative Writing Program, and a poet, editor, and scholar. Bloch has received a Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching and a Pew Fellowship from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Her books of poetry are Letters to Kelly Clarkson, Valley Fever, and The Sacramento of Desire.

Ricardo Bracho writes plays, essays and poetry; teaches arts and movement histories. Bracho staged Leonora Carrington’s Opus Siniestrus at ICA; turned his play, Mexican Psychotic into a video as a Fellow with the Center for Experimental Ethnography; produced Sof Sears’s I Know the End and will stage A History of Hands: Queer & Trans Philly at Penn’s Rotunda April, 4 – 7.

Arielle Julia Brown is a cultural worker who commands and directs cultural spaces as sites for radical imagination. Currently, she is Senior Research Officer at The Lewis Prize for Music. Her performance installation on a Black Trans woman activist, Fallawayinto, received a Sachs grant and support from GSWS/FQT.

Kathy Brown (she/they) is David Boies Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. Brown writes and teaches about the history of gender, sexuality, race, slavery, and the body. Brown served as Director of GSWS/FQT from 2017-2020.




Cat Dawson, Ph.D. works at the intersection of art history, and feminist, queer & trans studies, exploring the cultural production of minoritized subjects in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Their first book, Monumental: Race, Sexuality, Representation, Culture is forthcoming from MIT Press. Their second, Trans Form, has been solicited by MIT. They are currently Guest Faculty in Art History at Sarah Lawrence College.

Carlos Ulises Decena (CAS ‘95) is an interdisciplinary scholar, whose interests include critical theory as well as social and cultural analysis, with a particular emphasis on transnationalism and diaspora in the American continent, US Latinoamerica and the Caribbean. His first book, Tacit Subjects: Belonging and Same-Sex Desire among Dominican Immigrant Men, was published by Duke University Press in 2011. His book, Circuits of the Sacred: Faggotology in the Black Latinx Caribbean, articulates Latin@, queer, and Afro-diasporic spiritologies in the service of a non-denominational, sex and body-affirmative notion of the divine for queers of color. The book was published in 2023 by Duke University Press. The author of several single and co-authored articles published in peer-reviewed publications in the United States and in the Américas, Decena serves as Professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University. He is also Director, Office of Undergraduate Intellectual Life, at the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice.

Nat DiFrank M.Ed (he/they) is a queer and trans centered sexuality and gender educator, fat liberationist, consultant, and historian. He is the manager of the Philadelphia Trans Oral History Project at the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with the William Way LGBT Community Center. Nat utilizes education as a form of radical community healing. With over 7 years of teaching and care work experience, he creates affirming spaces that foster growth, introspection, and vulnerability.Nat’s work is by and for trans and gender non-conforming individuals and centers the power of community care.

Jim Downs (CAS ‘95)
is the Gilder Lehrman-National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Era Studies and History at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine (Harvard UP, 2021), which will be translated into Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, and Russian. His other books include Sick from Freedom: African American Sickness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford UP, 2012) and Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic Books, 2016). He coedited along with Jennifer Brier and Jennifer L. Morgan, Connexions: Histories of Race and Sex in North America. He has published essays in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Vice, Slate, The Lancet, LA Times, among others. He is also the editor of Civil War History. IN 2023, he was elected to both the Society for American Historians in the US and the Royal Historical Society in the U.K.


David L. Eng is Richard L. Fisher Professor of English and professor in the Programs in Asian American Studies; Comparative Literature & Literary Theory; and Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books, most recently, Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation: On the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian Americans and the co-editor of numerous collections, including “Left of Queer” and Q & A: Queer in Asian America. In 2021, he was awarded the Kessler Prize from the Center for LGBTQ Studies (CLAGS), which is given to a scholar and/or activist who has produced a body of work that has had a significant influence on the field of LGBTQ studies.

Mae Eskenazi (they/them; MFA ‘23) is a visual artist and teacher whose interdisciplinary approach extends across research-based, participatory, and collaborative projects ranging from lens-based media, sculpture, installation, and performance. They teach disability studies within the GSWS Program. They are a 2023-24 Whitney Independent Study Program Studio Fellow.

Isaac Essex (they/he; CAS ‘20) is a PhD student at Brown University in the American Studies Department. They work in trans studies, aesthetics and visual culture, and the environmental humanities to think through queer and trans endurance amid hostile climates, extraction, and ecological precarity. His work is particularly interested in what it means to be queer and have bad feelings, how to move through them, and how to find common places for persistence. 


Dr. Dalmacio Dennis Flores is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. He leads several studies that investigates the role of parents in the sexual health education of their adolescent youth who identify as LGBTQ. Through interventions around inclusive parent- child sexuality communication, he believes that the early provision of sexual health information attuned to the attractions, behavior, and identities of LGBTQ adolescents can reduce the formation of risky sexual behavior and this population’s risks for HIV and STI infection.

Elisa Foster (she/her) joined Penn Women’s Center in 2017 where she supports and advocates for gender equity among all areas of the campus community. She was appointed director of PWC in 2023 and is excited to continue the Center’s mission of providing a space for healing, growth, solidarity, and joy. Prior to her career in higher education, Elisa worked in strategic planning, fundraising, and market research for nonprofit and educational organizations. 


Ari S. Gzesh, MSW is pursuing a PhD in Social Welfare at UPenn’s School of Social Policy and Practice, and serves as a Fellow in Leadership Education and Adolescent Health at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Gzesh is passionate about improving psychosocial and health outcomes for sexual/gender diverse youth, by exploring how chosen families and queer elders can promote harm reduction and positive imagined futures. Furthermore, Gzesh uses critical mixed methods to conceptualize moral distress of gender-affirming care providers, and leverages implementation science to improve service delivery thereof.

Lex Gilbert (they/she/he; CAS ‘25) is a junior studying Communication at Annenberg and Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Lex works as a peer anti-violence educator at Penn Violence Prevention and has held several internship roles working in DEI. Outside of internship positions, they are especially passionate about ending mass incarceration, promoting LGBTQ+ acceptance, creating opportunities for underprivileged populations, and cultivating disability justice.

Che Gossett is the Associate Director of the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies at Penn. Gossett is a Black non binary femme writer and critical theorist specializing in queer/trans studies, aesthetic theory, abolitionist thought and black study.


Jessica Halem is the Senior Director of The Eidos LGBTQ Health Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania – an innovation hub that increases the impact of start-ups, non-profits, policy makers, and business leaders to improve the health of LGBTQ+ people. Previously, she was the inaugural LGBT Director at Harvard Medical School and the Executive Director of the Lesbian Community Cancer Project in Chicago where she served on then candidate Obama’s first LGBT Committee. Jessica holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MBA from Simmons University.

George Hardy (CAS ‘12) is a native Detroiter, and pinpoints his experiences growing up in the city as the key driver in how he has chosen to navigate the world. As a product of the Detroit Public Schools District, he experienced the impact of educational inequity as a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He majored in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and explored how Black masculinity and sexuality influences academic achievement.  He pursued his MBA at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and graduated in 2019 with concentrations in strategic management, organizational behavior, and entrepreneurship. Currently, he is a Senior Consultant in Deloitte Consulting’s Human Capital practice, where he focuses on DEI strategy and broader workforce transformation.

Amy Hillier (she/her/hers) is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Policy & Practice and teaches courses for graduate social work and undergraduate urban studies students. Her research focuses on the needs of transgender children and their families. She lives with her children and wife in West Philadelphia.

Nancy H. Hirschmann is Geraldine R. Segal Professor in American Social Thought and professor of Political Science and GSWS at Penn. She has written articles and books on the concept of freedom through the lens of gender and class and is more recently working in the areas of disability and gender.




Benjamin Kahan (PhD, English ‘08) is the Herbert Huey McElveen Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Louisiana State University. He has held fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Reed Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the University of Sydney, the University of Pittsburgh, Emory University, and Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of Celibacies: American Modernism and Sexual Life (Duke, 2013) and The Book of Minor Perverts: Sexology, Etiology, and the Emergences of Sexuality (Chicago, 2019). His new monograph Sexual Aim and Its Misses is under contract with Chicago.

Dr. Archana Kaku (she/her; PhD, Political Science ‘21) is an Assistant Professor of Government at William & Mary. Her research demonstrates how accounting for the materiality of the body changes the terrain of politics, making it possible to ask and answer new kinds of questions. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, and previously served as a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow at Muhlenberg College. Recent publications include “Sights of Violence: Self-Immolation at the Border” in Polity and “The Body in Pieces: Towards a Feminist Phenomenology of Violence” in Contemporary Political Theory.

Jonathan D. Katz is an art historian, curator and queer activist. Associate Professor of Practice in Art History and GSWS, Katz is a pioneering figure in the development of queer art history, and author of a number of books and articles, often writing the first queer accounts of numerous artists. He has curated many exhibitions, nationally and internationally, including the first major museum queer exhibition in the US, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The first full-time American academic to be tenured in what was then called Lesbian and Gay Studies, Katz was also the Founding Director of Yale University’s queer studies program, the first in the Ivy League.

Ava L.J. Kim (PhD, English ‘22) is an Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at the University of California, Davis. She previously held the 2022-2023 Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Trans Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Ava completed her PhD in English at the University of Pennsylvania and her BA in Creative Writing at Macalester College. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Studies, TSQ, GLQ, Radical History Review's "The Abusable Past," and the edited collection, About Face: Stonewall, Revolt, and New Queer Art.

Davy Knittle (he/they; PhD, English ‘21) is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Delaware, where he teaches queer and trans theory, U.S. literature, and the urban and environmental humanities. Davy’s current book project is entitled “Urbanist Desire and the Ecology of Queer and Trans Survival.” His critical work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in PMLA, Feminist Formations,  ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.

Hannah Kohn (she/her/hers; CAS ‘27) is a freshman at Penn who plans to major in English. She's been involved with gender her whole academic life and has worked alongside national organizations such as Planned Parenthood and Girls INC. She truly believes in the betterment of society through inclusion and representation, and thus is a supporter of Penn GSWS and their incredible staff.

Demie Kurz was Co-Director of GSWS for 29 years. It was a great privilege for her to work with so many faculty, staff, and students in developing and sustaining a rich and vibrant program. She retired from that position in 2017 and is currently a Research Affiliate in the Department of Sociology. She was also co-founder of the Carework Network, an international network of researchers, policymakers, and advocates involved in various domains of care work. Demie has a forthcoming book titled, “Letting Go: Parenting Teens and Young Adults in a Time of Uncertainty” (Oxford University Press, July 2024).


Roz Lee has dedicated her career to advancing racial, gender, economic and LGBTQ justice through philanthropy, community organizing, legislative advocacy, and popular education. She is Senior Director of Amplify Fund. As GSWS/FQT’s first-ever Professor of Practice, she taught, Money, Power, Respect: Funding Social Change. She is Board President of Lambda Literary.

Jessa Lingel (she/hers) is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and core faculty in the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include digital inequalities and technological distributions of power. Her activist work is centered around libraries and information, support for incarcerated folks, and addressing gaps in access to mental health care in Philadelphia.


Jen Manion (they/them; CAS ‘97) is a social and cultural historian whose work examines the role of gender and sexuality in American life. Manion is the Winkley Professor of History and Political Economy at Amherst College and author of Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (Penn, 2015) which received the Mary Kelley Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic and Female Husbands: A Trans History (Cambridge, 2020) which was a finalist for the OAH Lawrence Levine Award for the best book in U.S. cultural history and recipient of the British Association of Victorian Studies best book prize.

Serena Martinez (they/them; CAS ‘23) received their BA with honors as a GSWS major in Spring 2023. Before pursuing an MSW at Columbia in the fall they are taking time out of the classroom to explore painting (

Darius McLean, Chief Operating Officer and Director of the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Darius brings over 10 years experience working in LGBTQIA+ healthcare and non-profit. With an MS in Organizational Development and Leadership from Saint Joseph's University, his advocacy spans healthcare access and LGBTQ+ rights.

Dr. Alicia Meyer (she/her) is a curator at the University of Pennsylvania Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts. Her research focuses on the history and representation of marginalized women in early modern culture. She is currently working on two book projects. The first draws on her dissertation and focuses on the representation of sex work in the early modern Atlantic. The second investigates how the field of sexology interpreted early modern gender categories. Alicia serves as a co-editor of the Queenship and Power series published by Palgrave. In 2023-2024, she is a long-term fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Maria Murphy is a writer and performer based in Saint John, New Brunswick. As a performer, Maria works with voice processing tools and other sound technologies, crudely edited video, and draws from opera, art song, and contemporary vocal music traditions. She has appeared as her own clone, a submissive masc-4-masc daddy, an abstract dandelion powered by fans, and a 19th-century Irish immigrant sex worker. She has performed at Vox Populi, Slought, the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art Incubation Series, and Fringe Arts Scratch Night, and she has contributed to HOTLINE, an exhibit at SPACE gallery in Portland, Maine.




Eva Pensis is a multidisciplinary artist and scholar whose work explores the contours and legacies of trans femme life and art within popular culture, nightlife economies, entertainment and performance industries. Eva is a pole instructor, artist, pianist, and community archivist. Her writing has been featured in e-Flux, Los Angeles Review of Books, Ruckus, SAGE Encyclopedia of Trans Studies, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies.



Phyllis Rackin is Professor of English Emerita at the University of Pennsylvania, former president of the Shakespeare Association of America, author of numerous books and articles on Shakespeare and related subjects, winner of Lindback award for distinguished teaching, and plaintiff in precedent-setting sex discrimination case Rackin v. The University of Pennsylvania.

Nat Rivkin (she/they) a PhD Candidate in English at Penn. Her research interests include premodern poetry, trans studies, and the history of sexuality. She is working on a dissertation that examines gender variance, race, and classical reception history in late medieval and early modern England. For the AY 2022–24, she is a Graduate Associate for the Trans Oral History Project run by the Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies.

Liz Rose researches the intersections of trans theory and Black feminist theory in contemporary diasporic writing across the Americas, using translation as a method to illuminate critical, rhizomatic genealogies of trans feminist thought. They are research assistant for the Digital Bilingual (Portuguese/English) Edition of Correio de Africa under P.I. Dr. Zita Nunes, as well as Graduate Associate at the Philadelphia Trans Oral History Project through the Center for Feminist, Queer, and Trans Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Liz’s work has been published in numerous places, most recently TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, Qui Parle, and Hopscotch Translation.


Melissa E. Sanchez is Director of Penn's Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies and Penn's Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program. Her research and teaching focus on feminism, queer theory, and sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature. She is currently editing the Routledge Companion to Queer Literary Studies (under contract) and co-editing (with Stephanie Burt and Drew Daniel) "All the World in Thee": An Historical Book of Queer Poems (under contract, Columbia University Press). She is also completing two books-in-progress: "What Were Women Writers?" and "Assuming Guilt."

Sofia (Sof) Sears (they/them; CAS ‘23) is a recent Penn/GSWS alum and a current fiction candidate in the Litowitz MFA/MA Program at Northwestern University. Their experimental-feminist-monster play was produced with Ricardo Bracho last year at the Rotunda, co-sponsored by GSWS. Their work has been featured in Waxwing, Diagram, the Sonora Review, and other publications.

Diane Sjolander (she/her; CAS ‘69) is an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in History of Art and M.A. in Sociology. She is co-author with Dr. Ann Beuf and others of Penn Women’s Studies Planners Summer Project Report: Descriptive Analysis of a National Survey ©1972. Her career includes research administration, grant development, economic development and teaching women’s studies and sociology. 


​​Carol Tracy, Lecturer GSWS, she/her. Tracy has been affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania in numerous roles since 1968. Tracy recently retired from Women's Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania focusing on a range of gender-based issues, including abortion, employment discrimination and gender-based sexual and domestic violence.



Nadine Vassallo-Frohne (they/them; CAS ‘08) is the Vice President of Operations for, an innovative ecommerce retailer helping independent bookstores compete online. A Philadelphia native, they attended Penn via the Mayor's Scholarship and earned a BA in Gender, Culture, and Society with a concentration in Sexuality Studies. They have worked in the publishing and bookselling industry since 2009 and currently live in Brooklyn.

Beans Velocci (they/them) is an assistant professor in History and Sociology of Science and core faculty in GSWS at Penn. Their work uses queer and trans science studies methods to interrogate the history of sex classification and tear down the binary with primary source analysis. 


Dagmawi Woubshet (he/him) is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Endowed Associate Term Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Calendar of Loss: Race, Sexuality, and Mourning in the Early Era of AIDS, and the co-edited volume Ethiopia: Literature, Art, and Culture. His essays have appeared in Callaloo, Transition, NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, and The Atlantic. Woubshet is the recipient of fellowships from Civitella Ranieri, the Africa Institute in Sharjah, and the Modern Art Museum in Addis Ababa, where he curated Julie Mehretu: The Addis Show.



Seçil Yılmaz (she/her; Pronounces name SE-cheel YIL-mahz) is an Assistant Professor of History and Core Faculty in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Seçil specializes in the Ottoman Empire and modern Middle East with a focus on medicine, science, and sexuality. Research on the social and political implications of venereal disease in the late Ottoman Empire and history of reproductive health technologies and humanitarianism in the modern Middle East. Seçil is the recipient of MESA’s Malcolm H. Kerr Best Dissertation Award. Publications in journals including Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies and in edited collections. Co-curator of a podcast series at Ottoman History Podcast.

Dawn Yuster (CAS '98) has been a civil rights lawyer for over two decades dedicated to racial and social justice advocating for the needs of children, adults, and families who are in poverty, who have disabilities, and who face police or court involvement. Her expertise lies in special and general education, mental health, school discipline and police, and juvenile and criminal justice issues. Dawn has provided legal advocacy and representation, policy advocacy, impact litigation, and community outreach and education to marginalized populations while working at the ACLU, The Legal Aid Society (NYC), and other organizations.


Mary Zaborskis (PhD, English '17) is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Gender Studies at Penn State Harrisburg. Her monograph, Queer Childhoods: Institutional Futures of Indigeneity, Race, and Disability (New York University Press, 2024), explores how children’s sexualities were managed in 19th- and 20th-century boarding schools for marginalized children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Signs, Feminist Formations, WSQ, and Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies. She is a series editor at Public Books and serves on the steering committee of the LGBT Center of Central PA’s History Project.

Syd Zolf is a poet and theorist who teaches literature, creative writing and art at Penn. They have published six books of poetry and a book of poetics/theory, and their work has been widely anthologized and translated. Awards include a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and a Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Zolf spent several years organizing writing projects for trans youth and incarcerated people.