ACLS Welcomes Jovonne Bickerstaff as Program Officer for Higher Education Initiatives


The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) is pleased to welcome Jovonne Bickerstaff as Program Officer of Higher Education Initiatives. She officially joins the staff on September 28, 2020.
In this new role, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a critical part of the ACLS 2020-24 Strategic Priorities, Bickerstaff will design and implement initiatives that will enhance the ability of ACLS to serve its various constituencies and advance scholarship in new directions, with a focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the academy.

“Jovonne brings deep understanding and valuable experience in achieving essential goals in our new strategic plan, which redoubles our commitment to supporting scholars from underrepresented groups and scholarship devoted to communities and experiences historically excluded or ignored by the academy,” said ACLS President Joy Connolly in announcing the appointment. “Jovonne will help lead a series of collaborative initiatives that will bring our member groups and institutions together with important voices inside and outside the academy as we work together in realizing a vision for a more equitable and diverse academy.”

Bickerstaff most recently served as a Postdoctoral Associate for the African American Digital Humanities (AADHum) Initiative at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she focused on outreach and developing new programming initiatives. A longstanding advocate for first-generation and emerging scholars of color, Bickerstaff has also served as an advisor for Harvard’s Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellows (MMUF) and served as editor for the MMUF Undergraduate Journal for five years. She has taught literature and humanities at Howard University and Hostos Community College of The City University of New York, and the sociology of gender at Georgetown University and St Joseph’s College. Her broader experience includes serving as historian for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s first diversity initiative, Project Interphase; editorial assistant with The DuBois Review and Transition Magazine; and development coordinator for the DuBois Institute’s Hiphop Archive, now part of the  Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.

An interdisciplinary scholar of race, gender, and family in the African Diaspora, Bickerstaff is interested in ecosystems of well-being and the interpersonal impacts of trauma and chronic insecurity.  Her current book project takes couple relationships as a site for revealing how adversity impacts emotional attachment as well as how interpersonal connections play a crucial role in building resilience. She is also co-authoring a book with her AADHum colleagues on how a Black feminist ethic of care and intentionality was essential to developing a leading Black Digital Humanities initiative.

“I am excited to join ACLS in this new role, which has the potential to bring real, sustainable change to best serve the academy,” said Bickerstaff. “In helping to lead action-oriented, inclusive conversations and developing initiatives that exemplify the positive change we seek in higher education and scholarship, I look forward to playing a key role in the second century of ACLS.”

Bickerstaff holds a PhD and a Master of Arts in Sociology from Harvard; a Master of Philosophy degree in Social Psychology from the University of Cambridge, St John’s College; and Bachelor of Science degrees in Urban Studies and Writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been a Fulbright Fellow, Cambridge Gates Scholar, and predoctoral National Science Foundation and Ford Foundation Fellow. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation.