Ruth Nicole Brown Named MSU Foundation Professor

In recognition of her innovative community-engaged scholarship and outstanding record of visionary leadership, research, and pedagogy, Ruth Nicole Brown was awarded an MSU Foundation Professorship, making her the first faculty member from the College of Arts & Letters to receive this honor since it was first introduced in 2014.

a woman wearing a black top with her hand on her hip
Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown

The title of MSU Foundation Professor is awarded to outstanding faculty who demonstrate excellence in research and teaching while enhancing the prominence of the institution. The title is earned through a highly selective process with only 48 other individuals across campus having received this award since its inception.

“Professor Brown’s scholarship and record of teaching embody the textured vision of quality for which the Michigan State University and the College of Arts & Letters stand – excellence grounded in scholarly practices that have integrity, in relationships that are authentic and reciprocal, and in impact that is transformative and enduring,” said Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., MSU’s Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Inaugural Chair of AAAS

Brown joined MSU on July 1, 2020, as a tenured full professor and the Inaugural Chair of the new Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS). She was hired by the College of Arts & Letters to play a leadership role in creating and advancing the mission of a new Ph.D.-granting African American and African Studies Department at MSU that will count among its specializations the areas of Feminisms, Genders, and Sexualities Studies. In her role as Chair, Brown oversees everything from structures for departmental governance to the graduate and undergraduate curricula.

“Dr. Brown is a visionary leader whose innovative scholarship is helping to shape the new build of our Department of African American and African Studies,” said Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters, who nominated Brown for MSU Foundation Professor. “Her research and creative activity span an exceptionally wide spectrum from traditional monographs, to performances and plays, to transformational community-engaged projects that put the needs of the community at the center of the work.” 

Leader in Black Girlhood Studies

An internationally recognized leader in Black Girlhood Studies, Brown’s research documents, analyzes, and interrogates Black girls’ lived experience and explores the gender and racialized power dynamics of collectivity, particularly as it relates to Black girlhood. This innovative research and significant theoretical contributions have helped create the field of Black Girlhood Studies, which is now a globally recognized area of study. In the process, Brown also has developed an inherently interdisciplinary research agenda whereby research, teaching, and public engagement are integrated and the questions she follows are informed by collective knowledge production and making art.

Brown’s engaged scholarship has provided frameworks and praxis with Black girls to engage and celebrate who they are and can be together. She came to MSU from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she was an Associate Professor with a dual appointment in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership in the College of Education.

Her research and creative activity span an exceptionally wide spectrum from traditional monographs, to performances and plays, to transformational community-engaged projects that put the needs of the community at the center of the work.

Christopher P. Long, Dean of the College of Arts & Letters

Her impressive record of community-engaged scholarship and entrepreneurial leadership has proven to be transformational in its impact. Perhaps her most enduring contribution in this area can be seen through Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT), a community of practice that takes as many forms as needed to celebrate Black girlhood. She founded SOLHOT in 2006 at the University of Illinois and in the surrounding area of Urbana-Champaign. This community space, where Black girls come together to celebrate the multiple meanings of Black girlhood for the purpose of liberation, responds to a need for spaces where Black girls and women are seen and valued by each other and creates preferred conditions to be together, think collectively, and build solid relationships. To support her work with SOLHOT, Brown was recognized as a Conrad Humanities Scholar at the University of Illinois (2018-2023).

Brown also founded Black Girl Genius Week (BGGW), a structured set of in-school and public activities centered on humanistic inquiry that amplifies the collective power of Black girls, recognizing them as experts of their own lived experience, fostering deep critical thinking skills and creative practices, and exemplifying genius. A Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellow (2018-2019), Brown used the fellowship to extend the work of SOLHOT through the BGGW structure with and for African-American middle- and high-school girls in Champaign and Chicago, Illinois, and Columbia, South Carolina. As a public campaign, BGGW offered in-school workshops and daily public events to center and hold space for Black girls’ experiences, artistry, questions, curiosities, conversations, and dreams. For her community engagement work, she has received the Sheroe Champaign County Award and was invited to the White House in 2013 for the White House Research Conference on Girls.

In addition, the Women’s Center at the University of Illinois named their Strive Awards Coalition Award the “Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown Coalition Award” due to her “commitment to bringing diverse communities together to tackle society’s hardest questions.”

Published Work

Brown’s two books, entitled Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward a Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy and Hear Our Truths: Performance and Creative Potential of Black Girlhood, outline the theories at the basis of her community work. She also has two edited volumes, one together with artist-scholar Chamara Kwakye entitled Wish To Live: The Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy Reader, and the second one with Rozana Carducci, Associate Professor of Education at Elon University, and Candace Kuby, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Missouri, entitled Disrupting Qualitative Inquiry: Possibilities and Tensions in Education Research. In addition, Brown has published several book chapters and peer-reviewed articles and has made multiple keynote addresses and conference presentations.

Brown received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan in 2005 and has graduate certificates in World Performance Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. She began her career at UIUC as a postdoc in the Department of African and African American Studies (2005-2006) and then in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies (2006-2007). She was hired into a tenure-stream position in 2007 and was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor in 2014.

MSU Foundation Professorship

The MSU Foundation Professorship was established in 2014 through the generosity of the Michigan State University Foundation. In addition to the permanent title, honorees are typically provided with five years of supplemental scholarly funding, with the primary aim being to enhance the stature of the institution in research and creative activity.

New MSU Foundation Professors and other distinguished awardees will be recognized during a special investiture event tentatively scheduled for November 4, 2021.

To view the full roster of MSU Foundation Professors or to learn more about the nomination process, visit the Office for Research and Innovation website.