The Duke University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies is celebrating our students who graduated with our program certificate during a very hard year which limited their research and travel but not their success. We have invited them to explain their research, reminisce about their time at Duke, and thank their professors. This year, we honor our graduates and their achievements on this page.
Completing certificate requirements in 2021 are undergraduates Hannah Branch, Danielle Brown, Melissa Marchese, Rafaela De Oliveira, and Luisa Stalman, and graduate students Michael Becker, Courtney Crumpler, Gray F. Kidd, Marco Cuevas Meza, and Jeffsky Poincy.
Center director Ambassador Patrick Duddy had some words for our graduates:
Hannah Branch graduated with a major in International Comparative Studies with a concentration in Latin America and the Caribbean.
She participated in a Bass Connections project called Migration and Deportation among Guatemalans in the U.S. and North Carolina and traveled to Chile during the 2019 anti-government protests, which she found incredibly enlightening. Additionally, she studied abroad in Cuba with the Duke in Cuba program.
Danielle Brown graduated with a degree in Environmental Science with a concentration in Marine Science and Conservation and a minor in Biology. She was a Rachel Carson Scholar at the Nicholas School of the Environment and completed her senior thesis, "Disparities in access to potable water in Puerto Rico post Hurricane María: a water management case study."
Danielle studied abroad in Vietnam, Morocco, and Peru. "I was part of a program that looked at the impacts of climate change on food, water, and energy in different contexts," she said.
She also spent a semester at the Duke Marine Lab, conducting research on fisheries in Professor Xavier Basurto's lab. One of her favorite courses was a community-based conservation course at the Marine Lab.
"To me, that class really highlighted the intersection between environmental movements and community, specifically in Latin America. That class definitely encouraged me to pursue this certificate," Danielle said.
Melissa Marchese is graduating with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy, with a minor in Global Health.
She has worked for four years in the Bernhardt Lab studying mercury contamination from artisanal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon where she spent two summers conducting fieldwork as part of a Bass Connections project. Her senior thesis focused on how mercury pollution in the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems accumulates in staple foods and poses exposure risks for affected communities.
Read more about her project testing mercury levels in domestic chickens.
During her junior year, she studied at the Duke Marine Lab and traveled to China through the Duke Immerse project, “Oceans, Human, and Environmental Health.” She is also a Rachel Carson Scholar.
Luisa Stalman graduated with a major in Political Science with a concentration in Political Economy and Security, Peace and Conflict, and a minor in History.
During her senior year she conducted research at the Inter-American Dialogue on prison policy in Latin America in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report is available here.
Michael Becker earned his Ph.D. in history. His dissertation, "The Rule of the Lash and the Rule of Law: Amelioration, Enslaved People's Politics, and the Courts in Jamaica, 1780-1834," examined amelioration – the effort to create a more “humane” or reformed version of slavery – as it intertwined with enslaved people’s everyday conflicts and the legal system of the Jamaican colonial state. In the context of a rising anti-slavery movement in metropolitan Britain, some pro-slavery advocates adopted colonial legal reform as a strategy to present slavery as redeemable and colonial governments as capable of restraining slaveholders’ worst impulses. While these reformers were often cynical in their aims, enslaved people took these proclaimed legal rights seriously and strategically mobilized their rhetoric to secure a semblance of justice and redress within – and without – the legal system.
Courtney Crumpler has the distinction to be among the first graduates in the Dance MFA: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis program at Duke. Her masters project, "Gathering my people: movement-based relational organizing to dismantle white supremacy," was based on her transformative experiences as a movement artist and organizer in Brazil and in the United States. She has been also been a Vice Provost for the Arts Fellow since 2019.
"My project applied embodied lessons I learned in Brazil about how to disorient from U.S. hegemony and white supremacy in my home context in the United States. In it, I made a proposal for movement-based relational organizing responding to the call from leaders of the Black freedom movements from the 1960s through to the present for white people to “organize your own.” Read more about her project here.
One of Courtney's favorite professors was Silvio Luiz de Almeida, a CLACS Mellon Visiting Professor in the spring of 2020. She worked with him on the Black Lives Matter: Brazil-USA project.
"I had the privilege of working with a bi-national team of graduate and undergraduate curators to produce a website and installation outside Penn Pavilion addressing movements to defend Black lives in Brazil and the United States.
The project, co-taught by history professor John French, shaped her career at Duke.
"Their mentorship and guidance in class and beyond informed my approach to my thesis work and my commitment to anti-racist organizing," Courtney said.
Courtney received a GradEngage fellowship for work with the local movement “Durham For All" and served in the Emerging Leaders Institute at Duke and on the planning committee of last year’s Community Dance Day. She worked on two book projects, Katya Wesolowski’s book Playing Capoeira: A Memoir of Creative Connectivity and J.P. Gritton’s translation of Cidinha da Silva’s Um Exu Em Nova York.
She was also recognized by the Duke Alumni Association with the 2021 Forever Duke Student Leadership Award. Recipients are individuals of high integrity who have done great things not only at Duke, but for Duke, and who exhibit qualities worthy of the award, and who leave Duke a better place than they found it. For her service to the Latin American/Caribbean community, Courtney received the Dennis A. Clements Outstanding Service Award in Latin American & Caribbean Studies, which recognizes extraordinary commitment to service, civic engagement, and social entrepreneurship in Latin America and/or the Caribbean and comes with an award of $500.
Gray F. Kidd received his Ph.D. in history, specializing in race and popular culture in modern Brazil.
His dissertation, Surrendering to the Street in Mid-Century Recife: The Living Legacies of Slavery in Black and White, is an urban cultural history of slavery’s afterlives in the Northeast Brazilian state (Pernambuco) that received one-fifth of the enslaved Africans that landed in the Western Hemisphere. It examines Brazil’s “public secret” of racism while exploring how Recife’s nonwhite majority contested these hierarchies through humor, religiosity, and forms of popular entertainment that proved capable of influencing the literate upper-class, with a chapter each focusing on the multitalented artist and documentarian Liêdo Maranhão (1925-2014) and Recife’s famed playwright and novelist Hermilo Borba Filho (1917-1976).
Jeffsky Poincy recently completed a master's degree in international development policy focusing on governance at the Sanford School of Public Policy. His interests lie at the intersection of politics, governance, and economic development. Jeffsky is also a political activist in Haiti, where he is involved in social justice and anti-corruption initiatives. He was one of the young people at the forefront of the largest anti-corruption social movement "PetroCaribe" in Haiti in 2018.
His master's project focused on civil society-led strategies to prevent and fight misuse of funds in the context of emergencies in Haiti, such as the case of COVID-19. The project's objective was to identify the areas most at risk of misappropriation of public funds in the emergency response chain; and to identify action strategies and policies that civil society organizations (anti-corruption organizations, human rights organizations, activist groups) can implement to prevent and mitigate the risks.
While at Duke, Jeffsky focused all of his work on Haiti. He wrote papers on various Haiti-related issues, such as: "Extending social protection to informal workers in Haiti," "Haiti Governance challenges and Reform Action Plan," "Overcoming the Budget approval Gridlock in Haiti," "Breaking the instability Trap in Haiti," "Poverty Reduction Strategy of the World Bank in Haiti: Review and recommendations," and others.
Among the courses defining Jeffsky's time at Duke are Policy Analysis, Governance and Development, Corruption and Economic Analysis, and Legislative Advocacy Lobbying. Each at their level has helped shape the program according to his professional aspirations.
Natalia Mirovitskaya, Jeffsky's academic advisor, and Phyllis Pomerantz are the two professors that have had the most significant impact on his education at Duke.