Two new deans named in Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

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The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis has appointed two new deans, according to Richard J. Smith, PhD, dean of the graduate school and the Ralph E. Morrow Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology.

Rafia Zafar, PhD, professor of English, of African and African-American studies, and of American culture studies, all in Arts & Sciences, has been named associate dean for diversity and inclusiveness in the graduate school. Her appointment was effective Nov. 1.

Zafar succeeds Sheri R. Notaro, PhD, who joined Cornell University in August as associate dean for inclusion and professional development.

Jacaranda van Rheenen, PhD, joined the graduate school Sept. 20 as assistant dean for graduate student affairs, a new position created in response to the growing activities of the university-wide graduate and professional student groups on campus.

“The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences has made two outstanding appointments with the addition of Dr. Zafar and Dr. van Rheenen to the dean’s office,” Smith says. “I expect that their presence will lead us to major progress in the areas in which each has responsibility. They are each superbly qualified for their new positions.”

Rafia Zafar

Zafar will continue to teach and conduct research while assuming her new duties, which include advising the university-wide Chancellor’s Fellowship Program as well as working with departments and programs to increase the presence of underrepresented minorities in graduate programs.

A specialist in 19th-century American literature and in African-American literature, Zafar’s teaching and research examine literary themes and cultural depictions in American history up to the Harlem Renaissance.

One focus of Zafar’s research is the study of food and American literary identity. Part of that work-in-progress, “Meals and Meaning in the Civil Rights Movement,” was given as the Phi Beta Kappa lecture in spring 2011; that essay illustrates how the famed lunch counter sit-ins advanced civil rights in the 1960s by examining the role of commensality, or dining together, in overcoming social barriers.

In addition to her current work, Zafar co-edited the memoirs of her great-great-grandfather, God Made Man, Man Made the Slave: The Autobiography of George Teamoh (Mercer University Press, 1990), who during Reconstruction became one of the first elected black officeholders in Virginia. She also co-edited Harriet Jacobs and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: New Critical Essays (Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Zafar’s study of early black writers, We Wear the Mask: African Americans Write American Literature, 1760-1870, was published by Columbia University Press in 1997.

She is the editor of a two-volume collection of Harlem Renaissance novels — Five Novels of the 1920s and Four Novels of the 1930s — that the Library of America published in September. The collection has been reviewed in the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications.

Zafar, who joined the WUSTL faculty in 1998, served four years as director of the African & African-American Studies program. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from City College of New York, a master’s degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University, and a doctorate in the history of American civilization from Harvard University.

She received the distinguished Walt Whitman Chair, a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture abroad at Utrecht University during the 2007 spring semester. The Whitman Chair is considered among the most prestigious appointments in the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Jacaranda van Rheenen

Van Rheenen, whose office is in the Liberman Graduate Center, Room 300, in the Danforth University Center, is responsible for mentoring and advising university-wide graduate student groups, including the BioEntrepreneurship Core, Black Graduate Council, Chinese Students and Scholars Association, International Graduate Student Association for Career Development and Networking, Korean Graduate Student Association, OutGrads, Taiwanese Graduate Student Association and Umang Indian Student Association.

A native of the Netherlands, van Rheenen earned a master’s of science degree in agricultural and environmental sciences at Wageningen University in Wageningen, the Netherlands, in 1996, and a doctorate in plant ecology from Utrecht University in the Netherlands in 2005.

Her research has taken her to the Bolivian Amazon rainforest to study the role of seed trees and seedling regeneration for species maintenance in logged-over forests.

From 2006-11, she was a postdoctoral recruiter for academic programs in biomedical sciences at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Among her responsibilities, she organized the St. Jude National Graduate Student Symposium for two years; arranged more than 250 interviews between faculty and prospective students; developed and managed the St. Jude Postdoctoral Fellowship recruitment budget; organized St. Jude faculty speakers for the bimonthly Biomedical Research Forum Series; initiated webinars as a recruiting tool to interview prospective candidates from outside the United States; and organized exhibits at more than 40 national and international scientific meetings and career fairs.

Fluent in Dutch and proficient in Spanish and French, van Rheenen lived and studied in Kenya, India, the Netherlands and Bolivia before coming to the United States.