Assata Zerai


Photo: Assata Zerai

Vice President for Equity and Inclusion

Scholes Hall Suite 203

Curriculum vitae


PhD, Sociology, University of Chicago (1993)

Research Interests

Sociology of Health and Medicine, Race and Ethnicity, Global/Transnational Sociology, Inequality

Africana Feminist Methods, Black Feminist Thought


Dr. Assata Zerai is the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion (VPEI) and Professor of Sociology at the University of New Mexico (UNM). Two years into her appointment at VPEI, Zerai brings a wealth of experience and a strong record of leading, planning for, resourcing, and documenting the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. At the helm of the Division for Equity and Inclusion, Zerai has expanded diversity programming and strategy at UNM.

A decolonial feminist scholar, Zerai is co-PI on a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, “Neoliberalism, Gender and Curriculum Transformation in Higher Education” in which she is collaborating with colleagues at the University of Illinois, and three universities in South Africa, including University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban Institute of Technology, and Stellenbosch University. And she is working with faculty at University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa to propose a racial and intersectional microaggressions (RIMAs) survey to focus on RIMAs related to gender. Zerai’s research deploys decolonial and Black feminist research methodologies to analyze access to safe water, sanitation, and mobile technology in Southern and East Africa; maternal & child health in the U.S., and various African countries; making the work of marginalized scholars more accessible; and BIPOC and LGBTQ inclusivity on college campuses and in U.S. Protestant churches. She has published five books and numerous articles spanning these topics. Her latest book is African Women, ICT and Neoliberal Politics: The Challenge of Gendered Digital Divides to People-Centered Governance (Routledge 2019).

Prior to her employment at UNM, Dr. Zerai served at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (2002-2019), most recently as full professor of sociology, in addition Associate Chancellor and Associate Provost. Zerai’s work in a number of administrative roles at the University of Illinois (U of I) included initiatives to diversify and enhance inclusivity of faculty, students, and staff from underrepresented groups. For example, when Zerai was Associate Dean in the U of I Graduate College, she served as co-PI on a $1,000,000 award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to increase proportions of graduate students of color underrepresented in STEM. While she was Director of the Center for African Studies (a U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Research Center), Zerai received a U.S. State Department Young African Leaders Institute award to host Mandela Washington Fellows. Zerai has been recognized for her accomplishments. Most recently she received the Zenobia Lawrence Hikes Faculty Women of Color in the Academy, National Award for Outstanding Administrative/Professional Faculty of the Year (March 2018). And Albuquerque Business First acknowledged her as a Diverse Business Leaders Award winner (November 2020)



African Women, ICT and Neoliberal Politics: The Challenge of Gendered Digital Divides to People-Centered Governance

Assata Zerai

How can we promote people-centered governance in Africa? Cell phones/ information and communications technology (ICT) are shown to be linked to neoliberal understandings of more democratic governance structures, defined by the Worldwide Governance Indicators as: the rule of law, corruption-control, regulation quality, government effectiveness, political stability/no violence, and voice and accountability. However, these indicators fall short: they do note emphasize gender equity or pro-poor policies. 

Writing from an African feminist scholar-activist perspective, Assata Zerai emphasizes the voices of women in two ways: (1) she examines how women's access to ICT makes a difference to the success of people-centered governance structures; and (2) she demonstrates how African women's scholarship, too often marginalized, must be used to expand and redefine the goals and indicators of democratice governance in African countries.

Challenging the status quo that praises the contributions of cell phones to the diffusion of knowledge and resultant better governance in Africa, this book is an important read for scholars of politics and technology, gender and politics, and African Studies.

Available for purchase here.


Safe Water, Sanitation and Early Childhood Malnutrition in East Africa: An Africana Feminist Analysis of the lives of Women and Children in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda

Assata Zerai
Brenda N. Sanya

To understand safe water and sanitation in East Africa, it is important to consider the contributions of African feminist analysis. This perspective will unveil inequities in the distribution of resources, demonstrate how localized solutions which are driven by women’s collaborative work have had an impact by temporarily easing the burden, and paint a multilayered picture of the lives of women and girls who are the predominant providers of water to households. This book explores the effects of water and sanitation quality and availability on early childhood morbidity in East Africa from an African feminist sociological perspective. It presents a framework that considers the ways that the development industry, neoliberalism, neocolonial relations, gender, class, ethnicity, globalization, and other dimensions of oppression intersect to impact upon the experiences and agency of women and children accessing clean water and safe sanitation and reducing early childhood morbidity in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This work offers a vital contribution to the social scientific literature by adapting the vibrant intellectual work of African feminists to a quantitative methodology and enlarging the scope of empirically and theoretically grounded studies within the field of environmental sociology.

Available for purchase here.


Intersectionality in Intentional Communities: The Struggle for Inclusivity in Multicultural U.S. Protestant Congregations

Assata Zerai

Over a decade of qualitative research, Assata Zerai has observed both incremental moves toward inclusiveness and strategies employed to accomplish long-term changes while conducting case studies of five multicultural Protestant churches in sites across the United States. With an interpretive approach, she explores these centers of worship and theorizes the conditions under which progressive social change occurs in some U.S. Protestant congregations. Understanding the daily practices of change and entrenchment in Protestant congregations and the intentional work to replace dominating structures with liberating ones may provide keys to creating multicultural, antiracist, feminist, and sexually inclusive volitional communities more broadly. Intersectionality in Intentional Communities argues that making a significant advance toward inclusion requires change in the underlying social structures of racism, sexism, heteronormativity, class, and other marginalizing influences. In order to isolate this phenomenon, Zerai conducted fieldwork and archival research among an African American and four multiracial U.S. churches. Different from a university or other public institution in which members are legally required to support diversity and related values, Zerai believes that volitional communities may provide a best-case scenario for how, motivated by higher ideals, members may find ways to create inclusive communities. Zerai’s research has a broad empirical base, encompassing five sites: a largely African American urban megachurch in the Midwest; a large Midwestern multiracial/multicultural church; a large urban multiracial/multicultural church in the eastern United States; a small, suburban Midwestern multiracial church; and an inclusive Midwestern college town church. In this book, Zerai further explores important connections between U.S. Protestant Christian congregations and political activism.

Available for purchase here.


Hypermasculinity and State Violence in Zimbabwe: An Africana Feminist Analysis of Maternal and Child Health

Assata Zerai

In Hypermasculinity and State Violence in Zimbabwe Undermining Family Well-Being: An Africana Feminist Analysis of Maternal and Child Health, Assata Zerai explores the demography of maternal and child health in Southern Africa from an Africana feminist sociological perspective. She presents a framework that considers the ways that nation, race, class, gender, sexuality, globalization, and other dimensions of oppression intersect to impact upon the experiences and agency of individuals and groups with health care and social support in Zimbabwe. She analyzes data sets from demographic and health surveys for the country. On the basis of the Africana feminist framework, Zerai argues that maternal and child health cannot be understood unless the socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts are taken into account. She extends and tests the hypothesis that militarism (especially state violence) and hypermasculinity in Zimbabwe have deleterious effects on family well-being in general, and especially on maternal and child health.

Available for purchase here.

Recent/Select Publications:

Zerai, Assata. 2017. “Millennium Development Goals Shortfalls in Zimbabwe: Access to Water and Sanitation, and Early Childhood Morbidity," Development Southern Africa, 34(6):802-824.

Henderson, Loren, Assata Zerai and Rebecca Morrow. 2017. “Intimate Partner Violence and Human Immunodeficiency Virus Status among Ever-Married and Cohabiting Zimbabwean Women: An Examination of Partners’ Traits," African Journal of Reproductive Health, 21(4): 45-54.

Zerai, Assata, Joanna Perez, and Chenyi Wang. 2016. "A Proposal for Expanding Endarkened Transnational Feminist Praxis: Creating a Database of Women’s Scholarship and Activism to Promote Health in Zimbabwe," Qualitative Inquiry, 23(2): 107-118.