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

Decolonial Feminist Methodologies, Black Feminist Thought, Gender Equity and Development Effectiveness, Maternal and Child Health, Sociology of Religion


Dr. Assata Zerai serves as the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion (VPEI) and Professor of Sociology at the University of New Mexico (UNM). At the helm of the Division for Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Zerai’s dynamic experiences and strong record of leading, planning for, resourcing, and documenting the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, have expanded UNM’s diversity programming and strategy As Principal Investigator (PI) on the Racial and Intersection Microaggressions (RIMA) Survey, Zerai posted over a dozen reports, and is leading workshops to guide UNM and partners in the practice of interrupting RIMAs. Other data collection efforts Zerai leads include the LGBTQ Resource Center Faculty and Staff Needs Assessment Survey (Spring 2022), the UNM University-wide Campus Climate Surveys(Fall 2022 and Spring 2023), and she is co-PI for the Survey for Faculty with Disabilities (Fall 2022). Zerai additionally serves as UNM’s liaison to the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities (HSRU), a collaboration of 21 HSRUs working toward increasing numbers of Latinx doctoral students and faculty within its institutions. 

Dr. Zerai is the new co-PI of the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation (NM-AMP), funded by the National Science Foundation, see 

A decolonial feminist scholar, Zerai is coinvestigator 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, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban Institute of Technology, and Stellenbosch University (2019-24). Zerai’s research deploys decolonial and Black feminist research methodologies to analyze achieving inclusion in complex organizations, just access to information and communications technologies, novel contributions of BIPOC women’s scholarship globally, and structural impediments to maternal and child health. 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). And very relevant to the work of DEI, she has written Intersectionality in Intentional Communities: The Struggle for Inclusivity in Multicultural U.S. Protestant Congregations (Rowman and Littlefield 2016; released in paperback in 2019).Zerai is currently writing her sixth book, a monograph, Black Feminist Interventions in Decolonizing the Westernized University (under contract with Rowman and Littlefield, Lexington Books). 

Previously, Dr. Zerai served as full professor of sociology, in addition to many administrative roles at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2002-2019); and is currently Professor Emerita. Zerai’s work as Associate Chancellor, Associate Provost, and Associate Dean included multiple initiatives to diversify and enhance inclusivity of faculty, students, and staff from underrepresented groups there. For example, Zerai was co-PI on a $1M award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to increase proportions of and support to graduate students of color underrepresented in STEM. Zerai received the Zenobia Lawrence Hikes Women of Color in the Academy, National Award for Outstanding Administrative/Professional Faculty (March 2018). 

A 2023 Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad scholar, Dr. Zerai held the title of Visiting Professor, School of Human and Community Development, Speech Therapy Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg, South Africa (2020-2023). There, she provided lectures, and continues to serve on dissertation committees, coauthor publications with Wits faculty members in theSchool of Human and Community Development—largely which focus on decolonial feminist methodology and pedagogy. During her Fulbright-Hays year, Zerai administered the Gender and Intersectional Microaggressions (GIMA) Survey and lead Confronting GIMAs Upstander workshops at Wits. 



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:

Trimmer, John T.Daniel C. Miller, Diana M. Byrne, Hannah A. C. Lohman, Noble Banadda, Katherine Baylis, Sherri M. Cook, Roland D. Cusick, Fulgensio Jjuuko, Andrew J. Margenot, Assata Zerai, and Jeremy S. Guest (2020) Re-Envisioning Sanitation as a Human-Derived Resource System. Environmental Science & Technology. 54 (17), 10446-10459. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c03318. Award winner: ES&T Best Policy Article in 2020. Read here.

Trimmer, John T.Hannah A. C. Lohman, Diana M. Byrne, Stephanie A. Houser, Fulgensio Jjuuko, David Katende, Noble Banadda, Assata Zerai, Daniel C. Miller, and Jeremy S. Guest (2020) Navigating Multidimensional Social–Ecological System Trade-Offs across Sanitation Alternatives in an Urban Informal Settlement. Environmental Science & Technology 2020 54 (19), 12641-12653. Read here.

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.