GDST enlivened by new faculty

Budding department welcomes three professors, debuts six classes

By Anna Verderber, Guest writer
Photo courtesy of
GDST welcomed three faculty and six classes this fall. Pictured left to right: Dr. Kayla renee Wheeler, Dr. Mich Nyawalo and Dr. ShaDawn Battle.

The Gender and Diversity Studies (GDST)  department has welcomed three new full time faculty members. Along with these new professors, six brand new classes will be offered as well. 

The GDST department inquires students to acquaint themselves with scholarship on gender and diversity in their broadest, most inclusive sense. 

All three of the new professors within the program will be full time and are either on a tenure-track or are already tenured faculty members. 

Dr. ShaDawn Battle is teaching First-year Seminar State-Sanctioned Violence in the U.S., and Gender and Diversity Studies and Social Justice. This course is designed to investigate the relationship between late 19th-21st century African American literature and Black musical forms of expression, with respect to how both contest and have contested multiple forms of oppression. 

She has also taught courses centering the lived experiences of Black women — examining topics such as the invisibility and hypervisibility of Black women and girls in literature, media, medicine and the criminal justice system. 

Dr. Kayla Renée Wheeler is teaching First-year Seminar: Race in the Digital Age and GDST 210: Introduction to African American Studies. 

Wheeler is a first generation college graduate, having earned her PhD from the University of Iowa in 2017. 

Wheeler’s research explores Black Muslim women’s material culture, digital religion, and contemporary Islam in the Americas. She will soon be releasing a book entitled Fashioning Black Islam. 

Wheeler is also a curator of the award winning Black Islam Syllabus: a project that seeks to provide teachers, professors, researchers, journalists, and people interested in learning more about Islam with resources on Black Muslims to promote a more inclusive approach to the study of Islam. 

And finally, Dr. Mich Nyawalo is teaching First Year Seminar: Infectious Diseases and the Culture Politics of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality and GDST 310: Theoretical Perspectives.

Nyawalo holds a PhD in comparative literature from Pennsylvania State University. He also studied at Gothenburg University in Sweden, where he received his second masters degree. 

Nyawalo spent time living and studying in Kenya, Uganda, France, Sweden and the United States, which have greatly influenced his academic projects throughout his life. He is also fluent in five languages: French, English, Swedish, Swahili and Luo. 

While discussing the GDST department, junior sociology and GDST double major Amber Brooks reflected on the importance of societal change and awareness. 

“Society is always evolving and in 30 years things we do and say today will be considered politically incorrect,” they said.  “We must always try to stay open to new ideas and information so we can grow with society instead of regressing.” 

They noted that through the GDST department, Brooks has had the opportunity to critically analyze topics  they are passionate about, such as suicidality in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as things they may not have been aware of previously. 

Brooks explained that any Xavier student could benefit from this degree due to its flexibility and sheer range of topics. 

They also encouraged any student interested in the degree but unsure of where to start to pursue one or two GDST classes as electives. 

As a final thought, Any student interested in pursuing a GDST degree or in taking any of the new classes should visit the GDST department website, or reach out to Dr. Kristen Renzi, director of the GDST department.

Each new professor will teach a CORE 100 course, also known as First-year Seminars (FYS). All Xavier students are required to take an FYS course.