Penn Gazette Feature On Salamishah Tillet: Scholar, Teacher, Activist


“As an undergraduate at Penn in the 1990s, Salamishah Tillet C’96 experienced some of the best and very worst that a young person’s college years can offer. It was here that she made lasting friendships and found the inspiring classes and mentors that sparked her ambition to become a scholar and teacher herself. And it was also here that, during her freshman year, she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student—a trauma compounded by a second rape while she was on a study-abroad program in Kenya during her junior year.

The rapes left her suffering from post-traumatic stress, but with the support of her family and friends, and successful therapy, she managed to recover and share her story and even become an activist for ending violence and empowering women and girls. This work goes on alongside and interwoven with a thriving academic career and a significant presence as a cultural commentator on cable TV, online, and in print.

An associate professor in the English Department, Tillet holds secondary appointments in the Department of Africana Studies and in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program. Her 2012 book, Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post Civil-Rights Imagination, which examines the ways in which contemporary African-American artists, writers, and intellectuals explore the topic of slavery, is “a double contribution to African-American studies and American studies at large,” says Amy Kaplan, the Edward W. Kane Professor of English and current department chair. “We see her very much as the future of our department.”

Much of Tillet’s work as an activist is channeled through A Long Walk Home, a nonprofit she co-founded in 2003 with her sister Scheherazade, which uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to counter violence against girls and women. A Long Walk Home’s programs include the multimedia performance Story of a Rape Survivor (SOARS), based on her own story of healing…

….Both her Trinidadian and African-American heritage and her personal trauma played into her scholarly interest in slavery, as she noted in a 2013 interview in The Penn Current, a publication for University employees. “I’m dealing with flashbacks, and then I’m reading these novels written in the 1970s and early ’80s in which African-American writers like Toni Morrison or Octavia Butler have their characters reliving slavery … Why would you go back to this moment of complete disenfranchisement at the same moment you’ve become full citizens? … You’re ‘thoroughly American’ and you’re going back to the moment when America was founded on your back.””

Read the full-text here: The Pennsylvania Gazette » Salamishah Tillet’s Journey.

Tillet’s Sites of Slavery was featured on #ADPhD here.

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