We are thrilled to announce that Brandi Wilkins Catanese, Associate Professor in the departments of African American Studies and Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, will be joining the Graduate Division as Associate Dean on July 1. Dr. Catanese brings an immense wealth of experience in teaching, advising, and mentoring graduate students, and will share this expertise as the Graduate Division expands and enhances its funding, wellness and professional development resources.
We will be recognizing our departing Associate Dean Eric Falci and his enormous contributions to the Graduate Division in a future edition of GradNews.
Dr. Catanese earned her bachelor’s degree in Dramatic Art/Dance and African American Studies from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Drama and Humanities from Stanford University. She credits the courses that she took in these two Berkeley departments as essential to carving out a more intimate academic space and inspiring her to pursue doctoral study. “I kept seeing more and more course offerings from both departments that were intellectually exciting to me,” she shared. “So I took courses in both of those places, and began to get a sense that I would probably want to pursue a Ph.D.”
When she was nearing the end of her doctoral program at Stanford, she discovered the perfect opportunity to bring her intersectional research and interests back to Cal. “If I wrote a job description for myself, this [professorship] is what it would have looked like in terms of it being a joint appointment between African American Studies, theater, and being at Berkeley. It was a chance to give back to the institution, and specifically the academic departments, that had given so much to me,” she reflected.
Professor Catanese’s work addresses the role of performance in constructing our understanding of Black identity, both through aesthetic production and the practices of everyday life. She is the author of The Problem of the Color[blind]: Racial Transgression and the Politics of Black Performance, and articles in journals including Theatre Journal and Performance Research. She is currently the Editor of Theatre Survey and is working on two book projects, one analyzing Black feminist performance through the lens of reproductive justice and the other theorizing the aesthetics and affects of postracial representation.
Dr. Catanese is looking forward to helping the Graduate Division address the graduate student experience holistically. “I encourage students to recognize that you absolutely want to do the very best you can in pursuing your academic and professional goals, but you also have to nurture yourself as a whole human being, as well as your personal relationships,” she shared. “It’s important to find things that bring you joy, make you feel good about yourself, and are deeply rewarding in ways that don’t depend on your identity as an academic.”
In her role as Head Graduate Advisor in the Department of African American Studies, she has seen how Berkeley’s public service mission and structure has prepared graduate students for future employment both within and beyond academia. “Because of the way that [many doctoral] funding packages work, in addition to advancing your own research agenda, you have to teach, including teaching outside of your immediate area of expertise,” she explained. “And you’re going to have opportunities — because of the shared governance principles of a place like Berkeley — to participate in departmental service and campus service. This combination of opportunities and responsibilities allows you to rehearse the multifaceted portfolio of a faculty member while you’re a graduate student. Many of our alumni comment upon how valuable this array of experiences — and the practice of balancing them over time–becomes when they make the transition to the next step in their careers ”
She hopes her role as Associate Dean can help play a role in students’ positive professional and personal transformation. “So much of who I am today is because of experiences at Berkeley that shaped me in really positive ways. So any opportunity that I have to create the conditions for that kind of thriving, that kind of transformation, that kind of self-discovery, I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to do that,” she emphasized.
Please join us in welcoming Dr. Catanese to the Graduate Division!