Sonja Thomas, Visiting Scholar

Sonja Thomas is an Assistant Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. She is at Lehigh completing a book project on minority rights and women’s rights in postcolonial India. The book, The Politics of Belonging: Gender, Caste, Race and Religion in Postcolonial South Asia, focusses on the Syrian Christian community in Kerala, India. In the book, Sonja argues that the political interpretation of minorities in India seeks to homogenize minorities as subordinated in order to protect their rights while on the ground, caste, class and racial hierarchies are reified in numerous ways between minority communities. This engenders differing definitions of “womanhood” and indeed, “women’s rights” amongst minority groups making feminist solidarity between religions, castes, races and classes and among minority populations, contentious. InThe Politics of Belonging, Sonja argues that a simultaneous analysis of privilege and oppression is critical to understanding how acts of belonging shape everyday encounters, the capacity to create feminist networks and the ability to act towards social change.

Upon completion of the book (December 2015), Sonja plans to embark on two new research projects. The first project will look at Indian Catholic priests serving parishes in rural areas of the United States. Sonja plans to examine the cultural and racial dynamics between Indian priests and their largely rural, white and American congregations. 

The second project (still in its infancy) will look at sexual morality among upper-caste Indian Christians and the importance of scandals in determining the boundaries of that said morality. Sonja plans to look at four particular sex scandals that have taken place in South India since 1947 and look at how the salacious details of the scandals are circulated and received by the community. 

Finally, Sonja plans to spend time writing on pedagogy and expanding upon a class she teaches at Colby called “Critical Race Feminisms and Tap Dance.” Sonja’s PhD degree is in Women’s and Gender Studies and all her scholarship is profoundly influenced by Women of Color scholarship (Black feminist thought, South Asian feminisms and transnational feminist theory). A tap dancer herself, this course represents what she calls “embodied feminist pedagogies.” It takes students through an intersectional understanding of bodies and performance while simultaneously asking students to interrogate the cultural meanings of gender and racial authenticity.

Nessette Falu holds a PhD in Socio-Cultural Anthropology from Rice University (2015). Her research investigates how self-identified black lesbians (lesbicas negras) draw upon everyday lived experiences to self-advocate and demand respectful recognition toward their sexuality by their gynecologists. This study interconnects various angles that pivot the reproduction of “preconceito” (prejudice) such as the socio-political limitations of Brazilian healthcare reform to combat lesbian discrimination, the entrenched prejudicial attitudes manifesting during gynecological exams, and the thriving and transcending ideas of “bem-estar” (well-being) and sexual health, broadly. Her ethnographic study explores and exposes invisible acts of freedom by lesbicas negras. She is the recipient of a generous fieldwork grant from the Ruth Landes Memorial Foundation, which included seed funds for media production leading to film footage produced during fieldwork for a short film.

She was a 2014-2015 Visiting Scholar at Lehigh University in the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. In 2014-2015, she taught as a part-time lecturer in the Anthropology Department at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey. Her courses included Sexuality and Eroticism in Global Perspective, Body Politics, and Medical Anthropology. She was the 2013-2014 Sarah Pettit Dissertation Fellow in LGBT Studies at Yale University. Furthermore, she was an active member from 2008-2012 at the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice while completing a graduate certificate program. She also worked a graduate fellow with the Program for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Culture at Rice that bridges intellectual community and promotes race scholarship and pedagogy. She holds a Masters of Divinity from New York Theological Seminary. She has been a practicing Physician Assistant since 2001 in Neurosurgery, Internal Medicine, and HIV Care. Currently, she works in Oncology at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, NY.  Her hometown is New York City, Harlem in specific.