Melissa Mercedes Valle

Hard laugher. Loving spitfire. Weepy empath. 90s hop emcee wannabe. Boundless wanderlust. The daughter of an island-born Boricua turned Jersey girl and an African-American Harlemite, both scholar-activists who were the firsts in their families to attend college, I’ve never known a life where racial justice and the vehement struggle against oppression in the United States and abroad wasn’t at the forefront of how I understood the world. So, what’s a sista to do but dive head first into the ring like a WWF fighter? I’ve been on a constant quest to find where best to employ my passion, curiosity, thirst for knowledge and profound love for Black people. Youth development, community development, public policy, and special needs education all circuitously led me to the discipline of sociology. I am currently a tenure-track assistant professor in both the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Department of African American and African Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. I am also a core faculty member of the Global Urban Studies/Urban Systems Ph.D. program. 


I do a lot of work around how people make meaning of race, racism and racialized hierarchies. My current book project is an ethnography exploring how people determine who is worthy of occupying contested space in a gentrifying neighborhood in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. I demonstrate how race, ethnicity, gender and class are encoded in the value of urban spaces through analyses of micro-level meaning-making practices and structures. I received a Fulbright award to Colombia to conduct my ethnographic fieldwork. I have also completed research on Afro-descendants living in Santiago, Chile, exploring the mechanisms that lead to reduced life chances for marginalized groups and how such groups negotiate stigma perspectives that suggest their identities have been devalued.


I love me some school, as is evident by my dual bachelor’s degrees in economics and African- American Studies from Howard University, Master of Public Administration in public and nonprofit management and policy from New York University, Master of Science for Teachers in childhood education from Pace University, and Master of Arts, Master of Philosophy, and Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University.


My evolving scholarly and political interests are drawing me towards visual culture, architecture, the sociology of love, and comedy (not all together, or mayyyybe…nahh). We’ll see where the funding, the ancestors, my community, and my whimsical heart lure me. For now I’ll do as I’ve always done, continue to hope that one day it will all make sense.

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