Building the Undercommons

Feminists Liberating Our Collective Knowledge

I am a founding member of Feminists Liberating Our Collective Knowledge (FLOCK), a collective formed in 2016 at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill by a group of feminist geography graduates and faculty committed to producing knowledge for social change. We were inspired by student-led activism to rename the building the geography department is housed in – formerly honoring a KKK grand-dragon – as Zora Neale Hurston Hall, celebrating Black histories erased from collective memory at the university. Identifying racial justice as a primary concern on our campus, we engaged in an extended process to document the decades of activism by student visionaries fighting against Confederate monuments.

Our project was revealing of how the university campus functions as a site for new visions of justice, as well as the ways that university administration attempts to capture these visions through institutional frameworks of diversity and inclusion. These efforts resulted in postcards we distributed at conferences to inspire radical geographers to engage in campus activism; a zine testifying to student activists as visionaries, funded by the UNC-CH Institute of Arts and Humanities; and a day-long gathering of UNC student activists across multiple generations sharing insights and strategies. Campus struggles are ongoing in the aftermath of August 2018’s events, when UNC’s Confederate monument was brought down by protestors.

In 2021, FLOCK published “Making a Zine, Building a Feminist Collective” in ACME: An International Journal of Critical Geographies. In the article, we illuminate the histories of students’ political struggles for racial justice on the UNC campus and the creative pathways through which students organize their liberatory activism. We articulate the process through which we made this zine and discuss the primacy of student activism in that endeavor.

Hurston Collective for Critical Performance Ethnography

In 2015, I co-founded a collective at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with my graduate colleagues Marie Garlock and Chris Courtheyn, with the intention of creating a space for practitioners interested in developing their art and scholarship through the principles of critical/performance ethnography. Inspired by our mentor Dr. Renée Alexander Craft and rooted in Zora Neale Hurston’s approach to storytelling for justice, the Hurston Collective for Critical Performance Ethnography encourages the use of performance as a creative, critical and collaborative methodology to enliven and make research relevant for social justice struggles. Composed of graduate students, artists and activists in the Triangle region, the collective was sustained in its formative years by Andreina Malki, Sonny Kelly, Meli Kimathi and Elizabeth Melton.

Our monthly workshops included a range of performance and movement practices, facilitated in rotation by collective members, as well as devoted time for workshopping projects at any phase of development, from the initial seed of an idea, through staged readings of scripts, and feedback on final performances. We also organized and hosted trainings on performance and social justice, including a 2016 workshop with veteran Theater of the Oppressed trainer Bárbara Santos and a 2018 training in InterPlay methodologies with Soyinka Rahim and Cynthia Winton-Henry. In addition to reflecting on the poetics of performance and ethics of engaged research, the Hurston Collective became a lifeline for us, as graduate workers and emerging scholars, to decolonize our time, bodies/minds, and knowledges, and to support each other in bringing to life the world we desired to live in.