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Assata Zerai Ph.D.

Profile picture for Assata Zerai Ph.D.

Contact Information

3120 Lincoln Hall
702 S. Wright St
Urbana IL 31801

Office Hours

By appointment only.
Professor Emerita


Assata Zerai is the Associate Chancellor for Diversity and Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois. At Illinois since 2002, Zerai’s research interests have included maternal and child health, health activism, safe water and sanitation, as well as diversity and LGBTQI inclusiveness in U.S. Protestant congregations, and making the work of marginalized scholars more accessible.Dr. Zerai’s recent books include: Intersectionality in IntentionalCommunities: The Struggle for Inclusivity (2016); Hypermasculinity and State Violence in Zimbabwe (2014). She has also authored Dehumanizing Discourse, Law and Policy in America (with Rae Banks,2002); and, Safe Water, Sanitation and Early Childhood Malnutrition in East Africa (forthcoming). She is currently completing her fifth book manuscript, African Women and the Challenge of Gendered Digital Divides to People-Centered Governance. In Spring 2015, while Associate Dean in the Graduate College, Zerai began service as co-PI on a $1M award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to increase numbers of graduate students underrepresented in STEM. And 2015-16, Zerai served as co-PI on a US State Department award to offer a Young African Leaders Public Management Institute to Mandela Washington Fellows at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois. In 2017-18 Zerai is serving as a Big-10 Academic Alliance Leadership Program Fellow.

Research Interests

Race/Class/Gender; Maternal and Child Health; Sociology of Religion; Health Activism; Health Inequality; Gender Equity and Development Effectiveness; Anti-War Activism

Research Description

Fall 2015, as Director of African Studies, Zerai worked with core and affiliate faculty and staff integrate expertise from our internationally recognized programs in engineering, with social science methodologies and humanities country-specific skill sets, training in cultural competency, and social justice and to propose to host a Mandela Washington Fellowship Young African Leaders Institute in public management. Zerai is co-PI on this grant, received from the U.S.Department of State. For one year, she was also PI on the Title VI National Resource Center grant to the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois. Zerai is co-PI on a grant to establish a University Center for Exemplary Mentoring from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Zerai was selected for the Larine Y. Cowan “Make a Difference” Leadership in Diversity Award, received at the University of Illinois in November 2015.  Zerai has received recognition from the U of I Women’s Resources Center and Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations for her work on behalf of women internationally during the March 2016 International Women’s Day Celebration. And Zerai has been honored with the Ebony Excellence Awards 2016 Outstanding Contributions to the Field Award, by the Bruce Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, University of Illinois on 19 April 2016.


University of Chicago Ph.D. 1993

Courses Taught

SOC 496/596 Race, Class and Gender
SOC 496/596 Maternal and Child Health in Southern Africa
SOC 496/596 Health Inequality
SOC 480/583 Qualitative Research

Highlighted Publications

Zerai, A. (2014). Hypermasculinity, State Violence, and Family Well-Being in Zimbabwe: An Africana Feminist Analysis of Maternal and Child Health. Africa World Press.

Zerai, A., & Banks, R. (2002). Dehumanizing Discourse, Anti-Drug Law, and Policy in America: A "Crack Mother’s" Nightmare. Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

Zerai, A. (2016). Intersectionality in Intentional Communities: The Struggle for Inclusivity in Multicultural U.S. Protestant Congregations. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

View all publications on Illinois Experts

Recent Publications

Zerai, A. (2022). Foreword. In Dismantling Constructs of Whiteness in Higher Education: Narratives of Resistance from the Academy (pp. xix-xxviii). Taylor and Francis.

Byrne, D. M., Hamilton, K. A., Houser, S. A., Mubasira, M., Katende, D., Lohman, H. A. C., Trimmer, J. T., Banadda, N., Zerai, A., & Guest, J. S. (2021). Navigating Data Uncertainty and Modeling Assumptions in Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment in an Informal Settlement in Kampala, Uganda. Environmental Science and Technology, 55(8), 5463-5474.

Trimmer, J. T., Lohman, H. A. C., Byrne, D. M., Houser, S. A., Jjuuko, F., Katende, D., Banadda, N., Zerai, A., Miller, D. C., & Guest, J. S. (2020). Navigating Multidimensional Social-Ecological System Trade-Offs across Sanitation Alternatives in an Urban Informal Settlement. Environmental Science and Technology, 54(19), 12641-12653.

Trimmer, J. T., Miller, D. C., Byrne, D. M., Lohman, H. A. C., Banadda, N., Baylis, K. R., Cook, S. M., Cusick, R. D., Jjuuko, F., Margenot, A. J., Zerai, A., & Guest, J. S. (2020). Re-Envisioning Sanitation As a Human-Derived Resource System. Environmental Science and Technology, 54(17), 10446-10459.

Brown, N. M., Mendenhall, R., Black, M., Moer, M. V., Flynn, K., McKee, M., Zerai, A., Lourentzou, I., & Zhai, C. X. (2019). In Search of Zora/When Metadata Isn’t Enough: Rescuing the Experiences of Black Women Through Statistical Modeling. Journal of Library Metadata, 19(3-4), 141-162.

View all publications on Illinois Experts