ASU School of Social Transformation welcomes a new professor

September 2, 2022

The School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University welcomed Lila Sharif as an assistant professor.

As a former professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sharif focused on courses that centered on race, food, colonialism, war, and migration.

Lila Sharif
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The school sat down with Sharif to discuss academic methodology and long-term professional goals as an educator at Arizona State University.

Question: Please introduce yourself; where do you come from ?

Answer: My name is Lilac sheriff. I am a creative writer, educator and activist. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California (Tongva lands), and have also lived in the Middle East. My parents are from Palestine, which inspired my work on land, culture and food, especially for displaced and colonized people today. Trained as an ethnic studies scholar and sociologist, I use an interdisciplinary approach to think and write about land, food and culture in a way that connects local experiences to global processes of power – and how people work against colonialism and settler racism in life-affirming ways and in daily practices.

Broadly, my work conceptualizes land, food, and culture through a holistic indigenous perspective that focuses on Palestinian experiences in homeland and diaspora. My first solo book is about how the olive tree – which has been cultivated in Palestine for 7,000 years – mobilizes the decolonial aspirations of Palestinians around the world. I have published essays as well as poetry in academic and public journals.

Q: Can you tell us about your professional and academic background?

A: Before coming to ASU, I was an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the Asian American Studies department. I loved teaching classes on race, food, colonialism, war and migration. I’m so excited to be offering exciting new courses at ASU at the School of Social Transformation! I earned a BA in sociology at UC Berkeley before earning a double doctorate in sociology and ethnic studies at the University of California, San Diego. I had the honor of working there with pioneering ethnic studies researchers, including Dr. Yen Le Espiritu. For my thesis, I carried out ethnographic research in Palestine, Jordan and the United States, as well as analyzes of cultural studies on the cultural, material and historical significance of olives from Palestine.

At ASU, I will complete a book on the subject and teach courses in Global Indigenous Studies, Decolonial Methods, Transnational Feminisms, Food and Race, Critical Refugees, Ethnic Studies, and Arab-Experiences. Americans and Muslim Americans. I can not wait !

Q: What have you learned in your professional or academic career that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My research confirms the resilience of the Palestinian people in their struggle for their homeland as well as against empire and racism. More broadly, it reminds us of the daily work that people of color and Indigenous peoples do to insist on a better life for themselves and their families, especially the women of these communities.

Q: What kinds of social issues do you work on? Why do you think they are important?

A: I am concerned about the continued exploitation of the world’s indigenous peoples and the lands they hold sacred. I am also concerned about race, forced migration (refugees) and other forms of structural violence that are based on systems of racial capitalism and colonialism. These are important because they impact people in every way and should be analyzed carefully. This type of work also enables us to envision better worlds and futures for ourselves and for the environment.

Q: How did you get involved in this type of work? What inspired you to continue working for social change?

A: I started my college career at Santa Monica Community College, where I studied sociology and joined the anti-war effort. I organized with BIPOCBlack, Indigenous and People of Color classmates, as well as people from Palestine, Native America, Afghanistan, El Salvador and Mexico. We read political theory, discussed current affairs, and held marches, rallies, demonstrations, seminars, stalls, workshops, conferences, vigils, and other events throughout Los Angeles. This early experience would ultimately shape my life, my work, my identity, and my vision of a more just world.

Q: What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your work and teaching?

A: I am a humanities-focused social scientist who uses archival research alongside geographic information systems, critical theory, and ethnography to answer questions about Black queer communities’ relationships with spaces, places and landscapes. In the classroom, I am very committed to popular education and black feminist pedagogies where we use our lived experiences as tools to understand classroom material.

Q: What organizations or individuals outside of ASU do you interact with?

A: I am part of the Critical Refugee Studies Collective, a group of interdisciplinary scholars who advocate for and envision a world where refugee rights are human rights. As someone whose family was displaced, this is both a passion project and an intellectual center. We just wrote a book this month called “Departures”.

Q: What do you enjoy most about this job?

A: What I enjoy most is connecting with students and thinking critically, creatively, and compassionately about how we want to create and sustain better worlds and futures for ourselves and our communities. I also enjoy collaborating with colleagues on exciting projects and look forward to doing great things at the School of Social Transformation.

Q: What are your long-term professional goals?

A: I would like to create a network of Indigenous activists and communities from different backgrounds and lands who come to ASU to share their stories and connect with each other and with students.

Q: What advice do you have for students?

A: When you get stuck, start with what you know.