Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown

Associate Professor
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Additional Campus Affiliations


Ruth Nicole Brown is Associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies (50%), Education Policy, Organization and Leadership (50%), The Center for African Studies (0%), The Department of Theatre (0%) and most recently Art + Design (0%). She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor in Political Science with graduate certificates in World Performance Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. Selected a Conrad Humanities Scholar (2018-23), Brown's research, community engagement, and artistic practice mutually reinforce the other; she is at her best when disciplinary norms are disrupted in favor of creating ideas that swing.

Research Interests

  • Black Feminism and Black Girlhood
  • Black Girlhood Studies & Girls Studies
  • Performance Studies
  • Art-Based Research
  • Digital Humanities

Research Description

Brown’s research documents and analyzes Black girls’ lived experiences and the practical ways they make Black girlhood with those who love them. Her previous work has explored how Black girl’s conceptualize freedom, creativity, and relationships in Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths  (SOLHOT). Brown founded SOLHOT in 2006 as a collective space to celebrate Black girlhood and to date it remains her most cherished and consistent practice of meeting Black girls face to face and heart to heart.  SOLHOT has received support from campus grants, Champaign-Urbana institutions, and those who actively participate. A Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellow (2019-2020), Brown’s Black Girl Genius Week (BGGW) exhausts the rituals of SOLHOT to widen the cipher and experience the imaginative capabilities and artistry that only occurs when Black girls and women are together as homegirls. BGGW has occurred in central Illinois (2014 & 2016) and in 2019 will take place in Chicago, IL, San Diego, CA, and Columbia, SC.

According to Brown, there is something about Black girlhood that is extremely experimental and that quality of innovation guides her artmaking. The desire to play with movement, sound, images, and words against the assumable or knowable figure of the Black girl is very much a part of her creative process. Aesthetic influences are many: the everydayness of survival, amateur impulses, do it yourself cultures, Baptist church tea parties, and hip hop. In many ways, SOLHOT functions as workshop and studio and it is there where she has formally developed a sense of poetic timing, preference for what is good, and how to create collectively.  She appreciates how her art inspires others, contributes to local culture, and prompts conversations about the peculiarity of humility, labor, contemplation, and authenticity as Midwestern aesthetics. 

Brown has authored two books, Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood  (University of Illinois Press, 2013) and Black Girlhood Celebration: Toward A Hip Hop Feminist Pedagogy (Peter Lang, 2009) co-edited several anthologies, Disrupting Qualitative Inquiry: Possibilities and Tensions in Educational Research with R. Carducci and C. Kuby (Peter Lang, 2014) and Wish To Live: The Hip Hop Feminist Pedagogy Reader with C. Kwaye (Peter Lang, 2012) and wrote numerous journal articles. Brown is in a band called We Levitate with bandbaes Porshe Garner, Jessica Robinson, and Blair Smith and has facilitated and/or performed in several SOLHOT performances including The Mixtape Remix (2011), and Check In! (2010), and photography exhibits, The Rest is Work (2018), and Necessary Truths with C. Taaffe (2009).

You can find Ruth Nicole Brown outside, currently working on a multi-media project, Black Girl Nature which takes up ecowomanist and Black feminist preoccupations with Black girls’ presence in nature and palimpsest intellectual production. She examines critical questions of history, sound (field recordings digital music production), and preservation, all in relation to a sociality of Black girlhood. This project builds on the aforementioned fields and contributes to the digital arts and humanities of Black Girlhood Studies.


  • Ph.D., University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Political Science. Certified in Gender and Women’s Studies and World Performance Studies
  • M.A., University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Political Science
  • B.A., University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Political Science

External URLs

Selected Publications


Brown, Ruth Nicole Hear Our Truths: The Creative Potential of Black Girlhood Champaign University of Illinois Press 2014.
Black Girlhood Celebration: A Hip Hop Feminist Pedagogy New York Peter Lang 2008.

Edited Books

Brown, Ruth Nicole, and C Kwakye Wish To Live: The Hip-Hop Feminist Pedagogy Reader New York Peter Lang 2012. Wish to Live.

Journal Articles

Brown, Ruth Nicole Political philosophy of theatre: The experience of avant-garde and Black theatre Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 9 2010, p. 17-35.
Brown, Ruth Nicole Dianne Pinderhughes: A career dedicated understanding the racial dynamics of American politics and to serving as an agent of change. PS Political Science & Politics 41 2008, p. 233-238.
Brown, Ruth Nicole Speaking Free and Fully: The Political Significance of Black Girls' Way with Words International Journal of Africana Studies 13 1 2007, p. 83-98.
Brown, Ruth Nicole Persephone’s Triumph: Reflections of A Young Black Woman Becoming A Real Political Scientist Qualitative Inquiry 13 5 2007, p. 650-659.
Brown, Ruth Nicole Mentoring on the Borderlands: Creating Empowering Connections Between Adolescent Girls and Young Women Volunteers Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge 4 2006, p. 105-122.
Brown, Ruth Nicole Speaking free and fully: The political significance of Black girls’ way with words International Journal of Africana Studies 13 1 2007, p. 83-98.
Brown, Ruth Nicole Remembering Maleesa: Theorizing Black girl politics and the politicizing of socialization National Political Science Review 11 2007, p. 121-136.

In The News

  • Ruth Nicole Brown has devoted her career to what she calls “engaged scholarship” with black girls to create new worlds with, ask questions of, and celebrate black girlhood. The professor of gender and women’s studies remains active on campus, in the surrounding Urbana-Champaign area, and across the United States co-organizing spaces dedicated to humanistic inquiry, the documentation of black girlhood culture, and collective knowledge production about the myriad ways social and political conditions shape and are shaped by black girls.

  • Professor Ruth Nicole Brown is one of seven recipients of the Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship for her project, Black Girl Genius Week.