Sophia Timba | September 01, 2023

Professors Earn Prestigious Fellowships

Milo Obourn and Elizabeth Garner Masarik receive funding from SUNY to promote the education of diversity and gender issues in New York State.

Professors Elizabeth Garner Masarik and Milo Obourn

This year, SUNY is increasing initiatives to support the research, education, and awareness of the histories of oppression and adversity faced by marginalized groups in New York State and around the world. One way SUNY is working to accomplish this goal is through the creation of fellowship programs including the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (DEISJ) Fellows and the Dr. Virginia Radley Fellowship.

Milo ObournDEISJ Fellowship

Professor and Chair of Women & Gender Studies Milo Obourn, has been selected to join the first cohort of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (DEISJ) Fellows.

Milo Obourn Milo Obourn


The 15 fellows are working to facilitate the transition into the new SUNY general education framework, which now includes a DEISJ requirement for all undergraduate students beginning the Fall 2023 semester. This means faculty members across the state are working to develop and adjust their curriculum to fulfill the new requirement — many who have never studied or taught DEISJ topics in the past.

The fellows serve as a resource for all SUNY faculty to access and consult. When Obourn saw the call from SUNY seeking experts last year, they jumped at the opportunity.

“I had spent the fall semester thinking about what I value [in terms of general education outcomes] and how my own classes would fit the new gen-ed,” Obourn said. “I figured this is an opportunity to work with people on different campuses and to be involved in a conversation I care about.”

Obourn explained that there are three main areas of focus in the year-long fellowship:

  1. Build a centralized repository of DEISJ resources
  2. Develop a professional development certification program
  3. Hold open office hours for faculty seeking support

“This is an opportunity to work with people on different campuses and to be involved in a conversation I care about.”
Milo Obourn

“For many campuses in SUNY this is the first time they’ll have to offer something in the general education code that is DEISJ related,” Obourn said. “Some campuses might feel like they just don’t have the faculty or resources available to do this.”

With the support of the fellows, SUNY hopes faculty will be better equipped to build DEISJ into their curriculum.

Within the fellowship, Obourn signed up for a subcommittee dedicated to building the professional development certification program for faculty looking to further their DEISJ understanding.

“I would like to see [the program] engage all scholars in a way that they will want to go back and do more work in their area on their own,” Obourn said. “It’s an ongoing thing. It’s capacity building, knowledge building, community building.”

Elizabeth Garner MasarikDr. Virginia Radley Fellowship

In honor of Women’s History Month, SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. created the Dr. Virginia Radley Fellowship and named Elizabeth Garner Masarik, Assistant Professor of History, the inaugural fellow.

The aim of the fellowship is to support the research and celebration of women’s contributions to the development of New York State. Throughout her academic career, Masarik’s research has focused largely on women’s history and reform movements in the United States.

Elizabeth Garner Masarik Elizabeth Garner Masarik


While working on Dig: A History Podcast, which she co-produces, Masarik discovered an interesting link between women’s rights activists of the 19th century and unconventional religious practices.

“I was looking at this site on women’s rights, and I found some really interesting people who were suffragists but they were also Spiritualists,” Masarik said. “Spiritualism is essentially the attempt to speak to the dead. There were people called mediums who claimed they could receive messages from the spirit world.”

Spiritualism wasn’t only radical in the religious sense — it was also an inherently feminist take on religion.

“There was no longer a need for a preacher or a priest to interpret religion for its followers. Now mediums — who are mostly women — are able to tap directly into the spiritual world, which kind of turned this idea of patriarchal religion on its head,” Masarik said.

“The purpose is to uncover these connections. How or why did Spiritualism allow women to make connections with other women reformers?”
Elizabeth Garner Masarik

She found that Spiritualism and activism were deeply intertwined well into the 19th and 20th centuries, much later than previously understood. Mediums had strong networks within the women’s rights movements, with figures like Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw working closely with many professed Spiritualists and practicing mediums.

“The purpose is to uncover these connections. How or why did Spiritualism allow women to make connections with other women reformers? Did it shape their worldview to be better leaders? And why is Spiritualism kind of understudied and why are these New York suffragists and Spiritualists that I study unsung heroes?” Masarik explained.

Masarik is using the grant awarded through the fellowship to visit archives across the country as she delves deep into the lives of these New York State Spiritualist women.