Dr. Yolanda Covington-Ward is an Associate Professor of Africana Studies, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Anthropology. She is also an affiliated faculty member in the Global Studies Center, the African Studies Program, and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Programs at the University of Pittsburgh.
Born and raised in the South Bronx, NY and the first in her family to attend college, Dr. Covington-Ward attended Strath Haven High School in Pennsylvania through the A Better Chance Program and then Brown University in Providence, RI on an academic scholarship. One of a select number of students accepted to Brown University’s Medical School through its Program in Liberal Medical Education, she graduated from Brown with honors with a B.A. in Afro-American Studies. Based on study abroad and research experiences in Ghana and Panama, she decided to forgo medical school and instead pursue Masters and Ph.D degrees in Anthropology at the University of Michigan. She has been the recipient of a number of prestigious fellowships and honors, including the Ron Brown Scholarship, a Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholarship, an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, Rackham Merit Fellowship, an Institute for the Humanities Fellowship, a Fulbright fellowship, a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, and most recently she has been selected as a Pitt Faculty Fellow at the Humanities Center at the University of Pittsburgh.
Her research places the body at the center of human experience, and focuses on the dynamic multidirectional relationship between physical bodies and group identity. She first examined questions of the influence of the body on group identity through an article on Black girl’s games in the Bronx and their impact on notions of womanhood. Her most extensive interrogation of how the body influences group belonging was through ethnographic and archival research on religious movements in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in her new book Gesture and Power: Religion, Nationalism, and Everyday Performance in Congo (Duke University Press, December 2016). Her second book project, tentatively titled Transforming Communities, Recreating Selves: Performance and Immigrant Identity Formation in the Liberian Diaspora looks at similar themes of embodiment and group identity formation among Liberian immigrants in Greater Pittsburgh and the United States more generally. She also has multiple projects looking at the impact of group identity on the physical health of the body, including an ongoing study on stress among African immigrants in Pittsburgh and a completed study on the everyday experiences of African direct care workers in Pittsburgh. She has previously published in the journals Africa Today, Women and Performance, Transforming Anthropology, The Journal of Africana Religions, The Journal of Black Studies, The Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, among others, and has forthcoming articles in The Journal of International Migration and Integration and the Journal of Healthcare for the Poor and Underserved. She is also the author of several book chapters as well, and is currently co-editing a volume on Embodiment and Relationality in Religions of Africa and the Diaspora with Jeanette Jouili.
At the University of Pittsburgh, she teaches courses such as Introduction to Africana Studies, Cultures of Africa, Women of Africa and the African Diaspora, Power and Performance in Africa, and Global Diasporas: Contemporary African and Caribbean Migration. Demonstrating her commitment to performance as a source of transformation, she encourages her students to embody what they are learning and to embrace performance as a way of accessing and understanding embodied knowledge.