Erica Kohl-Arenas

Erica Kohl-Arenas

Faculty Director

Erica Kohl-Arenas is the faculty director of Imagining America and serves on the UC Davis faculty as Associate Professor in the Department of American Studies. Kohl-Arenas brings extensive experience as a cultural organizer and public scholar with deep knowledge of the national landscape of community engagement and organizational and social movement studies; she reflects on the current importance of public scholarship and IA’s new chapter in a Q&A with the UC Davis Humanities Institute. Previously, Kohl-Arenas was a member of the faculty of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, an­d Urban Policy at The New School in New York City where she was awarded tenure in May 2017. Kohl-Arenas was the inaugural recipient of The New School’s Achievements in Social Justice Teaching Award in 2014, and also received The New School Distinguished University Teaching Award in 2016.

Kohl-Arenas has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Reed College, and she completed a master’s degree in community and regional development at UC Davis before earning a doctorate in social and cultural studies in education at UC Berkeley in 2010. Both as a researcher and community development practitioner, she has worked extensively with farmworker and immigrant organizations in California’s Central Valley. She was one of the organizers of the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Project (of the Pan Valley Institute, American Friends Service Committee), a multiethnic cultural collaborative and festival in the Central Valley. She has engaged in action research and community-building projects in the coal-mining towns of Appalachia, in urban public schools, through community-university partnerships in New York City, and, internationally, in southern Africa, Scotland and Wales.

Kohl-Arenas’ scholarship and teaching focus on critical studies of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, participatory community development, grassroots social movements and cultural organizing. Her recent book, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty (University of California Press, 2016), reveals how philanthropy maintains systems of inequality through case studies of philanthropic investments in farmworker and immigrant communities in California’s Central Valley. Her scholarship appears in a diversity of publications including Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, Social Movement Studies, Journal of Poverty, Geography Compass, Public: A Journal of Imagining America and public scholarship platforms including HistPhil and Transformation (at Open Democracy). In 2016, she joined a cohort of leaders in rural Kentucky for a summer forum focused on IA’s national economic and cultural development initiative, Performing Our Future.

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Follow Erica on Twitter @ericakohl