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The Old Well, with South Building in the background and a tree branch in bloom in the foreground.
(photo by Jon Gardiner)

The Graduate School has named Kumarini “Kumi” Silva as the Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Distinguished Professor for Graduate EducationSilva’s three-year term will begin on July 1, 2024.

Silva is an associate professor in the department of communication, housed within the College of Arts and Sciences, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses. Silva also serves as an adjunct associate professor in the department of women’s and gender studies and is an affiliate of the department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies. 

As the Royster Distinguished Professor, Silva will be responsible for providing the overall academic vision for the premier doctoral fellowship at the University. Silva was drawn to the Royster Society of Fellows due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of the fellowship. Silva’s own interdisciplinary research is based in cultural theory and cultural politics of identity.  

“I read about something that’s not specific to my research or specifically in my area; there’s something from that work that I can draw. There’s always a connection. I love that,” she said.  

Headshot of Kumarini Silva
Kumarini “Kumi” Silva

The University’s reputation in research and a desire to invest in its graduate students drew Silva to UNC-Chapel Hill 13 years ago.  

“Royster has always been something that shaped my introduction to UNC-Chapel Hill,” Silva said. “My very first semester here, the Royster professorship was held by Julia Wood. She invited me to a seminar of Royster fellows to talk about job interviews and the process as a new faculty member who had just arrived. It was amazing to have these conversations with people who are so invested and interested.”  

During her tenure as Royster professor, Silva hopes to see the annual Royster Global conference continue to expand to additional countries. She also wants to encourage Royster fellows to team-teach an interdisciplinary first-year seminar 

“Three students from three different areas who approach a subject together and think about it. That is really about furthering knowledge production. That’s an enduring kind of impact.” 

Silva looks forward to getting to know the nearly 100 Royster fellows, learning about their lives and the connections between their lives and their research.  

“That is one of the great joys in my life. I don’t think we should separate our research from a sense of self, who we are and our lives. I find it wonderful to learn about how people got to where they are and why they are doing what they do.”  

As the sixth Royster professor, Silva will assume duties from Tori Ekstrand, associate professor in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media.  

The Royster Society of Fellows was created through the vision and generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas S. Royster in 1996. Beth Mayer-Davis, Ph.D., is dean at The Graduate School, which was founded in 1903. 

By The Graduate School

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