Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis received her B.A. from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. from Emory University in 2012. Emiko joined Freedom University as a volunteer faculty member in 2013, and was appointed the organization's first Executive Director in June 2014. In this capacity, Emiko introduced a human rights framework and a horizontal leadership structure with an elected Student Committee and Board of Directors. She also established a movement leadership training program and expanded the curriculum to include courses in wide-ranging academic disciplines chosen by students, including STEM classes, a summer SAT program, and a creative arts program. As an experienced social movement strategist, Emiko works to advance the undocumented student movement by building bridges between undocumented and documented student groups, advocating for fair admissions policies and sanctuary policies in higher education, and cultivating intergenerational relationships between undocumented students and veterans of the Black Freedom Movement. Emiko continues to serve as the Professor of Human Rights, teaching classes in international human rights, social movement theory, and immigration history. As an active public scholar, she writes and lectures frequently on topics such as human rights advocacy, undocumented student activism, workers' rights and economic justice, music and mobilization, and student movements. For her longtime work as a human rights activist and popular education practitioner, Emiko was awarded the Telemundo Héroe Luchadora Award and the Ashoka Fellowship in 2017, and was selected as a Ford Foundation Public Voices Fellow in 2018. Emiko is also an accomplished photographer, violinist, and vocalist, and has performed in Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center with the Grammy award-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus. She enjoys dancing cumbia, being a good friend, and laughing until she cries, and is the proud mom of two rescue dogs.
communityy engagement & volunteer coordinator
Arizbeth Sanchez is an undocumented youth leader originally from Sinaloa, México. Arizbeth joined Freedom University as a student in the Spring of 2014 and has excelled in coursework including Human Rights, Spanish Literature, French, and Drawing and Painting. As the longest serving student member of Freedom University, she has served the organization in a variety of roles, including as an elected student committee member, board member, and co-teacher in the Movement Leadership Training course. Arizbeth has participated in numerous direct actions and was arrested in two acts of civil disobedience protesting Georgia Board of Regents Policies 4.1.6 and 4.3.4, which ban her and other undocumented students from equal access to public higher education in Georgia. As an experienced public speaker, Arizbeth has represented Freedom University at various colleges and universities across the country, including Dartmouth, Harvard, UCLA, Bard College, and Lewis and Clark College. In 2018, she was selected as a Fighting Injustice through Human Rights Education (FIHRE) Fellow at the Highlander Research Center. Arizbeth now serves as a staff member of Freedom University as the Community Engagement and Outreach Coordinator, and works to develop relationships with partner organizations at the local, state, and national levels, as well as with undocumented students and allies. Arizbeth hopes to attend a liberal arts college in the future and study sociology. As a trilingual speaker and artist, she is also interested in linguistics and the creative arts.
Mental Health Coordinator
Dr. Carissa Balderas received her B.A in Psychology from Westmont College, her master’s degree in Couples and Family Therapy from the University of Oregon and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Georgia. Carissa recently completed her doctoral internship at Emory University. Her research and clinical interest include Latinx psychology and mental health for immigrant and minority communities living within the United States. Carissa is currently a postdoctoral psychology fellow in private practice and is honored to serve as Freedom University's mental health coordinator to ensure that undocumented students have access to affordable mental health care. Carissa has also served as a volunteer driver for Freedom University students for the past three years, ensuring that students have safe transportation to and from classes. Carissa is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico.
W. Alex Escobar, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Professor Escobar received his B.S. degree in Genetics from the University of California at Davis and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Santa Cruz. He has over 20 years experience teaching a variety of courses including: general biology, genetics, biochemistry, experimental biology, and most recently a course in perception. He is innovating in the classroom and has recently developed both a flipped and online model to teach biochemistry. Alex is a first-generation immigrant from El Salvador, and is committed to mentoring immigrant youth and sparking their interest in science.
Senior Lecturer, Department of Biology, Emory University
Fernando Esquivel-Suárez, Ph.D.
Professor of Spanish Literature
Professor Esquivel-Suárez received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Spanish from Emory University. His background includes training in cultural studies and philosophy at Universidad Javeriana, in his hometown of Bogota, Colombia. His main research interests focus on African American/Latinx relations, overlapping oppression, and solidarity. His current project analyzes the War on Drugs as a hemispheric phenomenon that disproportionately affects both African American and Afro Colombian communities.
Senior Instructor, Department of World Languages and Literature, Spelman College
Luis González-Barrios, Ph.D.
Professor of Spanish Literature
A specialist in contemporary Spanish literature and culture, Dr. González-Barrios completed his B.A in Humanities from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and his Ph.D. at Indiana University-Bloomington. He has worked as a Visiting Professor at The College of William and Mary and Bennington College, and has taught a variety of courses with a special emphasis on literature, cultural studies, film, and media. Most of his research has focused on the relationship between avant-garde art and politics, particularly during the two decades that preceded the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and its ramifications to the present. Luis' research interests also include border studies, social ecology, and film and media studies, which have inspired a wide array of courses on contemporary topics such as immigration, mass media, and social activism through art.
Assistant Professor, World Languages and Literature, Spelman College
Maira Goytia, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Professor Goytia obtained her B.S. degree in Biochemistry from the University of Paris VII, in Paris, France, and her Ph.D. in Parasitology from the University of Paris VI. After completing her research on Trypanosoma cruzi, at the Institut Pasteur, in Paris, she moved to Atlanta, to study molecular mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance in the sexually-transmitted bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, at Emory University School of Medicine. She currently teaches Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Genomics, and Animal Behavior, at Spelman College. At Spelman, she mentors undergraduate students who study the microbial evolution of commensal and pathogenic Neisseria species, including their interaction with the human host. Maira is Franco-Argentinian, and speaks Spanish at home. Maira is passionate about biological sciences and education, and thrives teaching at Spelman and at FU Georgia.
Assistant Professor, Biology Department, Spelman College
Cindy Lutenbacher, Ph.D.
Professor of Creative Writing
Originally from New Orleans, Professor Lutenbacher has been teaching composition and creative writing at Morehouse College since 1990. She received her MFA in creative writing in 1982 and her Ph.D. in theater in 1989, and she has been passionate about public education since she was seven years old and witnessed her teacher abuse a disabled child. From the early days of the UFW grape and lettuce boycott to the Black Lives Matter movement, her central purpose has been simply: justice. A single mother of two through adoption, she remembers that at the very moment her first daughter was being born in Texas in 1995, she was in downtown Atlanta with a group of protesters, all carrying signs and walking in a circle, chanting, “No human being is illegal.”
Professor, Department of English, Morehouse College
Professor of Visual Art
Charmaine Minniefield draws from indigenous traditions as seen throughout Africa and the Diaspora and her personal connection to women who have played a major role in her life. Her work explores African and African American ritual from a feminist perspective by pulling the past to the present, conversing between spirit space and the physical. Her community-based initiative, The New Freedom Project seeks to preserve black narratives by creating public art in communities affected by gentrification and erasure. Her community murals can be seen at numerous locations in Atlanta. Her recent public work includes projection mapping and site-specific installation. With a degree in Fine Art from Agnes Scott College, Charmaine Minniefield has also served the Atlanta area as an arts administrator for nearly 20 years, holding positions with such arts organizations as the National Black Arts Festival, the High Museum of Art and the Fulton County Department of Art and Culture, producing projects around art and activism with such organizations as Alternate ROOTS, Points of Light and Flux Projects.
Faculty, Department of Art and Visual Culture, Spelman College
Gregg Murray, Ph.D.
Professor of Creative Writing
Professor Murray currently serves as the editor of Muse /A Journal and the managing editor of Real Pants. He has earned B.A. degrees in English and Philosophy (summa cum laude) from the University of Notre Dame and a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Minnesota. In addition to Freedom University, Gregg teaches in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. His essays appear regularly in The Huffington Post and The Fanzine. A practicing poet as well, Gregg has recent work in Caketrain, DIAGRAM, Pank, Birmingham Poetry Review, Carolina Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of Ceviche, from Spittoon Press.
Assistant Professor of English, Georgia State University
Laura Emiko Soltis, Ph.D.
Professor of Human Rights and Movement Leadership
Professor Soltis graduated summa cum laude in 2006 with a bachelor's degree from the University of Georgia, where she was awarded the Foundation Fellowship. Emiko received her PhD from Emory University and wrote her dissertation on the global human rights strategies and local music practices in the mobilization of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an interracial farmworker organization in South Florida. Her research and teaching interests include social movement theory, global studies, music and social movements, U.S. immigration policy, interracial labor history, and racial formation theory. Having served as a longtime student activist, Emiko is committed to mentoring undocumented youth and providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to be effective leaders in their own freedom struggle.
Executive Director, Freedom University
Professor of French
Brendan is a second year PhD student in Comparative Literature at Emory University. He received his B.A. in French and English literatures from Coe College and worked as an English language assistant in the French government’s Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF). Brendan’s research and teaching focuses on the intersections of Francophone and Anglophone literatures of the Black Atlantic in the 20th century. This semester, he is ecstatic to teach Freedom University’s French class in collaboration with fellow Emory graduate student Hugo Bujon.
Graduate Student Instructor, Department of Comparative Literature, Emory University
Tanya Washington, J.D.
Professor of Law
Tanya is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law. After earning her J.D. from The University of Maryland School of Law, Tanya clerked for then Associate Judge Robert M. Bell on the Maryland Court of Appeals. She has been teaching Civil Procedure I and II, Family Law, Education Law and Race and Law at Georgia State for the past twelve years. Her research and scholarship focuses on issues related to educational equity, domestic relations, race and children’s constitutional rights. Tanya has taught comparative law classes for study abroad programs in Brazil, Europe and China. Washington has also led pipeline programs designed to increase enrollment of students of color in U.S. law schools. Her efforts to expand and deepen the pipeline of students entering law school earned her recognition in 2013 as one of 50 minority law professors under 50 making an impact in legal education.
Professor of Law, Georgia State University
Jasmine Ko, MPH
Jasmine received her B.A. in English from Emory University, where she studied Romantic Era British poetry and health sciences. She then received her Master’s in Public Health at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, where she concentrated in epidemiology with a global health focus. Jasmine currently works as a data analyst and research regulatory coordinator for the Rwanda Zambia HIV Research Group in Atlanta, GA. As the child of first generation immigrants from South Korea, she is passionate about health equity and access for immigrants and underserved populations. Jasmine has two years of experience teaching SAT/ACT classes as a Kaplan Test Instructor.
Parth is a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, studying Industrial and Systems Engineering. He is interested in the intersection of logistics and humanitarian aid delivery. As a member of a student-led research team investigating student food insecurity, Parth wrote a white paper outlining specific recommendations for Georgia Tech's administration to improve its resources for food insecure students. He currently works in the Corporate Transportation department at United Parcel Service as part of Georgia Tech's co-op program. Since first teaching mathematics in Freedom University's SAT Summer Bootcamp, Parth has been committed to improving the confidence and ensuring the success of undocumented students.