2019 AAS Senior Spotlight and Thesis

June 12, 2019

Micah Richard Herskind

Buffalo, New York  

Micah Herskind, from Buffalo, NY, is a member of the Class of 2019 focusing on Race and Public Policy while pursuing a certificate in the American Studies Program. Micah was drawn to the African American Studies department through his involvement with Students for Prison Education and Reform (SPEAR) and summer internships, where he has learned about the carceral state’s disproportionate impact on people of color and those living in poverty.

His research interests include exploring the reproduction of social and racial inequality through 21st century reform efforts and modern developments in public policy, and he hopes to pursue independent research and a career that allow him to find his place in national and global struggles for prison abolition and social justice. While he is unsure where that may take him, he is interested in pursuing a law degree and continuing to grapple with the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and privilege. In addition to serving as co-president of SPEAR, Micah has served as an LGBT Peer Educator, is a proud member of Princeton’s interfaith group and the Episcopal Church at Princeton, and is co-founder of Progressive Christians at Princeton.

Senior Thesis

Decoding Decarceration: Race, Risk, and Reform in New Jersey, 1986-2017

His thesis examines the twenty-first century criminal justice reform movement, arguing that—despite unbridled fanfare over bipartisan reform—the recent reform movement has entrenched the carceral state and more deeply intertwined Blackness and criminality.

Advisor: Naomi Murakawa


Senior Graduation pciture


Micah Herskind


Cierra Belize Robson

Boston, Massachusetts

Cierra Robson is pursuing the Race and Public Policy track within the African American Studies department, as well as a certificate in the Technology and Society Program. She is most interested in the ways in which advances in science and technology can mold global conceptions and depictions of race and race relations. Cierra was originally drawn to the department after her work in Boston’s Museum of African American History as a senior in high school, and solidified her decision to join the department after studying mass incarceration at the Harvard Kennedy School in the summer of 2016. In the summer of 2017, Cierra completed an internship with the Intellectual Property Operations Team at Facebook, studying international intellectual property law. Outside of her course of study, Cierra is a member of the Undergraduate Board of Advisors for the African American Studies Department, an appointed member of the Undergraduate Student Government’s Diversity and Equity Committee, a Project Leader for the Community House After School Program (CHASA), and the Co-Editor in Chief of an online and print publication called The Stripes. After she completes her undergraduate course of study, Cierra hopes to continue her studies in a graduate school program, and eventually work to create global socially sustainable businesses.

Senior Thesis

In the Eye of the Shareholder: Racialized Surveillance Capitalism in Oakland, California

This work explores how the practice of racialized surveillance in Oakland, California relates to broader national and global economic and political priorities. Focusing on the construction of a city-wide surveillance called the “Domain Awareness Center”. She is interested in how these priorities are used to justify enhanced surveillance of racialized populations.

Advisor: Ruha Benjamin

Cierra Robson

Cierra Robson

Cierra Robson



Sadie Van Vranken

Denver, Colorado

Sadie Van Vranken is concentrating in African American Studies with a focus on Race and Public Policy. Her initial interest in the department developed during a summer internship studying the intersection of theology and race. As she further explored the department, she was most interested in pursuing independent study of the history of racial policy in the United States and the history of black radicalism.

She is also pursuing studies in French and Arabic and is interested in connecting her studies in the AAS department with global questions of race and power. On campus, Sadie is involved in Princeton’s Christian a cappella group and Princeton Christian Fellowship. After Princeton, Sadie is considering going to graduate school, teaching high school history classes, or going to law school.

Senior Thesis

Controlling Freedom and Constructing Black Criminality: Gallows Literature and the Black Civic Voice in the Antebellum North

This thesis examines the pamphlets produced following the execution of African Americans in the antebellum North, arguing that gallows literature allowed for the elevation or silencing of the criminal’s voice. Gallows literature played a key part in the debate over the meaning of black freedom in the wake of the first emancipation.

Advisor: Tera Hunter

Sadie Van Vranken

Sadie Van Vranken

Sadie Van Vranken