About me

I’m currently a student in the joint MD/PhD program in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to my time at Penn, I studied at the College of William and Mary, where I was a Murray 1693 Scholar and graduated in 2011 with a self-designed major in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and a second major in Anthropology.

As an undergrad at William & Mary, I spent much of my time in biology labs, studying molecular biology through the intricacies of protein signaling pathways. This work culminated in my honors thesis. I subsequently spent a brief time at Merck Research Laboratories, where I discovered that while I was passionate about the molecular pathways that lead to disease, I yearned to know more about the other paths – historical, social, political-economic – that so structure patterns of poor health and illness.  These interests led me to combined study of medicine and anthropology.

My work explores the discourses, structural issues, and everyday practices that contribute to health inequality, with a particular emphasis on race, gender, and sexuality. Theoretically and politically, I am influenced by critical race theory, feminist and queer of color critique, and postcolonial studies. Combining my interests in Africa & the diaspora, migration, humanitarianism, and the anthropology of the state, my current research explores the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers in Philadelphia and the institutions designed to care for them.

Aside from research, I am passionate about interdisciplinary collaboration, education at all levels, and service. Influenced by my trajectory from the life sciences to the social sciences and medicine, I explored interdisciplinary collaboration through programs like the Emerging Leaders in Science and Society program and the Perry World House Graduate Fellowship. I am also passionate about education at the undergraduate, graduate, and medical school levels.

In my non-academic life, I’m a voracious reader and lifelong diarist, consume way too much tea and coffee for my own good, and feel lucky to call the city of Brotherly Love my home.




Want to get in touch? Email me at michelle.munyikwa [at] gmail.com or find me on twitter @mrmunyikwa.


I found my research by accident; actually, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the work found me. I started working with refugees and asylum seekers at a critical moment when Black Lives Matter and the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the news. I began to wonder what it means to provide care – social services, health care, employment assistance, community therapy – in a city like Philadelphia at a time when race, citizenship, and belonging are such a large part of the national imaginary, especially as ultra right-wing movements gained prominence across Europe and in the United States. I wanted to know what it would look like to place the care of refugees in the context of broader patterns of racial discrimination and state-sanctioned violence.

Responding to that, my current research explores the intersection of care and governance in Philadelphia through the lens of displacement, beginning with an ethnographic study of refugees and the institutions in Philadelphia that serve them. I analyze Philadelphia as a place formed through migration and displacement, from successive refugee migrations beginning in the 20th century to other movements, like the Great Migration, that have shaped demographic patterns and social life in the city of Brotherly Love. Drawing from a large, diverse archive that brings news, personal narratives and oral histories, and cultural representations both past and present into conversation with semi-structured interviews and ethnographic participant-observation at multiple sites, my work strives to understand what making refuge looks like and for whom asylum is possible.

My analytic framework draws from literatures about humanitarianism, affect, and the anthropology of the state to understand how refugee resettlement in Philadelphia is inflected with the politics of race, gender, and class.  Drawing from feminist theory and queer of color critique, I explore comparative racialization through a framework that recognizes how groups are racialized with respect to one another through competing racial formations at the same time that it accounts for heterogeneity within racial categories. I do so through a particular attentiveness to state bureaucratic processes, from welfare applications to public health management, as they are negotiated by healthcare providers, case workers, and volunteers, not to mention refugees and asylum seekers themselves.

As a Black woman, an immigrant, and a future health care provider, I try to think carefully about the social, political, and economic dynamics that care – however well-intentioned – both shapes and is shaped by. I’m also hopeful that in theorizing displacement and refuge, we can reconsider what justice can and should look like for racialized people. Thinking as such might allow us to imagine a reparative politics that offers new possibilities for the future.

For a different articulation of what I study, here’s a blurb about my work on Anthro News.



Download:: Munyikwa CV [updated January 2020]



University of Pennsylvania

exp. 2021          MD, Perelman School of Medicine

2019                  PhD, Cultural Anthropology

College of William and Mary

2011                 B.S. Interdisciplinary Studies, Self-Designed (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology) & B.A. Anthropology

Awards, Grants & Fellowships

2018 – 2019      American Fellowship for Dissertation Completion, American Association of University Women [declined]

2018 – 2019      Dissertation Completion Fellowship, University of Pennsylvania

2018                 Kathryn Davis Fellow for Peace, Middlebury Language School

2017 – 2018    Perry World House Graduate Fellow, Program on Global Shifts, Urbanization, Migration, and Demography, University of Pennsylvania

2017                Graduate and Professional Student Association Research Travel Grant, University of Pennsylvania

2016 – 2017    Hopkinson Fellowship, University of Pennsylvania

2016                Martin Luther King Community Involvement Student Award, University of Pennsylvania

2016 – 2017    Dissertation Research Fellowship Fieldwork Grant, University of Pennsylvania

2015 – 2016    Judith and William Bollinger Fellow, University of Pennsylvania

2014 – 2015    Emerging Leaders in Science and Society Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

2013 – 2021    Medical Scientist Training Program Grant, National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the NIH, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

2013 – 2017    Benjamin Franklin Fellowship for Graduate Education, University of Pennsylvania

2011                Phi Beta Kappa, College of William and Mary

2011                Gamble Scholarship (full tuition), University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

2010                UNCF-Merck Undergraduate Science and Research Scholarship Award

2007                Murray Scholarship (now 1693 Scholarship), College of William & Mary

2010              UNCF•Merck Undergraduate Science and Research Scholarship Award


Under review

Munyikwa, Michelle. “Racializing Refugee Medicine.” An invited contribution to a special issue of Science, Technology, and Human Values on “Race as a Ghost Variable in Biomedical Research.”


Dao DK*, Goss AL*, Hoekzema AS*, Kelly LA*, Logan AA*, Mehta SD*, Sandesara UN*, Munyikwa MR, DeLisser HM. (2018) “Integrating Theory, Content, and Method to Foster Critical Consciousness in Medical Students: A Comprehensive Model for Cultural Competence Training”. Academic Medicine. (*co-first authors)

Munyikwa, MR. Review: Anthropology of Infectious Disease by Merrill Singer. (2015) Emerging Infectious Diseases 21(10): 1890.

Flowers BM, Rusnak LE, Wong KE, Banks DA, Munyikwa MR, et al. (2014) The Pseudophosphatase MK-STYX Induces Neurite-Like Outgrowths in PC12 Cells. PLoS ONE 9(12): e114535. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114535

Barr, Justinn; Munyikwa, Michelle; Frazier, Elizabeth; Hinton, Shanta. (2012) The Pseudophosphatase MK-STYX Inhibits Stress Granule Assembly Independently of Ser149 Phosphorylation of G3BP-1. FEBS Journal.

Bondzi, C., Brunner, A. M., Munyikwa, M. R., Connor, C. D., Simmons, A. N., Stephens, S. L., Belt, P. A., Roggero, V. R., Mavinakere, M. S., Hinton, S. D., and Allison, L.A. (2011) Recruitment of the oncoprotein v-ErbA to aggresomes. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology.

Non-peer reviewed articles and blog posts:

       Munyikwa, MR. “asylum/human: a meditation in 8 parts.” Tendon Mag. June 2019.

Munyikwa, MR. “Vigilance as coping, vigilance as injury.” Somatosphere. March 2019.

Munyikwa, MR. Interview with Mariam Durrani for Anthropological Airwaves. 2017.

Munyikwa, MR. “Racialization, Affect, and Refuge.” Anthropology News. February 2017.

ELISS Fellows*. “Reimagining Epidemic Communications”. DomPrep Journal, December 16, 2015.  (*Erion, Grubert, Mosbah, Munyikwa, Paul, Train; all authors contributed equally)

Munyikwa, MR. “(Hi)stories our bodies tell: Experiencing racism”. Guest post on Absolutely, Maybe, A Scientific American Blog. March 9, 2014.

Munyikwa, MR. “Vulnerability as Strength: Thoughts on Changing Medicine’s Hidden Curriculum”. Guest post on Absolutely, Maybe, a Scientific American Blog. February 19, 2014.

Munyikwa, MR. “Out from the shadows of racist anthropology.” Guest post on Absolute, Maybe, a Scientific American Blog. February 22, 2014.


Analyst: Topos Partnership. Performed short-term qualitative field studies on key issues in the political landscape, such as labor reform and gender equality.

Research Assistant: Investigation and Characterization of the Pseudophosphatase MK-STYX (PI: Shanta Hinton, PhD – College of William and Mary Department of Biology)  Investigated the action of a novel protein, MK-STYX upon stress granules and the differentiation of neuronal cells. This research was the subject of a culminating undergraduate thesis. Click here to read the final product.

Research Intern: Merck Future Talent Program, Boston MA  (PI: Astrid Kral, Merck Research Laboratories Department of Oncology)   Assisted in purification and biochemical characterization of mutated enzymes key in cancer development. These enzymes were then used to test potential chemotherapeutic inhibitors.

Research Assistant: Recruitment of the Oncoprotein v-ErbA to Aggresomes (PI: Lizabeth Allison, PhD – College of William and Mary Department of Biology)  

Selected Scholarly Participation

Invited Lectures


“Structural Competency and Medical Practice.” University of Pennsylvania Student Health Services. Philadelphia, PA. March 2019.


“Intersections of Health & Justice.” Philadelphia Human Rights Clinic Speaker Series. Philadelphia, PA. December 2018.

“Structural Competency: Anthropological Perspectives on Health.” Co-presented with Utpal Sandesara at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. September 2018.

“Inequality, Racial Justice, & Global Health: Grappling with our complicity.” Internal Medicine Resident Workshop, Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Boston, MA. May 2018.

“‘Locating Refuge: Refugee Resettlement, Race, and Belonging in the Contemporary United States.” Anthropology Colloquium Series, University of Delaware. Newark, DE. May 2018.

Ethnographic Field Methods. Workshop given to the Creative Resilience Collective. Slought Foundation. April 2018.


Invited Lecturer, “Refugees in Philadelphia,” Central High School. Philadelphia, PA. March 2017.


Invited Panelist. The Voices: Black Girls and Women Speaking Out at the Summit on Black Girls and Women in Education. Philadelphia, PA. April 2015.

Panels Organized


“Black Feminist Health Science Studies: Exploring New Possibilities.” 2019 Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science. New Orleans, LA.


“(under)exposed: ethnographic investigations of racialized recognition, refusal, and elision.” Panel co-organized with Sara Rendell for the American Ethnological Society Conference on the theme “Exposure.” Stanford, CA. March 2017

Papers and Posters Presented


“Projects and Projections of Care for Human Rights in Detention and Resettlement.” with Sara Rendell. Presentation accepted for presentation at the National Conference for Physician-Scholars in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Ann Arbor, MI.

“Intersections of Anthropology and Medical Education.” with Josh Franklin and Utpal Sandesara. Presentation at MD/PhD Grand Rounds, University of Pennsylvania.


“Working with and For Immigrants and Refugees in the Era of Zero Tolerance: Practical, Ethical, and Theoretical Challenges.” Panel presentation at the American Anthropological Association 117th Annual Meeting on the theme “Resistance, Resilience, Adaptation.” San Jose, CA. November 2018.

“Locating Refuge.” American Studies Association conference on the theme “States of Emergence.” November 2018.

“’It’s a sin to be a woman, to be black’: Imagining Sites of Refuge from Blackness.” Princeton African American Studies Conference on the Theme “’i am my ancestors’ wildest dreams’: Contemporary Cultures of Black Impossibility. Princeton, NJ. October 2018.

“between a rock and a hard place: locating refuge.” Society for Cultural Anthropology/Society for Visual Anthropology Joint Conference on the Theme “Displacements.” April 2018.

“For a New and More Possible Meeting: Theorizing Afropessoptimism in Sites of Care.” Participation in Portraits of Black Women at the Intersections of Science, Medicine, and Media. Black Portraiture[s] IV Conference on the Theme “The Color of Silence.” Cambridge, MA. March 2018.

“On the Comparative Racialization of Refuge: a Response to the Work of Jemima Pierre.” Scholar for a Day, Conference in honor of Jemima Pierre, University of Pennsylvania. February 2018.


“Resilient communities, resilient city: Risk, refugees, and race in Philadelphia.” Accepted for presentation at the American Anthropological Association 116th Annual Meeting on the theme “Anthropology matters”. Washington, DC. November 2017.

“Political Diagnosis: Illness Narratives as a Site for Resistance.” Workshop co-presented with Sourik Beltràn at the 4th Annual Racism and Health Conference, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA. November 2017.

“Racializing Refugees: On Medical Practice & Research.” 2017 Meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science. Boston, MA. August 2017.

“Freedom Dreams: Thinking Refuge as an Imaginative Tool for the Anthropocene.” An Ecotopian Toolkit for the Anthropocene, conference at the University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA. April 2017.

“Refugees and the Emergency Room.” Poster presented at Health Equity Week, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA. April 2017.

“’I Just call 911…’: Refugees and the Emergency Department.” Co-presented with Amy Zeidan and Utsha Khatri at Emergency Medicine Research Day, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA. April 2017.

“‘it’s a sin to be a woman, to be black’: on asylum and difference.” American Ethnological Society Conference on the theme “Exposure”. Stanford, CA. March 2017.


“‘Making a Difference’: Imagining Humanitarianism in Philadelphia.” American Anthropological Association 115th Annual Meeting on the theme “Evidence, Accident & Discovery”. Minneapolis, MN. November 2016.

“Toward a Decolonial Practice of Refugee Women’s Health.” National Women’s Studies Association Meeting on the theme “Decoloniality.” Montreal, Quebec, CA. November 2016.

“Seeking Refuge: Black Americans Seeking the Otherwise.” New School for Social Research, Anthropology Student Conference on the theme “Refuge.” New York, NY. April 30.

“Refuge from Blackness: On the Case of Kyle Lydell Canty.” University of Pennsylvania Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Conference on the theme “Protest.” Philadelphia, PA. April 21.


“Writing Our Worlds: Creating Narratives for Social Justice.” Co-presented with Irène Mathieu at Examined Life Conference. Iowa City, Iowa.

Training & Professional Development

2019                 Summer Institute on GIS and Public Health, University of Pennsylvania

2018                 Course in College Teaching, University of Pennsylvania Center for Teaching & Learning

2018                 Middlebury Language School: French, Middlebury College

2018                 Text Analysis, Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching, University of Pennsylvania

2017                Python for Humanists, University of Pennsylvania Price Lab/Wolf Humanities Center

2014                NSF Summer Institute for Research Design in Cultural Anthropology

2012                LGBT Health Student Symposium, Chicago


Instructor of Record

2019                 Introduction to Medical Anthropology, University of Delaware

2018                Introduction to Medical Anthropology, Haverford College

Teaching Assistantships

2015                Global Health, Anthropological Perspectives, University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Adriana Petryna

2015                Becoming Human, University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Janet Monge

2014                Introduction to Medical Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Fran Barg

2013                Facilitator. Doctoring IA: Introduction to Medicine and Society, Perelman School of Medicine

Other positions

2015 – 2017    Graduate Fellow. Center for Africana Studies Summer Institute for Pre-Freshmen, University of Pennsylvania

2014 – 2015    Course Liaison/Co-Director. Doctoring IA: Introduction to Medicine and Society, Perelman School of Medicine


2017 – pres.     Contributing Section Editor. Association of Black Anthropologists Section, Anthropology News, American Anthropological Association.

2016 – pres.     Health Ecologies Lab Core Team Member. University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice and Slought; director: Aaron Levy, PhD.

2017                Volunteer Health Educator. Multicultural Community Family Services, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.

2015 – pres.     Co-webmaster. Penn Anthropology Graduate Student Blog.

2015                Co-organizer. 6th National Conference for Physician-Scholars in the Social Sciences and Humanities

2014 – 2016    Student Volunteer Co-Coordinator. Women’s Refugee Clinic, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

2014 – pres.     Student Volunteer. Penn Human Rights Clinic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

2011 – 2012    Co-Coordinator. Cut Hypertension Clinic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.