Yale’s Emily Wang and two alumni win MacArthur ‘genius’ awards
Dr. Emily Wang, a professor at Yale School of Medicine (YSM) and Yale School of Public Health who has worked to improve the health of individuals and communities affected by mass incarceration, has been named a 2022 MacArthur Fellow by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Monica Kim ’00, a historian of the United States and international and diplomatic history, and Tavares Strachan ’06 M.F.A., a conceptual artist whose work intersects art, science, and politics, are also among the 25 individuals to win this year’s MacArthur Fellowship, informally known as the “genius grant.”
The fellowship, which was created in 1981, is presented to individuals in a variety of fields who have shown exceptional originality in and dedication to their creative pursuits. Nominations are submitted anonymously by leaders in their respective fields. Recipients receive a $625,000 stipend paid in installments over five years to continue their creative pursuits.
Wang is the 20th recipient who was actively serving as a Yale faculty or staff member at the time of their award.
After witnessing inequities in health care access as a medical student volunteering in a women’s prison in North Carolina and working in a prison in Botswana, Wang co-founded a primary care program for individuals released from incarceration. The program employed community health workers with prior incarceration who helped individuals obtain insurance, navigate the health care system, and connect with housing and employment. The program, under the leadership of Dr. Shira Shavit, grew nationally into the Transitions Clinic Network, where Wang continues to direct research activities.
Once on the faculty at Yale, Wang turned her attention to understanding whether something about incarceration itself makes people more prone to worse health outcomes. Her research program now focuses on cardiovascular disease, cancer, opioid use disorder, gun violence, and COVID-19, and she has partnered directly with those impacted.
“We started to ask new scientific questions,” Wang said. “Instead of pathologizing incarcerated people (how do we ‘fix them’?), we started asking what’s protective in communities and what health system structures and policies promote health. Centering the expertise of impacted people is not only just, but also makes our science more accurate and solutions-oriented.”
In 2020, Wang and her team launched the SEICHE Center for Health and Justice, a collaboration between YSM and Yale Law School that works toward community transformation by identifying legal, policy, and practice levers to improve the health of those impacted by mass incarceration.
Wang has also served as co-chair for the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s committee on “Decarcerating during COVID-19.” She currently serves on the World Health Organization’s Health in Prisons Programme, and recently co-led a curriculum for European prison health providers.
“Dr. Wang’s work translating her clinical experience with individuals who were incarcerated into hypothesis-driven and impactful research embodies the School of Medicine’s commitment to improving the health of all people,” said Dr. Nancy J. Brown, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine.
Monica Kim, who holds the William Appleman Williams and David G. and Marion S. Meissner Chair in U.S. International and Diplomatic History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was lauded by the MacArthur Foundation for “uncovering new insights into U.S. foreign policy in the context of global decolonization after World War II.”
Through a focus on perspectives beyond American state actors, according to the foundation, she has reoriented the understanding of U.S. foreign policy during and after the Korean War.
Kim is the author of “The Interrogation Rooms of the Korea War: The Untold Story” (2019), which draws on archival evidence and Kim’s own interviews with interrogators to analyze the incarceration and interrogation of prisoners of war during the armistice negotiations. The work reveals the roles of race, class, identity, and citizenship in the regional conflict. Her current book project, “The World That Hunger Made: The Koreas, the United States, and Afro-Asia,” examines economic development as a tool of foreign policy and international influence.
Tavares Strachan’s artistic practice is based in New York and in The Bahamas. The MacArthur Foundation cited his work “expanding the possibilities for what art can be and illuminating overlooked contributions of marginalized figures throughout history.”
In his art, Strachan explores themes of visibility and invisibility, and he is known for making exploration an “integral component” of his practice, according to the MacArthur Foundation. For his early piece “The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want “ (2005-2006), he traveled to the Arctic, where he extracted a 4 ½-ton of ice and had it shipped FedEx to The Bahamas. There, it was displayed on the grounds of Strachan’s former elementary school in a solar-powered refrigerated case made in consultation with scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
His 2018 work “Encyclopedia of Invisibility” documents thousands of marginalized individuals throughout history whose work and accomplishments have been left out of official records. For a 2018 exhibition, he installed neon signs of individuals’ names from his “Encyclopedia” on the exterior frieze of the Carnegie Museum of Art. The names, which included the first Black polar explorer Matthew Henson and the rapper Tupac Shakur, were situated among those of famous historical figures that are carved into stone, such as Benjamin Franklin and Beethoven. Strachan’s work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at various national and international venues, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Venice Biennale.
More about this year’s winners, including video interviews with the honorees, can be found on the MacArthur Fellowship website.
Susan Gonzalez contributed to this report.