Keish Kim

Keish Kim Begins as Rutgers Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in Fall 2023

Growing up as an undocumented immigrant in Georgia after emigrating with her parents to the U.S. from South Korea at age 8, Eun-Jin Keish Kim knows firsthand what it means to feel unsafe and excluded. As a young girl and adolescent she lived in fear, feeling like she could be deported at any moment. In 2011 she and other undocumented youths were banned from attending the University of Georgia (UGA) system’s top-five schools and were required to pay out-of-state tuition for other public higher-ed institutions throughout the state.

Against all odds, Kim went on to earn a B.A. from Syracuse University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, and last year served as a postdoctoral Fellow in American Studies at Rutgers University–Newark and New Brunswick as part of the 2022-2023 cohort of the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice (ISGRJ).

Kim, whose work focuses on Queer Studies, Immigration and Social Justice, will remain part of the RU-N community for the foreseeable future. Starting in fall 2023, she’ll begin a two-year term as a Rutgers University Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow in Race, Racism, and Inequality as part of RU-N's Department of English.

“I am very excited to envision the academic community I will be part of for the next two years,” said Kim. “I hope to continue to learn and build with the students, faculty and staff at RU-N.”

Kim will spend the bulk of her time during the fellowship focusing on her research and book manuscript, which will examine on 21st-century undocumented and queer immigrant cultural production and political organizing to understand issues of rights, citizenship and belonging in the U.S. She’ll also teach two spring-semester courses over the next two years, which she’s currently developing: one on Asian Pacific Literature and another on Asian American Feminism, Disability and Intersectionality. And she’ll continue to work on a digital humanities project, “A Revolutionary Love Letter” podcast, focusing on queer undocumented immigrant artists and organizers in the 21st century.

Kim has immersed herself since arriving at RU-N in 2022 and has felt very much at home here.

During her ISGRJ year, she taught an American Studies undergraduate course on Queer Immigration in American Culture. She moderated a panel for the Sawyer Seminar on Black Citizenship that took place in March at Express Newark. She’s also worked with Associate Professor Lauren Shallish, of the Urban Education department, to expand Disability Studies course offerings.

Distinguished Professor Belinda Edmondson, Chair of RU-N's English department and lead organizer of the Sawyer Seminar series, has worked with Kim and seen up-close her commitment to RU-N's values, as well as the breadth and depth of her scholarly interests, which span many related subject areas.

“We are lucky to have with us incoming Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow Keish Kim,” said Edmondson. “She spent last year as an ISGRJ postdoc in American Studies in Newark and New Brunswick, but her interdisciplinary focus and areas of research are particularly to where English—and indeed all the humanities—are headed.”

I am very excited to envision the academic community I will be part of for the next two years. I hope to continue to learn and build with the students, faculty and staff at RU-N.

Kim’s road to RU-N and her ability to beat the odds are compelling.

While growing up in Georgia, Kim was never able to express herself or do what she wanted without feeling like a criminal or suspect.  After high school, she was ineligible for in-state tuition, federal grants, loans and scholarships and struggled as her dream of attending college eluded her. It was then that she “came out” as undocumented and began fighting for change.

In lieu of an accredited college, Kim attended Freedom University, an ad hoc effort founded in 2011 by four University of Georgia (UGA) professors to provide tuition-free college classes to undocumented youths after the UGA system erected barriers to higher education for this vulnerable population. She also co-founded the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA) to raise awareness of immigration issues and advocate for legislative change in the state. In 2012, before starting her freshman year at Syracuse University, she testified before the Georgia State Senate Judiciary Committee to prevent additional restrictive legislation from passing.

At the time, Kim said, “I came out as an undocumented immigrant because I could no longer lie to myself. I wanted to stand up to my fear and take charge of my life. I became an activist because I wanted other Asian undocumented youth to see that there is a Korean undocumented out there as well and that they are not alone in this struggle.”

Kim’s desire to remain at RU-N and play an integral role in its community traces back to these early struggles and triumphs. She identifies with many RU-N students, believes in the campus’ diversity-and-inclusion efforts, and looks forward to engaging in issues both inside and outside the classroom.

“I come from a working-class immigrant background. I spent my youth organizing for change, and I extend the ethos to my classrooms,” said Kim. “RU-N’s vision for education aligns with my own. I am energized by RU-N’s commitment to fostering community within Newark and beyond, I value and respect local organizing for justice and equity, inside and outside the classroom, and I am excited to grow with everyone here.”