Kassahun Kebede Chosen for Chertok Professorship

October 18, 2023

Eastern Washington University’s College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences recently announced that Kassahun Kebede, PhD, associate professor of sociology, has been selected as the recipient of the prestigious Jeffers W. Chertok Memorial Endowed Professorship.

This distinguished professorship was established to honor the life and legacy of Jeffers W. Chertok. Chertok made a significant impact during his 34-year tenure at Eastern Washington University.

The Chertok Professorship is funded through gifts from private donors, including the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation, and a match from the state of Washington. The professorship is focused on classic social science theory, with an emphasis on the origins of thought.

At EWU, Kebede teaches courses related to global migration, medical sociology/anthropology, global social problems, social science research methods and social theory.

His experience as an educator and researcher, both in Ethiopia and the United States, spans more than twenty years. As the newly appointed Chertok Professor, Kebede intends to spark meaningful discussions about topics related to immigration and refugees, while also establishing an EWU migration research and outreach program.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about refugees and immigrants – particularly refugees. So, this professorship will provide a chance to really dispel some of those misconceptions and misunderstandings about global population movements,” said Kebede, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia as a young adult. He earned his doctoral degree at Syracuse University in 2012.

Immigrants make up just 14 percent of the U.S. population, he explains, yet they “significantly contribute to the American culture, the American economy and American politics.” For instance, he points out, nearly a third of U.S. doctors were born in other countries, while half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

Kerryn Bell, PhD, sociology chair, noted in her nomination letter that Kebede’s research will provide valuable insights into how current anti-immigrant sentiments and the Black Lives Matter movement are shaping ethnic and racial identities.

Kebede will engage undergraduate and graduate students in interdisciplinary research, with a focus on global migration. The research will support forums, both on the Cheney campus and at the Spokane Public Library in Spokane, that will explore real-life stories of immigrants in our community and are facilitated by experts.

Additionally, Kebede plans to collaborate with Andrew Chanse, executive director of Spokane Public Library, for community outreach activities and to support Libraries for Ethiopia, a nonprofit he founded to create safe centers with books, computers and activities that support self-expression and learning.

Florian Preisig, PhD, acting dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, said Kebede’s proposal stood out for its focus on immigration, which is both timely and community-oriented, his plan to integrate the work into teaching to benefit students and support retention, and his collaborative approach to include other faculty and units.

The Chertok Professorship has a history of providing unique opportunities for students while enhancing the reputation of the university and benefitting the greater community.

For instance, Matthew Anderson, professor of urban and regional planning, political science and public policy, is wrapping up his 2-year Chertok Professorship, during which he led students in extensive research into Spokane’s homeless crisis. His team’s research, done in partnership with the city of Spokane, explored underlying contributors to homelessness in the greater context of a shortage of affordable housing.

Anderson’s contributions as a professor helped EWU Urban and Regional Planning earn the “Top #6” ranking for small city planning programs in America in the 7th Edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs.

As the Chertok Professorship torch is passed to Kebede, he is well-positioned to make an impact.

During the course of his academic career, Kebede has collaborated with Bath University, the University of Sussex, OXFAM-America, USAID, and Addis Ababa University, among others, for research on rural poverty, food insecurity, inter-ethnic conflict and development-induced population dislocation. He is currently researching the Ethiopian diaspora in the United States, specifically focusing on the second generation’s identity development. His research has been published in academic journals, including Journal of African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal, African Diaspora, and Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies.

Kebede, who arrived at EWU in 2015, says he is thrilled to be chosen for this honor, and is grateful to the Chertok sponsors for their generous support: “This is a testament to the power and promise of this country for me, as an immigrant coming here and becoming the endowed professor is a dream come true.”

Join the campus community for the Chertok Professorship Transition event at noon on Wednesday, November 1st from Noon -1pm in PUB 319.