Shannen Dee Williams

University of Dayton
Candidate for Executive Council, 2022-24 (Seat B)

Candidate statement

Shannen Dee Williams
Shannen Dee Williams

I am honored to accept the nomination to serve on the Executive Council of the ACHA. This fall, I joined the faculty of the University of Dayton as Associate Professor of History. Prior to that, I was the Albert Lepage Assistant Professor of History at Villanova University, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and the Postdoctoral Fellow in African American Studies at Case Western Reserve University. With my return to the Catholic Midwest, I welcome the opportunity to expand my involvement with ACHA and work to build more formal connections between the organization and communities of faithful fighting to preserve and disseminate lesser-known histories of the American Catholic experience.

My research over the past thirteen years has focused on the mostly hidden history of Black Catholic nuns in the United States and their efforts in the fight for racial, educational, and gender justice. My first book, Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle, forthcoming from Duke University Press in April 2022, provides the first full survey of African American sisters’ lives and struggles against discrimination in the Church and wider society. Subversive Habits builds on scholarship seeking to foreground the African foundations of American Catholicism, center Black Catholic experiences, and move beyond the limited framing of the US Black Catholic community as “a minority within a minority.” My scholarship also considers how histories of the American Catholic experience fundamentally change when narrated from the perspectives of Black women and girls.

My chief pedagogical goal as a historian of the Black Catholic experience is driven by a desire to help others gain a full view of church history. On Twitter, I developed the hashtags #BlackHistoryIsCatholicHistory, #CatholicHistoryIsBlackHistory, and #BlackCatholicHistoryAlwaysMatters to fight against the systematic erasure of the central roles Black people have played in the making of Catholicism in the United States and wider world. Much of my public scholarship and professional service has also focused on amplifying the voices of Catholics of color in church history and illuminating the foundational racial and ethnic diversity of the Catholic population in the Americas. In addition to offering public presentations on why Black Catholic matters and authoring a column on Black Catholic history for the Catholic New Service, I submitted a successful proposal to the ACHA Executive Council in 2020 to establish the Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. Prize to support outstanding research in the Black Catholic experience. I also successfully proposed the establishment of the annual Mother Mary Lange Lecture Series in Black Catholic History at Villanova University in 2020.

As calls for the Catholic Church to reckon substantively with its leading participation in colonialism, slavery, and segregation increase, the ACHA has an important role to play in supporting traditional and non-traditional scholars who are working to excavate, preserve, and disseminate these hard histories. Recent statements from the ACHA have acknowledged the Church’s complicity and agency in America’s violent systems of exploitation and specifically called for full archival access and transparency from Catholic institutions implicated in the tragic history of Native American residential schools. To continue the ACHA’s mission of promoting and disseminating accurate knowledge about the Catholic past, significant work remains to be done to broaden the organization’s reach, appeal, and accessibility to the diverse community of chroniclers, archivists, and teachers of Catholic history. I am excited for the opportunity to contribute to the necessary work ahead.


Williams CV