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2024 Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Award Honoree: Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz (PhD ’05, BA ’90)


Get to know the poet, writer, educator, and Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Award winner.

Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz headshot on a white background

Born and raised in the South Bronx, poet, writer, and educator Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz (PhD ’05, English Education, BA ’90, English Literature) was asked by her family to choose a college within New York City – "a restriction that turned into a big blessing” when she discovered NYU’s then-called Washington Square College.

“I was in love with the language and stories of 19th century English literature, so that’s where I focused my degree,” says Sealey-Ruiz. “But I also noticed the lack of culturally responsive models in the literature, and I had not learned about writers of color during my high school experience. When I took my first African American literature class as a sophomore at NYU, I almost lost my mind at this new world being opened to me.” Based around this new passion, Sealey-Ruiz created a minor in Black literature.

While working in marketing and promotions for The New York Times and then Businessweek, Sealey-Ruiz began taking classes from Teachers College, Columbia University. She then became the first-ever Black female marketing manager for NYU’s School of Continuing Education Studies. When she decided it was time to pursue her PhD, attending NYU again “was a no-brainer”; Sealey-Ruiz enrolled in Steinhardt’s PhD in English Education.

“I had been student-teaching at Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School in the evenings while earning my master’s degree at Teachers College. While in the classroom, I was seeing some things that were disturbing to me,” says Sealey-Ruiz. “I eventually left the corporate world to pursue my doctoral studies. I completed my doctorate within three years and accepted my diploma with my 5-month-old daughter, Olivia, in my arms.”

Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz headshot with trees in the background

I had not learned about writers of color during my high school experience. When I took my first African American literature class as a sophomore at NYU, I almost lost my mind at this new world being opened to me.

Dr. Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz, 2024 Dorothy Height Distinguished Alumni Award Winner

Sealey-Ruiz then became an assistant professor of English composition and rhetoric for Kingsborough Community College. In 2006, she returned to NYU as the first postdoctoral researcher for Steinhardt’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools (Metro Center), which turned into a research associate position in which she conducted and led a team of doctoral researchers on professional development projects.

“I started doing professional development with educators while at the Metro Center, which made me realize that I have a skill for translating data and theory in a way that teachers can take up in practice,” she says. “This work eventually grew into Arch of Self, LLC, in which I work with pre-service and in-service teachers and school leaders in a process of digging deep and ‘peeling back layers’ on their life experiences, leading them in exploring how these experiences impact their practice.”

Sealey-Ruiz joined Teachers College, Columbia University in 2008. Today, she is an award-winning professor of English education. Her research focuses on racial literacy in teacher education, Black girl literacies, and Black and Latinx male high school students.

Sealey-Ruiz co-authored Advancing Racial Literacies in Teacher Education: Toward Activism for Equity in Digital Spaces, where she examines her concept of Archaeology of Self™ in education, and co-edited All About Black Girl Love in Education: bell hooks and Pedagogies of Love. She has also published two full-length collections of poetry – Love from the Vortex & Other Poems and The Peace Chronicles – and is currently writing a poetic memoir called Growing Up Bronx, a coming-of-age tale about her upbringing in New York City in the 1980s. She was recently named an Emerging Writer Fellow by Kweli.

Learn more about Sealey-Ruiz on her website or on Instagram at @yolie_sealeyruiz.

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