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RRJ Graduate Student Board

Laura Benson
Master’s Student, Department of Learning & Design


Bryant Best
Doctoral Student, Department of Learning & Design

Research Area/Interests: school-to-prison pipeline; asset mapping; restorative practices

Bio: Bryant O. Best is a doctoral student in the Justice and Diversity in Education program at Vanderbilt University. In 2012, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a bachelor’s degree in African American Studies and Psychology. In 2014, he graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a master’s degree in Sociology with a specialization in Race, Class, and Gender. For five years, Bryant worked on issues in national education policy – particularly those related to equity — for the American Council on Education and the Council of Chief State School Officers, both located in Washington, D.C. At Vanderbilt, Bryant’s research explores the assets in systemically oppressed spaces, such as the 37208 zip code in the northern part of Nashville, TN. Bryant’s research aims to help policymakers and practitioners identify assets that may be overlooked or underutilized in addressing community issues. Outside of his graduate studies, Bryant is also an active member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and the broader Nashville community. Bryant lives in Antioch, TN with his wife Ashley.


  • EDUC 6020: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
  • EDUC 7600: Urban Education: Theory, Research, and Practice
  • SOCY 100: Introduction to Sociology (University of Maryland, College Park)

Will teach EDUC 7600 in AY 2022-2023

Selected Publications:

  • Milner, H.R., Fittz, L., Best, B.O. & Cunningham, H.B. (in-press). What if special education could be seen as a site for justice? Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.
  • Bennett, J.S., Milner, H.R., Best, B.O. (2022). Structures we all live in: Discussing racialization of neighborhoods to close the null curriculum. In J. C. Lo (Ed.), Making Discussion Work: Methods for Quality Dialogue in the Social Studies. (pp. 161-176). Teachers College Press.
  • Milner, H.R., Howard, J. Cornelious, T., Best, B. & Fittz, L. (2021). Opportunity centered teaching for racial justice in elementary English Language Arts classrooms. Language Arts 99(1), 48-55.
  • Childs, J., Laughter, J. Best, B. & Milner, H.R. (2021). Supporting teacher leadership for equity in urban schools. In R. O. Guillaume, N. Arnold, & A. Osanloo (Eds.), Handbook of Urban Educational Leadership (pp. 151-161). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group. 


Balkis Boum
Master’s Student, Department of Learning & Design

Research Area/Interests: 

Teaching International Students, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Internationalization, Higher Education

Bio: Balkis Boum is a M.Ed. candidate in International Education Policy and Management with a five-year experience in higher education and its internationalization. Interested in studying the learning dynamics in classrooms where there is a presence of international students and how it affects the instructor’s pedagogy and curriculum design


Basak Cermikli Ayvaz
Master’s Student, Department of Learning & Design

Bio: Basak is a doctoral student in the Language, Literacy and Culture track and is focused on emergent bilingual and multilingual children’s literacy practices and learning environments in and out of school settings. She has an M.Ed. in Learning and Design from Vanderbilt University, Peabody College. Basak taught English as a Second and Foreign language for over 12 years at university programs. She took on several roles ranging from testing specialist, curriculum& material designer, designer/co-director and instructor in the English Language program geared for government grantees bound for graduate studies abroad. She has been a Research Assistant in the TRANSLATE project under the supervision of her advisor Dr. Emily Phillips-Galloway and recently co-taught Learning, Diversity and Urban Studies Seminar with Dr. Ana Christina Da Silva. Basak is passionate about emerging biliteracy and translanguaging and strives to create equitable learning environments and practices through her research.



Laura Fittz
Doctoral Student, Department of Learning & Design

Research Area/Interests: Student leadership, Restorative Practices, Youth Participatory Action Research

Bio: Laura Fittz (she/her) is a second year doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning. After earning her B.A. from Wheaton College (IL), she taught English Literature for seven years at Glencliff High School in Nashville, Tennessee. While teaching, she earned her M.Ed. in the Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies program at Peabody and began coordinating Restorative Practices at GHS. In 2016, she started the Peace Team, a Restorative Student Leaders team whose model has spread through the district, region, and even nationally and internationally. She is interested in how the mindset and practices of working with students (rather than to them or for them) can bring about transformational change in schools and teacher preparation programs.


Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies Seminar 1 + 2; Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies Capstone Coordinator & Mentor


  • Milner, H.R., Fittz, L. Best, B., Cunningham, H.  (YEAR). What if Special Education Could be Seen as a Site for Justice? Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.
  • Milner, H.R., Howard, J. Cornelious, T., Best, B. & Fittz, L. (2021). Opportunity centered teaching for racial justice in elementary English Language Arts classrooms. Language Arts 99(1), 48-55.



Ashley Fox
Professional Student, Department of Learning & Design

Research Area/Interests: racial justice; economic justice; civil rights

Bio: Passionate about the intersection of politics, poverty, and health at the local level, Ashley’s background spans political management, strategic communications, and community engagement. Her personal and professional pursuits always aim to build connections with and between others in ways that ultimately create more just and inclusive communities. Ashley is currently a J.D. candidate at Vanderbilt Law School and an inaugural NAACP Legal Defense Fund Marshall-Motley Scholar. She is committed to practicing civil rights law in the American South after graduation. A Tennessee native, Ashley holds a B.A. in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis.


Jiaxin Jessie Wang
Doctoral Student, Department of Learning & Design

Research Area/Interests:

special education, disability identification, disproportionality, minorities in America


Jiaxin Jessie Wang (she/her) is a first year Special Education doctoral student. She earned her Psychology B.S. from the University of Florida and her Special Education M.Ed. from Vanderbilt University. Prior to starting her doctoral program, was a direct instruction and support facilitation middle school teacher in South Florida. Her research examines the experiences of culturally, linguistically, and ethnically diverse students in special education.


  • Wang, J. J., Redford, L., & Ratliff, K. A. (2021). Do special education recommendations differ for Asian American and White American students?. Social Psychology of Education, 24(4), 1065-1083.


William LaFrance
Master’s Student, Department of Learning & Design

Research Area/Interests:

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Independent Schools, Religious Education

Will LaFrance is a first-year M.Ed. Secondary Education Social Studies candidate at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. His future career focus centers around enacting Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Educational Equity within independent and religious secondary school settings. Prior to enrolling at Peabody College, Will earned a bachelor’s degree in History, a professional training option in Secondary Education, and minors in Psychology and Kinesiology from the University of Miami.


Teacher Assistant for EDUC 1220 School, Society, and Teacher under Dr. Allena Berry.


Emily Sprague
Master’s Student, Department of Learning & Design


Dominique Tunzi
Doctoral Student, Department of Learning & Design

Research Area/Interests: Antiracism; White Racial Identity Development; QuantCrit; Emotionality; School Socialization

Bio: Dominique is a fourth-year student in the Community Research and Action program in the Department of Human and Organizational Development. She studies the development of antiracism in youth, especially amongst white youth. She is particularly interested in the impact of emotion regulation strategies and school socialization practices on this development. Upon completion of her degree, she plans to continue doing research in non-profit settings.


TA for Applied Human Development (2019 – present)


  • Chow, K., Gaylor, E., Grindal, T., Tunzi, D., Wei, X., and Tiruke, T. (2021). Associations of teacher characteristics with preschool suspensions and expulsions: implications for supports. Children and Youth Services Review, 129
  • Diehl, D.K. and Tunzi, D.O. (2021). Beyond composition. What the study of diversity in K12     schools can learn from research in higher education. Sociological Compass.
  • Garcia, E., Tunzi, D., Frede, E., & Gehres, S. (2021). Serving the most vulnerable: Policies and partnerships to support families and children experiencing homelessness. SRI International.
  • Diehl, D.K., Tunzi, D., and Marx, R. (2019). On contexts and cores: Is there a core body of knowledge taught in social context of education courses? Teaching in Higher Education, 1-14.