Liyu studies Public Policy and African and African American studies. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but raised in Montgomery, Alabama, she is driven to fight for an intersectional environmental justice movement, particularly in the Deep South. On campus, Liyu serves as the President of Duke’s Chapter of the NAACP, where she has partnered with Durham Department of Public Health to provide bi-weekly STI and HIV testing, led voter registration drives, and organized prison advocacy campaigns in Durham County Jail. She has been named as an Alice M. Baldwin and Kenan Global Human Rights scholar. 

Her research focus is on prison ecology, which confronts the intersection of mass incarceration and environmental justice. Mass incarceration has resulted in a 500 percent increase in our prison population due to a tough on crime rhetoric that shifted policy over the past 40 years. This alarming expansion of the prison-industrial complex has led to an unregulated, overcrowded carceral system increasingly concentrated in geographically isolated areas. The rise of the U.S. prison system has been most felt by those incarcerated, prison-adjacent communities, and the surrounding ecologies. While the larger environmental implications are necessary for addressing these issues, the focus of her project is incarcerated populations and their political positionality. To understand the differences in states with varying degrees of environmental regulations, permit protocols, and incarceration trends, Liyu will examine her home state, Alabama, and compare it to patterns in California. Through analyzing environmental injustices with these carceral facilities, she hopes to understand key victories across the country for decarceration, the challenges, and identify the conditions necessary for successful organizing.