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September 19, 2014

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

I'm back at it! Three weeks into the school year and I am finally delivering my "welcome back!" joy to returning folks and a warm hello to all the new people on campus. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let's talk about more serious matters.

For the first time ever I am taking more than the standard 16 credits (newly converted to 4 courses) and have a full schedule in every sense of the word. I am in a grand total of 5 courses or 20 credits but it is not as awful as it sounds. It is a lot to handle, believe me, but so far it is incredibly mentally enriching and I am taking it all to heart. I have never been this consistently stimulated solely by courses in a long time.

As an Africana Studies and Sociology double major, I naturally feel that some of the best courses offered at the College come from my departments. The readings encourage me to be uncomfortable when I think of my positionality on certain topics, the in-class discussion makes me realize how insightful my peers are and it is just fantastic. What I love the most is learning from professors who look like me, have similar background stories as me and who connect with me at various intersecting points of experience.

To make sure that I'm not holding out on y'all here is my course list and a brief discussion on why they are the ideal courses for where I am at as a scholar and an individual.

AAST 141 "The Heritage of Black American Literature" with Meredith Gadsby
Ms. Gadsby's course discusses the politics of preserving history through the level of song, lyric, epic narrative, literature, prose, dance and antiphony (call and response) that are all unique to an African diasporic context. We have really dope conversations about how African peoples use both the oral and written form to subvert meaning, weave together histories and retain cultural memories over time and space. The greatest part of it all is that the scope of this work is prior to the backdrop of enslavement and it lives right now in the present moment.

AAST 232 "Africana Philosophy" with Charles Peterson
Dr. Peterson's course is incredibly insightful to me because it addresses the seeming dissonance between traditional Western philosophy and African diasporic thinking. In many ways, I am learning how to identify the African-based elements of Western philosophy as well as see how African diasporic thinkers emerged and articulated their own understandings of all things philosophical as they relate to the Black experience.

SOCI 301/302 "Social Research Methods + Lab" with Daphne John
Methods is a required course for all Sociology majors. It is the class to recap methodology, the role of theoretical frameworks, ethics, research skills, investigation and scientific inquiry within the social sciences. Beyond just learning technical skills and knowledge, I actually get to apply it in a class research project. For me it has been great because I have found ways to continue working on my Mellon research (which is in the department as well) and use new techniques and methods to achieve my ends (as I define them that is).

SOCI 403 "Seminar in Social Psychology: African American Personality" with Clovis White
My senior level seminar has opened up a whole new line of thinking for me. We focus on a sub-discipline of psychology meant specifically to engage with the mental health issues, needs and experiences of Africana peoples. PRAISES! As a used-to-be-intended psychology major this class makes me very happy because it was the lack of diversity in the psychology department, the minimal engagement of issues as they relate to people of color, specifically Black people, and the isolation I felt that caused me to find another major. Which in many ways is a great thing because I love where I am at. There will always be the question of what would I have done if I knew all this existed two years ago... but I know what I know now and am doing something with it.

SOCI 995H "Race and Education" with Clovis White
My private reading in the Sociology department is a half course wherein my academic advisor and I continue my Mellon research and take new directions with it. For anyone who needs a brief recap on what my research is please see The Mellon Dive and The Mellon Dive: Part Two. This semester in particular I am interested in exploring the salience of racial identities in the classroom and how being conscious of one's racial/ethnic background impacts school performance. Private readings are great for students who want to study something that the curriculum does not offer and really delve into a specific topic even further.

Conclusion time. I have really come full circle with what I wanted out of college. I have professors who genuinely care about me and invest in my future (yay). I am a major in fields tied directly to my communities that allow me to do community-based work and build a career helping my folks (double yay). And, most importantly, I am happy doing the work in the classroom. Not only is the subject matter intriguing but it is presented in a way that challenges what "normativity" is as well as deconstructs what we all come to accept as "knowledge" and who can access it under what conditions? I am reaffirming my identities and building my consciousness at the same time. I can dig it.

To be able to locate myself within my academic work--finding my histories, my own truths and call out my own misconceptions--is one of my greatest joys of being enthralled in an academic space. THIS is what is meant when it is said that it is important to see positive self-images of one's community doing amazing things. It motivates and dispels essentialist narratives and that is POWER. And so...

"Story is the umbilical cord that connects us to the past, present and future. Family. Story is a relationship between the teller and the listener, a responsibility... Story is an affirmation of our ties to one another."~Terry Tempest Williams

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