Oberlin Blogs

One Major Down

January 15, 2015

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

Fifteen short months ago, I was in the middle of an incredibly busy fall semester during my sophomore year. Before the summer ended I made a list of goals for myself as I planned out my courses, dream internships, and even my life after Oberlin. During that exercise, I wrote two intimidating goals down that I now cherish the deepest out of all the things I currently do as a student.

The first goal was to apply to the Oberlin Blogs as a student blogger, and the second was to declare my undergraduate major. Declaration Trumpet is an embodiment of these two goals all in one blog post. It truly is a timestamp of my hopes for what my liberal arts degree can do. My very first adventure in blogging was this post in October 2013. Looking back on it I can now see how fitting it is that I would be talking about my college major of Africana Studies.

Back in my first semester in 2012 all I knew about my academic passions was that I was interested in people's behavior and how African and French culture blend together at the level of language, food and tradition. I eagerly jumped into courses in Africana Studies, French and Psychology during my first two semesters. It took a lot of soul searching and failing many a 300-level French exam to finally branch out and find the "right" major path.

All eloquent metaphors aside, after I took Introduction to the Black Experience (AAST 101) with Professor Gordon Gill (who is no longer at the College) I found home. Africana Studies opened up my world to talk about issues I care about the most, and it is also a department that feels like family. In fact, my love for Africana Studies facilitated my desire to blog and my choice to declare my second major in the College.

Sociology is a strong convergence point for me to engage in discussing issues of the African diaspora (dispersal of people of African descent all over the world) and societal critique. Over the past three years, I can honestly say I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and developed a confident voice in articulating issues of race and power (among my many other academic strengths). I blog about it literally all the time. I love being a major in the department! I love that my two majors work seamlessly together to let me focus on Black communities and society while critiquing structural inequality. I equally love that I have a job, as a student, to write about these things and my experiences in a larger network of knowledge sharing.

I realized just how much utility my Africana Studies and Sociology majors have as I made my way through this tremendously difficult semester. The #BlackLivesMatter and #HandsUp movements sweeping the nation right now have helped me contextualize activism, agency, empowerment, inequality, accessibility and all the things I study in the classroom daily. Fatefully so, my last requirement for my Sociology major was fulfilled by SOCI 403 "Seminar in Social Psychology: African-American Personality." My final assignment, or capstone project, was to write a 20-page paper on a topic of my choosing related to issues studied in African American/Black Psychology.

In lieu of writing a capstone divorced from my definitions of activism, community power and responsibility to voicing the struggles of my identities, I used this assignment to bridge my experiences and my academic work. Bridging the Gap Between Scholarship, Political Discourse and Race: A Critical Race Theory Analysis of African American Academic Achievement is the first extended paper I have written about African Americans, academic achievement and national attention to this issue. As many folks may or may not know, I do undergraduate research with the Mellon Mays Fellowship program on this very topic.

As I was writing it, I kept asking myself why is this paper needed? After all, I had an incredibly full semester and I was still finishing assignments in January. Mentally and physically I was drained; I had long since hit the wall and I wanted to delete everything on my computer screen. I stopped and I prayed on it and was incredibly inspired to recall what I have experienced as a student; to share the national perspectives and stereotypes that scare me and to critique the hell out of it. So I did it! At 12:43 AM CST on January 12, 2015 I beautifully wrote the truth and dropped it in my professor's inbox.

How does it feel to be "done"?! is an appropriate question to ask since I am at the end of this post now (finally). However, I am not done. Education is still going to be in crisis, Black issues will still persist, empowering movements coming from my community will still be ongoing and I will still have to come back to campus and negotiate all that while still trying to pass my classes. It is a lot but I like to think that I do it and do it rather well. On that note, I will share a brief excerpt from my capstone regarding the education crisis for African Americans as I continue to reflect on what it means to be one major down.

"The education crisis is real. Public schools are failing the majority of their student population which is primarily composed of students of color. American schools can no longer afford to underfund, mis-educate and undermine the progress of African American students and act as if the implications of these decisions do not have significant consequences in other life areas. As Chambers (2009) argues, the result of social, economic, political and moral decisions in this nation, in regards to education, has resulted in a 'receivement gap.' A gap, as Ladson-Billings (2006) further explains, that is really America's own education debt--an accumulation of its own mass failures (or successes) in miseducating a vast amount of its residents."

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