An Ode To Black Professors

Seeing yourself in someone else can serve as a living affirmation.

College is a time of self-discovery. That may sound cheesy because many people deem it as such, but there is something to be said about the impact of a collegiate experience. I attended a predominantly white institution (PWI) and entered with the plan to write content centering the Black experience in all its facets. As a double major in Journalism and African and Black Diaspora Studies, I had polarizing academic experiences. Within Journalism, I only had a handful of professors of color and only two Black professors.  Majoring in African and Black Diaspora Studies was a transformative decision. My ideas and experiences were validated through faculty and coursework, and I was able to flex my journalism muscle through writing for the Department of African and Black Diaspora Studies quarterly newsletter. 

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of  African and Black Diaspora Studies, I was able to take courses cross-listed in different departments with affiliated faculty. As someone who holds intersectional identities, I understood the importance of taking classes in different disciplines. By the end of my undergraduate study, I took cross-listed courses in English, Communications, History, Religion, and Women & Gender Studies. 

I heard about Dr. Anne Mitchell through the African and Black Diaspora Studies grapevine. She was a new-ish professor in the Women and Gender Studies program who was teaching a class in the Spring titled, “Black Sexual Politics.” As a Black woman who is pro-sexual liberation, I knew this course was for me. At first, I anticipated something that would allow me to unlearn and relearn Blackness in relation to sex and sexuality. The course exceeded my expectations, and honestly, played a significant role in my college experience. 

By your junior year in undergrad, specifically at my university,  it is expected that you at least have an idea of what you want to do post-grad. It is your last summer to land an internship while in college, you can explore more of your major, and you are anticipated to have a heightened sense of self. I did not have any of those things by my spring quarter. After two and a half years of reporting, I lost all hope for working as a journalist. Many of my journalism and communications professors deemed my work as “untimely” or simply irrelevant since it always centered marginalized voices. Through the lack of care and interest in my work, I began to see the field of journalism as something that would never work for me. I used Spring quarter to assess what I really wanted and needed from my academic experience. I lost confidence in Journalism, but I always loved the feeling of researching for articles and assignments. I vaguely had the idea of scholarship and research in my mind, but I did not have a confident grasp of what that actually entailed. Although I was able to thrive in African and Black Diaspora Studies courses, there was a shift happening in Black Sexual Politics. 

In the course of a ten-week quarter, we unpacked misogynoir, Black queer idenity, kink, the role of the internet and oppression, polyamory, and the power of imagining a new, sexually liberated world. During the quarter, I began to discover more about my ancestors and myself. Enrolling in this course was one of the most timely decisions of my time in college. At that time, I was embracing parts of my identity that I was previously unsure about. Queerness was just as much in center of class discussion and readings as Blackness and womanhood. The classroom was truly a safe-space that was cultivated by an amazing professor. 

Dr. Anne Mitchell in unapologetic and honest. I never had a professor that was so transparent about academia, their life, and their identity. She is a Black femme lesbian in academia who commits her work to Black queer and trans folks. Her work is serious, and she understands the importance of connecting the personal to the curriculum. As the quarter went on, I saw Dr. Mitchell as a role model, someone who I could be if and when I embraced scholarship, ignored the negative interpretations of my work, and knew the power of my ideas. 

There is an undeniable power in representation. In media, films like “Black Panther” and television shows like HBO’s “Insecurehave been heralded for the way they represent Blackness in different forms. In light of recent injustices towards Black folks, companies have been asked to release their demographics of their corporate and executive level employees. Due to the lack of representation, companies have announced diverse hiring initiatives and grants for Black owned businesses. In academia, however, there is a different hiring process. Most professors have, at minimum, a Master’s degree. If a professor is working towards a full-time tenure-track position, they must have a PhD in a related field of study. 

Overall, academia is still dominated by white men. Although many Black women meet the qualifications for promotions for tenure-track positions, they often have to exceed the threshold to be considered.  The fields of study that directly serve marginalized identities are in danger of existing long-term in universities. This disparity makes representation in these fields more difficult and keeps the existence in these programs in limbo. Representation is more than Black and brown bodies in these spaces as professors and students, but universities must see scholarship that centers marginalized identities as valuable. 

This June marks the one-year anniversary of my college graduation. In the fall, I will be attending graduate school for African-American Studies. As of late, I have been able to rekindle my passion for journalism and combine it with scholarship. Dr. Mitchell played an integral role in my pursuit into higher education. Seeing yourself in someone else can serve as a living affirmation: If they can do this, so can I. While I am still in my beginning stages of my career as a writer and scholar, I hope that one day my presence in academia will have the same impact on my future students.

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