More than forty years after the major victories of the civil rights movement, African Americans have a vexed relation to the civic myth of the United States as the land of equal opportunity and justice for all. In Sites of Slavery Salamishah Tillet examines how contemporary African American artists and intellectuals—including Annette Gordon-Reed, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Bill T. Jones, Carrie Mae Weems, and Kara Walker—turn to the subject of slavery in order to understand and challenge the ongoing exclusion of African Americans from the founding narratives of the United States. She explains how they reconstruct “sites of slavery”—contested figures, events, memories, locations, and experiences related to chattel slavery—such as the allegations of a sexual relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the characters Uncle Tom and Topsy in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, African American tourism to slave forts in Ghana and Senegal, and the legal challenges posed by reparations movements. By claiming and recasting these sites of slavery, contemporary artists and intellectuals provide slaves with an interiority and subjectivity denied them in American history, register the civic estrangement experienced by African Americans in the post–civil rights era, and envision a more fully realized American democracy.
OnFeature is Ms. Bianka Charity, C’2015
This interview was conducted by Ms. Ashley Reid, a sophomore in Economics and Political Science, and a member of the Honors Program.
Q: How did you first become involved with the honors program?
In my freshman year I was accepted into Alpha Lambda Delta [a national honors society] and was elected to serve as president of the local chapter. As president, I worked closely with Ms. Cynthia Cooke (Honors Program Coordinator). I became knowledgeable about the honors program and applied for membership later that spring semester.
Q: What opportunities in the honors program have you taken advantage of?
I was the president of Alpha Lambda Delta throughout my sophomore year. So I was very involved in the honors program at that time. I was also able to travel to a leadership conference in San Antonio. On top of that it has helped me become a great candidate for other opportunities on and off campus. It has challenged me in my course work to strive to be the best that I can be. I know that I am capable, and the honors program has held me to a higher standard.
Q: What honors classes have you taken and how have you enjoyed them?
The ones I can distinctly remember are Honors Philosophy, Black Women’s Status, Achievement, and Impact, and Honors General Psychology. However there are so many honors electives available, and many of them were required for my major, so I can’t recall them all. But as a graduating senior I have had enough time to take classes that I have wanted to and complete my honors requirements.
Q: Do you notice a difference in honors classes?
The professors give you much more responsibility as a student and depend on you to actually do the work and communicate with them what you are and aren’t learning in class. Instead of professors giving you a specific directive, it’s implied that you come to class prepared to have a discussion about not only the given text, but about how the current topics are relevant in the world.
Q: Since you came in as a sophomore, do you see a distinction between honors students and non-honors students?
When I was accepted into the honors program, it definitely boosted my confidence. It gave me confidence in the sense that I had more will power to succeed, and that really helps you take advantage of opportunities that you may not have otherwise.
Q: How has honors influenced you in your matriculation at Spelman?
I’ve had a really great experience. I have been working on my Honors Psychology Thesis for almost two years now, and I can say that it has been a really challenging and rewarding experience particularly since I want to go into research [as a career]. I think it really has allowed me to be an exceptional candidate for graduate programs. Currently I am applying to be a lab manager at several universities as I want to get more experience before going into my PhD program.
Q: Can you tell me about your past summer research experiences.
Sure! I was a University of Virginia Curry School of Education SURP [Sumer Undergraduate Research Program] intern. I looked at the impact of youth-adult relationships, how important it is for youth to have relationships in their communities, which of those relationships are most successful for students, and under what conditions. Being at UVA, and in a graduate school lab, I was given a lot of flexibility to create my own research questions using the research that had already been conducted. I’m really interested in family dynamics, so I looked to see how family structure impacts who youth seek out in their communities. It was really interesting to conduct research, and it actually further motivated me to solidify my own research interests.
Q: Can you tell me more about your thesis and the process?
My first semester of my sophomore year, I took statistics, with Dr. [Valerie] Taylor and following that semester, she invited me to become a research assistant in her psychology lab. Through working with her and building a great relationship with her, she became my first introduction to psychology applied to real life. I also became interested in my current topic, how communities can assist children in their learning and development.
With Dr. Taylor as my thesis mentor, I felt it important to incorporate her research interests with my own on the race of female role models and on the performance of black female college students. Because Dr. Taylor’s research looks at racial interactions and how people of different backgrounds are able to interact and communicate with one another, I married that with my passion for mentorship.
Q: Do you have any advice to underclassman thinking about their thesis?
I’d say to stay encouraged, particularly when collecting data of your own and not using preexisting data. It can become a little discouraging when you’re having a hard time recruiting participants or compensating students for their time. So stay encouraged and utilize all your resources. I have a great relationship with both the honors and psychology departments. Through utilizing those relationships I was able to secure funding to compensate my participants. I’d also say to network and manage your time well. When I was first starting out, we had scheduled Honors Thesis meeting times, which was in the structure of a course. Now that I’m finishing up, it’s all up to me to make sure I stay on task and get everything done. I think it’s good to practice it [time management] early on in your thesis preparations, that way toward the end you’re not procrastinating.
Q: What else are you involved in on campus?
I am a Teachers Assistant for general psychology for non-majors. I’m a part of that because as a child in order to learn I had to re-teach things to myself. So I would stand up on my bed and talk to imaginary beings and re-teach them the information. Since that’s how I had to learn it’s no surprise to me that I’m interested in teaching. I’m the president of SHAPE [Student Health and Peer Educators], and I’m very excited to finish up the year with them. I’m the second Vice President to SKIRTS [Sisters Keeping It Real Through Service], a community service organization; I’m also the Vice President of my Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, and a WELL Scholar.
Q: How to you give back to the community at Spelman?
Through my experiences in SHAPE and SKIRTS, and other leadership roles I play, I have very humbly accepted the responsibility of being a role model to so many underclassman, and I think it is a huge but amazing responsibility that is unique to Spelman. At this caliber anyone can be a mentor or role model, but with Spelman being such an intimate community, it makes it all the more special. Integrating both my leadership roles and being myself have worked in a way that I can give back by providing advice to younger students, and by tutoring, or just being a sister.
Bianka is a graduating senior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Comparative Women’s Studies. She is a native of Hampton, Virginia.
In vivid free verse, award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also describes the joy of finding her voice through writing.
OnFeature is Dr. Pushpa Parekh, Professor, Department of English.
Dr. Parekh has published numerous scholarly books and articles and is a recipient of the President’s Award for Scholarly Achievement. Find more about her at her website.
This interview was conducted by Ashley Reid, C’2017, Economics and Political Science Major.
Q. Reid: How did you first become involved with the honors program at Spelman?
In the early 90s, I was a member of the honors program committee under Dr. Winchester. I worked with him and the honors program until 2001 when I was asked to serve as the new honors program director. I was also a part of the honors program on my own college campus when I was an undergrad.
Q. Reid: You often take students to research conferences, why do you think attending off campus conferences is important for students?
Conferences help build confidence for students. As does exploring their ideas in relation to those of their peers. In classes, honors students are working on research through building short papers, so [at conferences] students can share beyond campus. It is a real life context for testing out ideas and challenges. It also helps to build a network of colleagues in that field; an intellectual community.
Q. Reid: How do you help encourage research beyond the classroom?
When students decide on a topic they want to present, I create panels on whatever papers they are working on so they can present. I also organize discussion groups so there are opportunities to present information beyond classroom. Both formal paper panels and relaxed discussion groups encourage students to exchange ideas.
Q. Reid: Talk me about your current research.
I am currently working on 19th century poetry particularly Hopkins. I actually just returned from a conference in Ireland. I’m working on aspects that connect poetry and life on issues of disability. I have already completed a paper on that topic that focuses on disability issues in Hopkins’ poetry. I want to work on that, expand it, and do a formal paper for publication.
Q. Reid: Do you think there is a distinction among honors students here at Spelman?
Honors students come with a lot of assets, in the sense that they are the top students from their respective schools. Thus they need an environment that challenges them and keeps them going beyond what they come with. That is the biggest excitement for me. I teach English 193 and it’s a great time. Students are excited and exploring and I want to encourage students to continue that with a full sense of passion for ideas rather than doing it to get a reward at the end. I think I call it “a life of the mind”: exploring and continuing to explore.
Q. Reid: Do you continue your relationships with students after they graduate?
Absolutely! I Facebook them all the time! We have lifelong relationships. These students do great things and when they come back they send me emails and we meet up. It’s like we will always be connected. We now go off campus together and we bond , and it’s a quality time.
Q. Reid: What is your favorite part of the honors program?
I love the readings in honors and the books. It’s great the way in which students pick their own books they want to discuss and it’s a way they can connect with other honors students at Clark [Atlanta University] and Morehouse [College]. We should continue the tradition of reading books and growing as we read. Writing also gets better as we read. During the first year we introduce students to habitual reading and having intellectual discussion around those books. I also see it as an avenue for their own research and creative potential.
Read more about Dr. Parekh here.
Topic: Thesis and more
Suites Private Dining Room