Faculty members in the Department of Africana Studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills take to heart —and to task—the department’s motto, “A place where scholars, thinkers and leaders are nurtured.” Availing themselves to students beyond the classroom, they become more than academic advisors, they become mentors.
In part, because of this deep support they receive, students are able to achieve academic success and set their sights high—for some, well beyond an undergraduate degree.
Seeing students excel is a big part of what drives Maurice Keith Claybrook Jr., adjunct professor of Africana studies who serves as a faculty advisor for students in the program as well as the faculty advisor for the student-run Organization of Africana Studies (OAS). He sees teaching skills and pushing students as his role, not only as an educator, but as a mentor. He designs all his courses, lower division through upper division, with the intent of grooming students for the next level—graduate school—teaching students skills such as reading comprehension, analysis, how to write different types and lengths of papers, and about citation. The result is that students arrive to their next challenge well prepared.
“Not that I don’t value my own scholarship, but as an educator, it’s really, for me, watching the growth and development of the students,” Claybrook said. “To guide and help students to think for themselves—problem solving, critical thinking, they are invaluable.”
Double major and 2011-2012 McNair Scholar David C. Turner, III, said being an Africana studies major has given him more than just facts, figures and key concepts, but tangible skills that are already helping him exceed. The research skills he honed during an Africana studies research methods course has given him a jump on the McNair research methods course he is enrolled in now. On top of his research skills, Turner also has presentation skills and conference experience, which often students don’t receive until they are in graduate school.
“Most people are going to a conference for the first time,” Turner, a junior, said of students in various graduate degree programs. “I’ve already presented at two conferences with the help of the Africana Studies faculty and graduate students who went through the program.”
And he is just back from a conference. Turner is one of nine students in the department whose abstracts were selected for the 36th Annual National Council for Black Studies (NCBS) Conference which took place March 7 through 10 in Atlanta, Ga.
[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from its original publish date of March 5, to reflect attendance to the NCBS conference.]
Attendance at the conference is a practice that was initiated by the late William Little, founding Africana studies chair and former NCBS president. According to Munashe Furusa, associate professor and acting associate dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, up to ten students annually have been able to attend national conferences in part because of funds provided by Little prior to his passing in 2008, and subsequently by his widow, Monica M. Little, Esq.
Planning beyond participating in the NCBS conference, Turner, who is also the president of OAS, intends to take the knowledge and experiences he’s gained in the department and apply to graduate programs at UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, Columbia and Northwestern University—his top choices for advanced study programs.
Mentoring in the department seems to be paying for others, too. Furusa said that in the past 18 years that Africana studies has held department status, it has produced a dozen or more Ph.D. graduates (data is self-reported by alumni who have kept in touch). Currently there are approximately 35 alumni who are in master’s programs at universities throughout the United States, including at CSU Dominguez Hills. The department, a relatively small one, with only 35 undergraduate students (as of fall 2011), boasts 3 out of the 12 2011-2012 McNair Scholars
Beyond the numbers and academic accomplishments that result from the department’s mentorship, many graduates find a role in continuing that nurturing spirit.
Alumna Tiearea Robinson (Class of ’10, B.A. Africana studies), now a graduate student in the CSU Dominguez Hills Interdisciplinary Studies Program, was so influenced by the mentorship she received while she was an undergraduate that she took a position working with the Promoting Excellence in Graduate Studies (PEGS) program on campus and became a mentor herself, or an “unofficial student ambassador,” as she described it.
“It really helps to know that you have a community here that can help you. You help your community and they help you,” said Robinson.
Alumna Dianne Williams (Class of ’02. B.A. interdisciplinary studies), who is now a graduate student in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in Africana studies, said Africana studies helped her discover her own identity, which in turn, helped her to help others. At her job of 19 years, where she works with special-needs children, Williams said some of them are embarrassed of their ethnicity and they sometimes will claim to be of a different race. She understands how they may feel shame about their heritage, but now that she has learned to be proud of own heritage, she can help them to be proud of theirs, too, no matter what it is.
“Africana studies has helped make me a better human being by understanding how important culture is—all cultures,” said Williams.
Robinson and Williams attended the NCBS Conference with Turner, along with Heidi DeLeon (senior, Africana studies), Tené Green (senior, political science) Adrienne McKinney (senior, sociology; Africana studies minor), and Gabrielle Magno (senior, communications/public relations; Africana studies minor). Claybrook, Furusa and Africana Studies lecturer Jolandra Davis also will be presenting and/or be on panels at the conference. Students unable to attend, but whose abstracts were accepted to the conference were Grace Dosumu (senior, Africana studies/sociology double major) and Myia Williams (sophomore, Africana studies/English double major).
Following are the nine abstracts that were accepted:
Grace Dosumu – “Keeping the Yoruba Language Alive in the Diaspora: Children Have the Right to Share in their Beautiful Roots and Culture.” This study examines loss of language and cultural memory among first and second generation African immigrants and their children in the United States.
Dianne Williams – “Re-imagining African American Identity through African Fabric and Symbols” This paper will examine how African Americans have used African fabrics and symbols to express and identify with their African identity.
Gabrielle Magno – “Afrocentricity and the Filipino Experience” The objectives of this paper are 1) to illustrate the commonalities between African and Filipino heritage, 2) to make tangible the relevance of Afrocentricity for non- Africans by sharing my personal experience living and applying the theory, and 3) widen the scope of applicability of Afrocentricity to other marginalized communities. “In order to truly appreciate another culture one must be grounded in their own.”
Tene’ Green – “Black Education Then and Now: Disparities in the Quality and Funding of American Schools” This paper examines disparities in the quality and funding of the US education system, focusing on the period between 1950 and 1975 and compare Black people’s education in this period to the present.
Myia Williams – “The First Wave of Feminism (1848-1960) and The African American Experience” This paper explores how the first wave of feminism, from 1848-1960, contributed to the strained relationship of black men and women.
Heidi DeLeon – “Frederick Douglass on US hypocrisy and Willful Paradox” This paper critically examines the infinite gaps and contradictions between America’s declared values and principles and her practices through the lens provided by Frederick Douglass speeches on the American constitution and independence.
David C. Turner, III – “Investigating Hyper-masculinity, Victimization, Violence, and Institutional Conflicts with Black Males: A Case study in Inglewood, CA” Black males have an amplified reputation in the urban sub-cities of Los Angeles for being non-productive, hyper-masculine, and deviant in behavior due to their environment and mentality.
Adrienne McKinney – “Hey, Mr. Preacher Man! The Paradoxical Role of Black Preachers in the Progress and Development of African American Communities” The Pastor, or Preacher, occupies a unique space within the Black Church. The relationship between the Preacher and the Black Church’s lay people is marked by distinguishing characteristics. This research analyzes that relationship and the ways in which “preaching” can tend to act as a simple system of unilateral narrating and rote depositing of catalogues of “facts” expected only to be memorized mechanically by the lay person.
Tiearea J. Robinson – “Metaphysiology and Mindfulness: An Integrative Approach using African Metaphysics and Mindfulness to Bring About Healing” This paper is a comparative analysis of African healing practices and mindfulness. The similarities between the two will be placed in dialogue with one another to be integrated in the psychotherapy setting.