Andre Gray '10

Andre Gray '10

I'm from San Francisco, California.  I am a member of the Black Students' Union.  My academic interests include urban development, journalism, and social media marketing.  Black Studies is the most comprehensive major at Amherst College.  The core courses impart the fundamental skills that one should get from a liberal arts education, reading, writing, debating and researching.  If it were not for these courses, I would not be as well prepared coming out of Amherst as I am, nor would I be as confident in my skills moving forward.

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Asia-Sierra Millette '11

Asia-Sierra Millette
I am from Queens, New York.  I am currently a junior double majoring in Black Studies and Sociology.  Since arriving at Amherst, I have been on the planning committee for the annual Five College Relay for Life and have held various executive positions in the Black Students Union.  I didn’t intend to double major when I first got to Amherst but all of the Black Studies courses were so interesting and intellectually stimulating that I decided to add Black Studies as another major.  What I like most about the department is that all the classes require you to challenge yourself and think outside the box.  The Black Studies Department has enhanced my analytical and argumentative skills as well as given me a clearer understanding of the Black Diaspora.

Kenneth Sentamu '11E

Kenneth Sentamu '11E
I am a product of two suburbs, one outside of Kampala, Uganda and another, Sharon, Massachusetts, located south of Boston.  I am a senior, double-majoring in Black Studies and Political Science, with a particular interest in political development and social justice in sub-Saharan Africa.  In addition to my primary focus as a student, I am a monitor in the Gerald Penny Center, a proud member of In Solidarity With Immigrants (ISWI), and a somewhat ambivalent member of Students for Justice in Palestine.  I chose to major in Black Studies in order to better understand intellectual life in general.  One key aspect of the major I value most, one certainly noted by many, is its capacity to encompass and fuse a broad range of perspectives into one.  Is it, as some claim, "the most intellectually rigorous, demanding and rewarding department at Amherst?"  I say "YES"!

M. Ayanda Bam '10

M. Ayanda Bam
I hail from sunny South Africa.  I am in the class of 2010 and am interested in issues concerning both the political evolution and economic development of sub-Saharan Africa.  During my time at Amherst, I have been a member of the Model United Nations Group, Amnesty International, the Black Students Union, the African and Caribbean Students’ Union, Investing Club and the Pride Alliance.  I am majoring in Black Studies because, simply put, the Black Studies Department is undoubtedly the most intellectually rigorous, demanding and rewarding department at Amherst.  Furthermore, I like the major’s multi-disciplinary character which allows me to explore the Diaspora through a myriad of perspectives be it music, philosophy or economics.  I am writing a senior thesis that explores the effect of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s intervention in the Angolan War on the African National Congress and the anti-Apartheid struggle.

Maikha Jean-Baptiste '10

Jean-Baptiste

I'm from Miami, Florida and I'm currently a senior (yes!).  I decided to major in Black Studies since I liked the fact the major is interdisciplinary.  I'm also pre-med so I'm planning on applying to medical school after taking a year off. On campus I'm currently involved with Girls, Inc.  I'm a former member of the Ballroom team and president of the French House.  I was also instrumental in working with the BSU to plan Carib' fest freshman and sophomore year.

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Rachel Hamalainen '11

Hamalainen

I’m from a tiny suburb of Detroit, Michigan named Melvindale.  I’m a junior Black Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies double major.  I chose to major in both of these departments because I’m interested in the intersections of race, gender, class, and other identifiers and in identity politics.  I’m a member and former treasurer of La Causa, a member of Global Rights of Women, and a performer in the Vagina Monologues.  I am majoring in Black Studies because it has allowed me to both explore my interest in issues of race and ethnicity and learn how to become a better student and scholar.  I have learned how to improve virtually every aspect of my academic life through this department, and Black Studies has changed my outlook on education for the better.

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Sean-Patrick Legister '11

Legister

I’m a junior English and Black Studies double major from Ossining, New York.  I’m very interested in Caribbean history, fiction, and creative writing.  I am a member of the football team, in addition to the track and field team.  I am a member of the Friends of Jaclyn Committee and am hoping to become more active in the Amherst community.  I am majoring in Black Studies to enhance my analytical skills through historical, sociological, and legal perspectives. Black Studies has helped me to understand many aspects of life that I used to take for granted.  It has also helped me to understand better how the world works in general.  I am currently undecided about writing a senior thesis, but I am thinking about writing one on something about colonialism and the Caribbean, a subject for which I have a great deal of passion.  

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Taylor Alexander Perkins '11

Taylor Alexander Perkins '11

I grew up in the coastal town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and since sophomore year of high school, I've called the quaint township of Chester, New Jersey home.  I'm currently a junior at Amherst, double majoring in Political Science (with a concentration in Russia and the USSR), and Black Studies.  My younger brother, Blake, is an incoming member of the Amherst class of 2014.  Outside of academics, I run varsity track and field, am the photography editor of the college's yearbook, The Olio, and am a staff writer for the Center for Community Engagement.  I am a Black Studies major because it amalgamates so many disciplines (history, sociology & anthropology, psychology, just to name a few) into a challenging, dynamic, and unique program of study.  I am currently planning a thesis project that will examine the impact of W.E.B. Du Bois' 1959 visit to the Soviet Union on his conception of the American race question and his larger political and intellectual perspective.

Daniel Altschuler '04

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I am a Rhodes Scholar, currently pursuing a doctorate in Politics at the University of Oxford. My research focuses on participatory development initiatives--in particular, my dissertation explores the dynamics of parental participation in community-managed schools in Honduras and Guatemala.  I also completed my Masters in Philosophy in Development Studies at Oxford.  Prior to that, I was a Thomas J. Watson Fellow, pursuing a project in Chile and South Africa entitled “Nascent Democracies Reexamined:  Through the Eyes of the Homeless and Landless”. This project focused on collecting oral histories in economically, geographically, and socially marginalized communities. 

I have also worked with various non-profit organizations in the United Stated and South Africa, focusing on issues of housing and community organizing.  I worked for the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board to help low-income New Yorkers form housing cooperatives.  Later, I was a consultant for the Generation Change program of the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C. developing strategy reports on how to involve higher education institutions and the federal government in the effort to develop new community organizers.

I have written extensively on the Honduran political crises for Americas Quarterly and The Huffington Post.  In addition, I have published pieces in The San Francisco Chronicle, Foreign Policy Online, and NACLA Report on the Americas

I was the convener of the Rhodes Scholar African Forum in 2007-08.  I also informally led a group at the University of Oxford that met to discuss and organization action in response to the crisis in Zimbabwe in 2008-09.

As a doctoral student, analytical and writing skills are essential for my work.  These skills have also been central to my recent journalist work.  Since my research is based on community case studies in rural Central America, my work also relies on my ability to interact with people from radically different backgrounds.

My courses in Black Studies made me a much better writer.  In particular, Professor Ferguson’s emphasis on clean, clear writing has served me well.  These lessons have not just improved my prose; they have improved my analysis by preventing me from using vague language that masks my own uncertainty.  Now, when I confront poorly written sections of my work, I carefully consider whether this simply reflects poor writing, or broader confusion about the content of my research.  This has improved the rigor and intellectual honesty of my writing.

The intimacy of the Black Studies Department exposed me to the world of academia in a way that other departments did not.  Professors encouraged me to conduct serious research and participate in conferences.  I never expected that I would still be a student in 2010, but my experience in the Black Studies Department played a significant role in the path I have taken since graduating from Amherst.

Advice to current majors:

My advice to students is that they should seek out the most challenging classes you can.  The courses that demand the most—particularly those that require you to write frequently—will serve you best in the long run. 

Also, study abroad if you can.  My study abroad experience was probably the most formative period in my undergraduate experience.  It opened my mind to new ways of living and thinking.  It also gave me personal experiences that reinforced and enriched my academic work in the Black Studies Department.  Amherst encourages students to study abroad, and you should take advantage of this. 

Ashley Finigan ’08—Columbia University M.A. candidate in African-American Studies, Brooklyn, NY

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Since graduating from Amherst I taught global history as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member here in New York City to 9th and 10th graders.  I transitioned out of the classroom and started graduate school at Columbia this past fall.  I received a fellowship for graduate study from the College.

I have been a member of TFA and more recently I have joined an organization called Minds Matter which mentors highly motivated, public high school students through the college process.  Being a mentor has been an especially wonderful experience for me, since I’m a Minds Matter alum and it was definitely instrumental in helping to prepare me for Amherst

As a grad student it’s important that I have sharp writing and analytical skills as I’m constantly reading, researching and writing.  Since becoming a graduate student I can honestly say I’m able to use all the skills I’ve accrued as a Black Studies major every day.  All that I learned in classes like Black Studies 11 and 12 and in writing a thesis have helped me immensely in my graduate courses.  In fact, I still have the graded responses of old papers from Professor Ferguson saved on my computer that I sometimes refer back to whenever I have writing questions.

The professors in the Black Studies department encouraged me so much academically – as a freshman I never thought I was cut out for post-graduate study and today I’m planning on continuing on towards a PhD.  It’s that kind of encouragement and support that one can find and count on in the department.

Advice for current majors:

Current Black Studies majors planning on graduate study should definitely plan to write a thesis – there is no better preparation for the rigors of grad school than putting together a thesis.  The researching, writing and editing process will help to sharpen skills needed in your program.  Also, if a major is considering going into education, whether through TFA or Mississippi Teacher Corps or whatever program they choose, I’d advise them to do an Urban Education internship during Interterm and to take classes with Professor Moss, both experiences were instrumental in my decision to teach.

Jake Maguire ’07--Graduate Student (MA/Ph.D., American Studies), Austin, TX

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After graduating in 2007, I worked for two years in democratic politics, first as a consultant with Global Strategy Group and then as Communications Director for New York City Council Member David Yassky. Upon leaving New York, I entered graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, where I now hold one of four fully funded Powers Presidential Fellowships to pursue my Ph.D. in American Studies.  The William J. Powers, Jr. Presidential Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin provides five years of funding, beginning in fall 2009.

As a political consultant, my ability to write clearly and quickly mattered more than almost any other skill I gained at Amherst.  I attribute this skill almost entirely to the rigorous program offered by the Black Studies Department.  In graduate school, where professors assign large amounts of reading over short periods, I rely heavily on the critical approaches I gained in Black Studies 11 and 12.

As mentioned above, I attribute these skills almost entirely to my work in Black Studies at Amherst.  The rigorous, skills-centered approach taken by the department set my reading and writing on a disciplined course that has since become invaluable, first professionally and now academically.

Black Studies shaped my interests and crystallized race as one of the most relevant lenses through which to view America’s history and politics.  It also exposed me to authors who have since become some of my favorites and friends who I now call some of my best.

 Advice for current majors:

Embrace the writing advice the department offers.  Refining your writing skills can be maddening, but the result will be valuable.  Strong communication skills have proven themselves an important asset in my post-Amherst career.  If you want to get into politics, be willing to start at the very bottom, put your nose to the grindstone and never complain.  Proving that you’re smart usually won’t cut it.  The people who make it are the ones who get things done.

Phuong V. Vuong '09--teacher, Oakland, California

Phuong

As of Spring 2010, I am earning my teaching credential at Mills College in Oakland and plan on teaching here in the city.  I participate in an anti-oppression dialogue group with other beginning educators.  I also work with Vietnamese American community organizers in the Bay Area.  I received the following awards since graduating:  Amherst College Fellowship 2009-10, Mills College Education Alumnae Scholarship 2009-10, and a Flora Foundation Scholarship 2009-10. 

My current work requires strong verbal communication and analytical skills.  I have to be thoughtful constantly about my word choice around students, be it for their understanding or mere appropriateness.  Another equally exciting and exhausting aspect of teaching is the analytical demand.  At Mills, we are taught to use observation, interaction, and student work as information to evaluate the effectiveness of our approach and conceive of new methods.  Daily, teachers evaluate their students, themselves, and their own processes.  We use this information and content to make choices about what and how we teach.

The Black Studies Department definitely played a role in helping me develop these skills.  Discussion-based classes taught me to choose my words and organize my thoughts quickly when speaking.  The focus on argumentation, concise writing and purposeful reading helped me think analytically about my ideas in relation to others. 

Most importantly, the Department has changed my consciousness about the world and myself in it. By combining content and a focus on language, professors challenged me to investigate reality while they helped reveal my ability to change that reality.  My work in Black Studies led to my understanding that the personal and the political are intertwined—sometimes they are the same and sometimes conflicting.  This informs my “personal” decisions, which include considerations about my community and broader world.  Furthermore, as a teacher I am driven by the desire to help develop the critical thinking that I have gained through the Black Studies department. 

If I had to leave some words of advice to Amherst students, I would tell them not to rush.  We learn the most when we can be reflective about our work instead of being concerned with attaining the next high-paying or high-status job.  Specifically for students interested in education, I encourage them to find a program to earn their teaching credential alongside as much student-teaching time as possible.  Sure, nothing can totally prepare you for full-time teaching, but you can choose to ease yourself into that role.  As an undergraduate, you can develop relevant skills by leading groups and by planning and running workshops.  Also, on your own you should read authors such as Paulo Freire and bell hooks because even the most progressive education programs neglect their work.