“I credit Amherst enormously for framing how I look at issues of racial justice and sexism,” says Laura Jarrett ’07, “all of the things I care about deeply, and the things I end up covering on CNN every day.”
The news anchor is one of some 50 people—alumnae, faculty, staff and beyond— interviewed for the new Black Women of Amherst podcast, which dropped on Oct. 4, 2022. They include poet and activist Sonia Sanchez, the second chair of the College’s Black Studies department, who offers a poignant, personal account of the death of Gerald Penny ’77, for whom the College’s Black cultural center is named. They also include art historian and MacArthur Fellow Kellie Jones ’81, who recounts how she happened to be doing her WAMH radio shift when students staged protests at Converse Hall in 1979. As an act of solidarity, Jones stayed on air throughout the takeover, offering news as events unfolded.
“What the podcast gets across is that Black women are on the front line—on behalf of everyone. Their courage and strength benefits us all.” So says Nichelle Carr ’98, the podcast’s producer and host: Tené Howard ’01 acts as Carr’s occasional co-host. Carr is a producer at WC1 Studios and chief content officer at AudPop, and worked on the project with Jason Gill ’97, co-founder and chief operating officer at the live-streaming company Zeldavision.
At the outset, Carr tried to search out other podcasts on Black women in higher ed but found almost nothing. Her dream is that this podcast spurs other colleges and universities to unearth and highlight their own stories of Black women.
It certainly helped that Amherst already has rich source material in the 1999 book Black Women of Amherst College, by Mavis C. Campbell, then a history professor at Amherst. Carr spoke to women from the book, such as Amherst trustee Kimberlyn Leary ’82, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School. Carr discovered other sources by putting out a call to the broader alumni community. “The response was amazing,” she says. “It turned up people we didn’t know, and there were so many stories to be told.” To complement the perspectives of alumnae, Rhonda Cobham-Sander, the Emily C. Jordan Folger Professor of Black Studies and English, also appears on the podcast, as does former Associate Dean of Students Onawumi Jean Moss.
The podcast pans out to note Black women who have been awarded Amherst honorary degrees, too (like the singer and activist Nina Simone, in 1977, and Sanchez, this past spring) and those who influenced the College from the outside. In fact, one episode focuses on Anna Julia Cooper, born into slavery and educated at the Sorbonne in France, who became principal of Dunbar High in Washington, D.C., an all-Black public school that steered such trailblazers to Amherst as Charles Drew, class of 1915, who discovered the chemical method for preserving blood, and Charles Hamilton Houston, class of 1926, chief architect of the legal strategy that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education.
“We wanted to uncover the unknown, the unseen, the unheard stories of Black women of Amherst College,” says Carr of the podcast. “The work that they’ve done, and the impact that they’ve had, has helped Amherst College keep on the road to becoming the best version of itself.”