Access Every Resource: Video Transcript

Tamika Richeson (Miami, 2007) [PhD candidate at the University of Virginia]: Currently I'm a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia. My major is in history, and I will go on the job market next year as a professor. I'm a first-generation college student, and I never dreamed that that would be my reality, to not only begin college but to finish. That, to me, the celebration that the Black World Studies program held for their students was really special, because they paid particular attention to the accomplishments of their students.

I got here because I took my first course in Black World Studies. It was Intro to Black World Studies, and on my first assignment I got a D! I came into the office of my professor, who was then Professor Coates, and I asked him, I said, "Why did I get a D? I don’t get Ds." And he said, "Well, you got a D this time." And then he said, "I know that there's more in you and that you can do better." And so he gave me an opportunity to rewrite the paper, and write the paper that would be more meaningful to me, and I ended up getting an A on that paper. It was from that point on that I began to think more critically about ideas concerning race and gender and the African American experience. That led me to pursue graduate work in that area as well. I applied to 14 graduate programs, and I got accepted to one, and it was at Columbia University, where I received a master's in African American Studies, and then from then on, I refined my research goals, my research agenda, and I was accepted into the PhD program in history at the University of Virginia.

I've always been intrigued by the experiences of black women, and that's actually the first paper that I wrote for Intro to Black World Studies was on black women and representations of black women. It was a very broad topic, as most undergraduates, you know, write about broader topics, but the more that I learned about the intersections of race and gender, I became more intrigued by the history of black women and the ways in which they don't appear as frequently in our earlier histories of America. So that made me pursue a research topic in the antebellum era and the Civil War period that focuses on black female criminality.

The wonderful thing about the liberal arts model is that it requires you to engage in topics that you normally wouldn't be so inclined to at first. So when I first came here I was actually an International Studies major, and I had ideas about working for the government, and I learned Chinese and thought about working in East Asia, but the liberal arts requirements here at Miami required you to take classes in all sorts of disciplines, and that's how I actually became interested in Black World Studies. I took my first intro class, and from there, I couldn't stop taking classes that were under the Black World Studies major. Then I changed majors. I think that the liberal arts model allows you the flexibility to explore, and to really think about what truly interests you.

I think the most important thing that students should take away is really taking each class as an opportunity to hone their critical thinking skills. I think this is something that is in trouble right now, because we're so over-stimulated. We are always looking for quick answers, but we're never willing to sort of get down and dirty and really think about what it is we're learning about, the type of information that's being disseminated, and being able to challenge ideas, pose questions, and be willing to seek the answers for them. I think that the liberal arts are our last hope in, sort of, a corporatized university to be able to instill that in them.

A lot of students are really concerned about getting As but not as concerned about really gaining knowledge. I think those two have to go hand-in-hand when we're thinking about the liberal arts. Make the most of these four years. Access every resource that the university has paid to make available to you. Don't be afraid to wander into an office that you normally would not have. Don't just stick to the department major that you have, but go look at the programs and the lectures that are being hosted by other departments. You'll be surprised at what you learn, and you'll be surprised about the type of connections you make with other people that can be critical to your success in the future.

[November 2013]