Six students present projects in second annual Africana Studies Research Symposium


Friday, April 14, the second annual Africana Studies Research Symposium was held with six current and recently graduated students presenting senior honors theses and research projects on a variety of topics.

Bezawit Yohannes ’18 first presented her research entitled “Black Girl Magic and Intersectional Self Definition Afrocentric Speculative Fiction.” Yohannes spoke about her experiences growing up loving fantasy series such as “A Wrinkle in Time.” Yohannes said she identified with the characters’ personalities, but she never found any characters of color to identify with.

“Children of color should not have to see white stories as universal,” Yohannes said.

Yohannes explained that this was not simply an issue of replacing white characters with people of color, since the underlying fantasy would still be based in Eurocentric mythologies and fantasies. For her research, she studied books like Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Chaos,” which has strong black female leading characters and is rooted in African and Afro-Caribbean mythologies.

Following Yohannes was Anne Fuller ’18, who presented her research, entitled “Health and Medicine among First-Generation African Immigrants in the United States.” Fuller used ethnography to explore health and to understand the health and practices of African immigrants.

Fuller researched and sought to legitimize African alternative medicinal practices, countering what she believed was scientism within the medicinal field. Scientism, which differs from scientific practices, is the immediate discrediting of alternative medicinal practices simply because they have not yet been proven with the scientific method.

“I’m shining a light on historically underrepresented people,” Fuller said. “… This thesis is the expression of voices.”

Alex Yeumeni Towo ’17, who graduated this past December, returned to campus to present research she had done at the College entitled, “Community? Black Student Leadership and Engagement at Predominantly White Institutions.”

Yeumeni Towo used secondary sources to support her research and spoke about gaps she found in existing sources, specifically regarding how gendered the concept of existing is, how research has chiefly been done at larger institutions, and how there is not enough research on the intersection of the LGBTQ+ and black communities on campus.

Yeumeni Towo’s sources showed that LGBTQ+ black students often have to subvert their own blackness and overemphasize the role that their sexuality plays in their identity.

Sakinaa Rock’s ’18 project, titled “Black Women’s Contributions to Pan-African Thought: The Revolutionary Pan-Africanism of Audley ‘Queen Mother’ Moore and Claudia Jones,” focused on underappreciated women in Pan-African thought.

Rock said that it was difficult to summarize the extensive accomplishments of women such as Audley ‘Queen Mother’ Moore in a 10-minute presentation. Moore overcame extensive childhood trauma to become a leader in American and international civil rights movements.

“These women did not play supportive roles — they were revolutionaries in their own right,” Rock said.

Britt Eastman ’18 presented her research project entitled “Public Health in Sub-Saharan Africa: How Education Correlates with the Rate of HIV/AIDS.” Eastman, who studied abroad at the University of Nairobi in Namibia, said she was inspired when she saw how academic textbooks seemed to push abstinence. She worked with friends she had made in Nairobi to help accomplish her research.

Last to present was Nija Rease ’18, whose work, “Under the Lens: Jay-Z’s 4:44,” analyzed Jay-Z’s album. Rease originally wanted to conduct research on black families, but she determined that she lacked the time and the resources needed to do an in-depth study.

Initially, Rease said she did not want to focus her project on Jay-Z’s album because she feared she would not be taken seriously in an academic setting. Eventually, she decided to go through with the project and created a critical analysis of Jay-Z’s album interspersed with interactive components to showcase her own perspective.

Sora Edwards-Thro ’18 attended the symposium to support Yohannes and the research that Africana studies students produce.

“Africana studies has a wide range of topics, so it was cool to see everything represented, from music to folks doing research in Africa to research on the African immigrant experience,” Edwards-Thro said. “William and Mary should support this research and should make Africana studies into a department so more of this research can happen.”

Yeumeni Towo said that studying Africana studies was part of what made her experience at the College so enriching.

“The chance to talk about blackness as an academic subject was a huge draw,” Yeumeni Towo said.

Yeumeni Towo also made it clear that the College is not doing enough to support the program.

“[Africana studies] is historically underfunded, which is really frustrating, especially because it’s putting out students who are doing quality work every year,” Yeumeni Towo said. “When things like the 50th anniversary roll around, you logically pull from a black studies program. But, you’re not funding trips, you’re not hiring professors, you’re not getting better academic spaces.”


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