by Savita Maharaj
Hello! My name is Savita Maharaj and I am a third-year English major with minors in Africana Studies and Writing Studies. I am so grateful I have the opportunity to work as a program assistant for Africana Studies this fall semester as well as the chance to lead The Fight to be Heard, Seen, and Understood: The Resilience of Black Studies in Academia panel discussion.
Now, if you told me about this two months ago, I would still be hyperventilating at the mere thought. Being given the opportunity to lead my own event was insanely cool as well as completely terrifying! This event reflected the stories, voices, and narratives of people who carry so much power in my life. People whose classes and guidance have inspired me to take this path and do something within the field of Black Studies. No pressure, right?
When planning this event, I had three goals in mind (1) raise awareness (2) enhance accessibility, and (3) create community. I wanted to create a platform where professors, faculty, and students could come together and openly speak about their experiences, research, passions, struggles, and so forth. As an undergraduate student, I feel as though we don’t hear enough about the experiences of faculty of color, they are never given the space/platform to do this nearly as much as they should. I believe that higher education should work to break bonds of ignorance, though the same system that is supposed to teach us, in actuality perpetuates institutional racism, oppression, and systems of inequality. That being a reason why I found this event to be so important because it provided a space where all these incredible scholars who are actively working to change this system could speak to the significance of Africana Studies in academia as well as their own beliefs as individuals. We have spent most of our existence in a “colonial bubble” in the sense that most of the things we are taught from pre-school to graduate are those of western standards. The interdisciplinary-ness and sheer importance of Africana Studies is beyond significant for one’s development as a human as well as being a person who feels compassion and empathy for those around them.
In this panel, I asked questions that revolved around research, narratives told about Africana Studies, intersections between COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and academia. I admire the approach each faculty member took and the points they brought up throughout the discussion. Dr. Nicole Aljoe focused on this idea of perception, the intersectionality of Africana Studies as a discipline, and the power one’s narrative carries. Dr. Richard O’Bryant highlighted many of these as well as emphasizing the community and disparities Black and Brown students face. Dr. Matthew Lee and Dr. Angel Nieves stressed this through their conversations about representation and systems grounded in oppression. Lastly, Dr. Patricia Davis and Ph.D. candidate Alanna Prince further elaborated on Dr. Matthew Lee and Dr. Angel Nieves’s point by speaking about compassion and the power our own students carry. The panel discussion didn’t feel fragmented or separate, but rather felt like a collective voice. I really appreciated the honesty and thoughtfulness that went into the responses. These are the professors and graduate students who make all the difference in my academic experience and I am sure they do the same for others as well. They carry a strong sense of belief in their students and that support carries so much weight in our lives. This was reflected in the audience portion of the discussion as well. I was utterly amazed by the audience interactions in the sense that it was real, honest, engaging.
In this, I want to say thank you to all our audience members, panelists, Mika, and the amazing Dr. Nicole Aljoe (without whom none of this would be possible) for believing in me and allowing me to do something so incredibly powerful. Thank you for giving me a platform to give others the space to speak about their own experience as well as my own.