Students Find Camaraderie in African American and African Studies

Tiana Williams describes her time in the UC Davis Department of African American and African Studies as “opportunity after opportunity. The doors are open even if they’ve never seen you before.”

A native of Southern California, Williams (B.A., African American and African studies and cinema and digital media, ’20) decided to study cinema and digital media during her first quarter and added African American and African studies as a second major the next. She was inspired early on in a class taught by Milmon Harrison, associate professor, about making videos telling both personal stories and stories of African American experiences in the region. That brought together her majors and also her interest in journalism.

“It was all very hands-on and interdisciplinary,” she said. “It went way beyond the classroom.”

Williams got involved with Beyond the Stats, a group for students impacted by the criminal justice system; did public affairs reporting at KDVS; and was a video editor for the Department of Theatre and Dance’s adaptation of The Bluest Eye. She has produced several short documentaries that highlight social justice issues, including Transformation from the Inside Out and Alexis Brown: Taking the Knee.

 

Williams was also part of the McNair Scholars program that encourages underrepresented students to pursue doctoral degrees. As a McNair Scholar, she completed a project investigating the prisoners’ rights movement of the 1970s, which she presented at conferences and for which she was awarded the UC Davis Provost Undergraduate Fellowship. She is now a graduate student in film studies at the University of Southern California.

Research on Afro farmers

Eric Banks in the garden at UC Davis.
Eric Banks in a community garden at UC Davis. (Photo courtesy)

Another alum from Southern California, Eric Banks Jr. (B.A., African American and African studies, ’19), was planning to attend a California State University after attending a community college, but a program aimed at recruiting and retaining African American and Latino students opened the door to attending a UC.

“I thought it might be out of my league, but wanted to take the opportunity and inspire others,” said Banks, who works in the insurance industry and lives in Sacramento.

“One thing I loved about our department is it was very easy to get access to our professors and advisors. Also, the upper level class size was intimate, which allowed us to have important discussions which in some departments would not be possible. Both of those helped in my college success and overall long term goals because the access made it so much easier for me to find the clarity I needed in regards to courses.”

Banks has a passion for exploring, celebrating and promoting what he calls “Afro culture” and worked with existing campus organizations and started others. He also has a passion for farming and lived in two of the student co-ops, which have extensive gardens maintained by the residents. The co-ops also provided a place for discussions and activism around social and political issues. Those involvements and interests also meshed with his academics.

“I was able to do research on Afro farmers,” he said.

Banks plans to purchase land and develop a collective farm with some of those people he lived and worked with at UC Davis.

“It would be a homestead where we can grow food and feed the community,” he said.

Supportive professors

La’Nae Jackson
La’Nae Jackson (Photo courtesy)

Like Banks, La’Nae Jackson was encouraged to apply to UCs. A third-year student, she enrolled as a psychology major. After two classes in the African American and African studies department, she picked it as a second major.

“I just had a feeling — I think it was the closeness we developed in classes,” said Jackson, who grew up in Antioch, California. “With the smaller classes, you were given the opportunity to hear the thoughts of other students. One thing I was quickly drawn to was the class size and communication you have with the professors.”

She has found her two majors go hand-in-hand.

“I constantly find parallels in subject matter and concept,” said Jackson, who plans to attend graduate school and become a community-based therapist. “I really go back and forth. There is an interdisciplinary nature of the program that encourages that.”

Opportunities in African American and African studies

The major

  • The major has an interdisciplinary structure and students can engage in scholarship around politics, culture, religion, literature, history and arts.
  • Students can choose to focus on the African American experience, the African experience, the African Diaspora or a cross section of all.
  • The department has professors engaging in groundbreaking scholarship on a wide range of topics.

Careers 

  • Students completing the major are well prepared for graduate study in psychology, education, sociology, human development, history and many other disciplines.
  • Many graduates pursue professional training in fields such as pharmacy, medicine or law; or have found employment in federal and state government, international development, social service programs and counseling services. 

Support and community

  • There are departmental scholarships specifically for majors, along with research opportunities and faculty projects that students can participate in.
  • The Majors Club provides a space for students to further engage in co-curricular activities, such as the National Council of Black Studies Conference.

Communicator Jeffrey Day is a content strategist and writer for the College of Letters and Science.

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