Special Studies in African Ethnomusicology and in African American Jazz Aesthetic
An Afro-American studies minor is the ideal interdisciplinary complement to the critical analysis of gender, race and class constructions we conduct in the Study of Women and Gender, specifically as I focus on women, race and culture. Coursework is frequently cross-listed between the two, while a number of professors also contribute their experience and expertise to both fields. For instance, in Andrea Hairston's highly popular "Minstrel Shows from Daddy Rice to Big Momma's House," I began an examination of how the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality issues are constructed and carried in the DNA of popular culture. In Paula Giddings's impossible-to-get-a-seat-in "Feminism, Race, and Resistance: A History of Black Women in America," we unraveled the genesis of Black Feminist Theory.
Mentoring takes place beyond the classroom as well. In the fall 2009, I had the great fortune to work as a research assistant for Kevin Quashie as he prepared his most recent book manuscript and companion article for upcoming publication. The book manuscript explores what a concept of quiet could mean to how we think about black culture, which Kevin tells me is currently titled "an untitled manuscript on black culture and quiet." The article, to be published in African-American Review, the leading journal in our field, is titled "The Trouble of Publicness: Toward a Theory of Quiet in Black Culture."
Each week I would receive a list of research requests from Kevin. He might ask me, for instance, to find and cite as many books and articles on black existentialism as I could find. Using my own classroom knowledge or with the help of Smith's amazing research librarians, I found I could not only compile a vast list of sources, but could also narrow down my findings to the ones I thought most crucial to Kevin's work. I also had an opportunity to read a draft of his journal article as he revised and refined his thinking, and was able to offer editorial suggestion that were ultimately helpful to the overall clarity of the piece. On the practical side, I was able to find the exact image of John Carlos and Tommie Smith that Kevin wanted to use, then provided the information necessary to secure a copyright clearance.
All this experience in service to Kevin's work had an impact on my own research and writing skills outside the classroom and beyond the department. I am currently undertaking a Mellon-funded student/faculty research collaboration investigating the efficacy of the Ada Comstock program in collaboration with Rosetta Cohen in the Department of Education and Child Study. The study is composed of three ethno-graphic portraits of Ada alumnae who graduated ten or more years ago from Smith and seeks to understand the ways in which these women were impacted by the Ada experience, and how they reflect back on their Smith education in light of the career and life choices they have made. In addition to the interviews, transcriptions, and analysis carried out this summer, I also spent a large portion of my time in the archives and at the library building on the research skills and relationships that emerged in my work with Kevin. As my experience bears out, the collaborative process of research not only benefits my mentoring professor, but also lays the groundwork for my own academic development as I step into the role of scholar and producer of knowledge.
Kathy is a senior Ada Comstock Scholar with a minor in Afro-American studies.