Let me introduce you. Tasia Clemons is a new graduate student at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, where she studies Higher Education and Student Affairs. She also fills the position of Resident Hall Director where she will continue to make difference in people’s lives, one resident at a time. Tasia Clemons has been a huge advocate for students of color at Framingham State University where she earned her Bachelors in Sociology and also has a YouTube channel where through this, she fights and discusses action for various things that surround being a person of color. Her blog, “Brown Skin Education” follows her personal account of colorism, racism, and motivation for individuals who look just like us. Her message is this: We are capable. That is what our entire research on black women in policy and the lack thereof is about. Showing others that black women are not only capable, but we are important catalysts of progression. She and I worked together in our special course studying careers of Black women in public policy in Washington, D.C. and we put together some of our culminating thoughts.
EO: This past year you were the lead advisor (Administrative Resident Assistant or ARA) in the largest residence hall at Framingham State. How did your identity as a Black woman affect your experience?
TC: What was different about this past year compared to my other three years at Framingham State was that one, I was an ARA. This brought more responsibilities and more authority. However, another difference was how hyperaware I was of my Blackness. There had been an abundance of things happening in our society, on our campus, and around the United States that had negatively affected how I saw myself in my position. On top of worrying that I was actually being listened to during meetings (where I was one of only two people of color out of seven) I had to make sure that all of the race-related issues that were weighing down on me in the U.S. did not affect my position. Day in and day out, thinking about being an ARA and working closely with University Police but constantly seeing police shooting POC’s everyday sometimes put a strain on me. Making sure that those I hired reflected our campus community was a priority. The diversity on leadership teams was limited, and I wholeheartedly wanted to make sure that POCs felt comfortable entering into a residence hall.
Working tirelessly day in and day out to not only prove to myself that I could do this position, but prove to those around me that I deserved to 1.) be in college and 2.) be an ARA left me, on some nights, burnt out. I had to make sure that when I spoke to an employee, a student, my supervisors, and more, that I used a certain tone and voice to make sure they would not assume the worst about me before I even had the chance to prove myself. However, after dealing with all of those factors, it was what Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and Economy (PREE), said in one of our interviews that really changed my views as I move towards my new position as a Hall Director at Canisius College. We had the opportunity to ask Valerie about if she felt the need to prove herself when she entered all white spaces. Did she feel as though she had to do so much extra to ensure that they knew she was capable? Valerie said that we should just allow our work to speak for itself; that I should not be fighting for others’ approval or exhausting myself to prove to my white counterparts that I am capable because undoubtedly, due to the biases and prejudices that sometimes people are unaware that they have, they are going to have some negative thoughts about me because of my skin color.
Because of this independent study, I understand that isn’t entirely their fault. Every person has preconceived judgements on an individual and that is hard to admit. It’s just the matter of being able to catch your prejudices, reevaluate your judgements, and understand where they come from is what is important. Systems must change, but people must change too. We did not get these prejudices out of thin air—they are systemic. They came from the world around us—but it is up to each individual to actually think critically about why they have the thoughts they do and how they can work on being an ally to change the thoughts of others. I just have to continue to do what I love—fight for the rights of marginalized students and continue to do the work to help them rise. The position, being a Hall Director and more importantly being a Black woman in a position of power in a predominately white space, will already challenge me enough. I should be challenging myself simply to do better than I did yesterday, not to make sure my white counterparts aren’t assuming the worst. My work will speak for itself.
EO: How did this study alter your views on life after college and Black women with careers?
TC: For starters, this course definitely made me more confident in myself. Having the resources and ability to speak to Black women about their careers helped me envision myself being a mentor to a young girl or woman who looks like me. Although the women we interviewed I saw as celebrities, speaking with them reminded me that they faced, and still do, hardships and struggle. It made me see that it is mostly about the perseverance and the resilience that you have that pushes you through. In addition, the support system that I actively choose could make or break life after college. Although I will continue to turn to those who helped me get to the graduate school I am attending, helped mold my future, and guided me towards chasing my dreams, once I get to my next stop in my journey I must find the people there who are 100 percent fighting for me. I was able to hear about all of the external forces that try to push Black women down through this study and get advice as to how to handle it, but I must make sure I am surrounding myself with people who make me feel nothing but good about myself. The society has already spent years trying to push me down, it is better I am surrounded by those who want me to rise up.
EO: How did this independent study help you in your decision to pursue higher education and student affairs in grad school?
TC: Since we focused on Black women in social policy, it reminded me that there is an abundance of policies that must be addressed. In a phrase, I learned that inequality is policy. Although I am passionate about people who are incarcerated, low-income families, low-income housing, and so many more policies that affect those populations, I have had the opportunity to enforce policies at my undergraduate institution as an ARA. With the mixture of being an ARA, being a sociologist, and being a Black woman, I started to question the policies at all higher education institutions. This independent study pushed for me to think more critically about how higher education policies affect all marginalized groups at an institution. Although I can continue to do programs addressing issues surrounding racism, speak to students who are struggling in college, and attempt to shed a light on marginalized students who are often silenced—sometimes looking at the policies and the hidden language in them is what needs to be done to produce some form of change. This independent study helped me think more critically about the policies made at institutions and what I can do, as a member of a marginalized group, to change them.
Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. Tasia Clemons is a 2018 graduate at FSU in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. She is currently a Hall Director and in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program at Canisius College. Follow Tasia at @TasiaClemons.