Monday, December 11, 2017

Rae’Jean Spears: Notes on the first semester

Graduate student Rae'Jean Spears facilitates conversation at conference for high school black girls, October 2017.

My lead graduate student Rae’Jean Spears has just finished her first semester here in the department of English. In addition to pursuing her formal studies, she’s been an integral contributor to various programming projects.

Rae’Jean is a 2017 graduate of Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, where she majored in English and was a UNCF/Mellon Fellow. This semester, she has taken three graduate courses: "Modern Literary Theory" with Professor Heather Johnson, "Black Diasporic Feminisms" with Professor Elizabeth Cali, and "Gender, Language, and Pedagogy" with Anushiya Ramaswamy.

Rae’Jean explained that her first semester of graduate school "has been one of the most academically challenging semesters of my life; but, I've learned more about myself as a scholar than ever before. I'm excited to see how I'll grow over the next few years."

Rae'Jean discusses writing and tutoring with class of first-year black men, August 2017

As part of her graduate assistantship, Rae’Jean has served as the writing tutor for students in a program at the university for first-year black men and black women. Of course, she has offered the students advice well beyond writing instruction. In many cases, she has served as a big sister of sorts, hence we refer to as “the” sister-scholar.

"While my academic studies are fulfilling,” Rae’Jean said, “getting to mentor the students, especially the young women, is an added bonus. Being one of the only black women they see at a PWI, I realize how important my presence is and take pride in being afforded the opportunity to build relationships with them."

The other part of Rae’Jean’s GA has involved her assisting me with various projects this semester. For one, she was a chaperon for undergraduates on a trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. She also served as a facilitator during a conference for high school black girls. Working with the high school students, she said, "reminded me why I am in graduate school and why my voice will be an important one."

High school student (left), Rae'Jean Spears (center), and undergraduate student Amelia Williams talk during East St. Louis Digital Humanities club, September 2017  

Each Wednesday during the course of the semester, Rae’Jean worked with an after-school program -- the East St. Louis Digital Humanities Club -- on technology for high school students. She collaborated with undergraduates, and she produced a series of weekly reflections. Furthermore, Rae’Jean assisted me with a reading/study group for high school students focusing on comic books. We read Noble #1 - #4 with some of the students and Superb #1 - #4 with another group.

"I would use one word to describe my semester at SIUE," said Rae’Jean, "growth." She went on to explain that, "Everything from being in a class as the only black person to working in an office for all black students, has challenged me and encouraged me to grow in both my own scholarly ideas and overall life goals. I'm convinced that the things that I have learned in just 4 months couldn't have been learned elsewhere, and I look forward to see what the rest of my time here will bring."

Rae'Jean discusses technology with high student during East St. Louis Digital Humanities club, November 2017

Rae'Jean Spears: the critical facilitator and conversationalist

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