“What can a degree in African American Studies do for me?” can be seen with recent AASD graduate:                                             

Chayla C. Jackson

J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015

Public Interest Law Scholar

Georgetown University Law Center

What were the factors that lead you to become an African American Studies major?

I became an African American Studies (AAS) major because I was bored with the rote memorization involved in being a psychology major. AAS made me excited to discuss topics from multiple angles - policy, culture, history - and it allowed me to critically analyze and argue with the material. I no longer was expected to sit back and be force-fed with information that we blindly assumed was correct, but I was expected to challenge the authors and theories like the Culture of Poverty. It opened my mind to what learning and thinking really was and the professors provided a safe space for that learning and re-learning to be cultivated and for my own biases to be checked respectfully. One major person that lead me to become a AAS major was Tammy Sanders and her style of teaching in AASP 100.

What was one of the most invaluable aspects of your majoring in African American Studies at UMD?

The most invaluable aspects in majoring in African American Studies at UMD is that I will never look at anything or anyone the same without considering the history, policy, and cultural influences. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the family I felt adopted me as a major and the support that I received both as a student and alum from Dr. Harley, Mrs. Valencia Skeeter, and Ms. Sharon Anderson. 

How has a degree in African American Studies helped your career path since graduating?

I am currently in law school and working this summer in youth defense in Oakland, California. My degree in African American Studies has helped me critically analyze the systematic issues that my clients face and how the education system and juvenile justice system fail black and brown youth. My degree has also informed how I engage and build trust with my clients, and has given me a great appreciation for the lived experience of my clients. African American Studies gave me a foundation for understanding the systems and policy that drive poverty, urban culture, and the criminalization of black and brown youth, which equips me at this stage to learn the juvenile justice system to better advocate for clients. Additionally, my concentration in cultural and social analysis helps me remember that most of clients have their voices silenced every day and by listening and showing them I have listened helps me give them back a little bit of power and self-agency. As I continue in my legal studies and career, I'm sure that my degree in African American Studies is the pivotal foundation that informs how I will pursue community organizing, creation of social programs, and policies for social and racial justice.