WMU News

Student's research presented at national conference

May 9, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- With the hope of bringing awareness of black history to the forefront of higher education agendas, a Western Michigan University undergraduate traveled to North Carolina last semester to present a paper at the Eighth Annual Institute of African American Research Student Academic Conference.

Karika Phillips, a non-traditional student and a senior majoring in sociology and Africana studies, was one of only 15 student presenters chosen from across the nation to present at the conference held at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

According to Dr. Lawrence Potter, WMU assistant professor in the Africana Studies program, the Student Academic Conference is a "high visibility event."

With the theme, "Dialogues on the Diaspora," the conference focused on the study of the Africana diaspora, or the dispersion from their homelands of black people and their culture here in the United States and throughout the world. Specific sessions focused on slavery and emancipation, writing culture, roots and resistance, and history and memory. Phillips' paper examined "The Necessity of Black Studies Curriculum, Race and Culture in Higher Education."

"The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill draws many scholars from all over the country who have a chance to see many senior undergraduate student presentations," says Potter. "This conference gives undergraduate students exposure to research competition on a national level, and I see it as a preparation for graduate programs, especially for students specializing in a specific niche of Africana Studies."

Phillip's paper and subsequent PowerPoint presentation focused on the existing literature regarding black studies in higher education and the distinctiveness of a "black culture."

"There are authors, poets, inventors, and musicians who have gone undocumented and unexplored in traditional American history textbooks, leaving students misinformed," says Phillips. "The black studies departments across the nation have continually tried to fill this void and offer scholarship as it relates to African-American people."

Phillips contends that African Americans can justifiably say they possess a true culture--a whole way of life that includes its own standard of moral and aesthetic judgment.

"As young and seasoned scholars intellectually theorize about African-American culture we are able to offer lasting and viable research, which will transcend rhetoric by educating all Americans in the 21st century," says Phillips.

In addition to presenting her paper, Phillips participated as a roundtable discussant with other UNC faculty and staff, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students to discuss strategies for success in higher education and in the job field for people of color.

For Phillips, though, what began as the dream of a disenfranchised minority teenager has manifested into her lifelong goal focusing on higher education studies.

"I've always wanted to become a professor of black studies," say Phillips. "I would find myself frustrated with my teachers for not recognizing those African-American pioneers and great leaders of which my parents spoke so often."

To that end, Phillips will continue her education in the WMU master's degree program in history specializing in Africana studies, after she graduates in June.

Phillips also presented her paper at WMU's Second Annual Africana Studies Symposium, where she was one of three students chosen to present and received a $150 award for the symposium's best paper and presentation.

Phillips resides in Kalamazoo, with her husband, Robert, and their two children.

Media contact: Scott K. Crary, 269 387-8400, scott.crary@wmich.edu

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