When I started at Illinois, I had a strong sense of what I wanted to study. I developed a love for history in high school and knew early on that I would pursue that as my major in college. At the time, I specifically wanted to study black women’s history, and was confident I could explore that interest with a history major. However, during a college visit, a student recommended I also look into a Gender & Women’s Studies major, which I was unaware was an option. By the time I had taken a few courses, I knew I would declare a double major in History and Gender & Women’s StudiesI wanted to pursue what I already knew I was passionate about, and my advisor was very supportive of that.

An experience that shaped my time at Illinois was when I started an RSO in the History department for racial and ethnic minority students and LGBTQ+ individuals. The goal was to create a space that centered the history of those students and provided a safe environment for self-expression. I made meaningful relationships with others in the group and was proud of the organization’s interdisciplinary and community-focused nature. I was also encouraged by the amount of support we received from the faculty, many of whom were eager to jump on board and play an active role.

Additionally, I found a great community in the Gender & Women’s Studies department, which felt genuinely like a family. While I’m reading the faculty’s own work in classes, I’m also mingling with them at department events, sharing meals with them, and having the most down-to-earth conversations. To this day, I cherish the relationships formed in that department and its familial culture.

One faculty member in particular, Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, helped me realize where my true scholarly passion lies, and that was within Black Girlhood Studies. Having the opportunity to work with one of the founders of the discipline helped me realize that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

I’m currently a PhD student in History at the University of Illinois Chicago. Since I knew a PhD was my ultimate goal, I applied directly to those programs after completing my bachelor’s. I ultimately decided to join the History department at UIC after I saw how enthusiastic the faculty were about my research interests. I was particularly interested in working with black girls in Chicago, so I was excited to find a program in the same city where I planned to conduct my research. Lastly, I knew I would need a dedicated advisor, since my research methods wouldn’t only be the “traditional” ones used by historians. These were all crucial deciding factors for me when I was forming my post-graduate plan.

In the future, I plan to become a professor of Black Girlhood Studies, and to found an organization dedicated to empowering and supporting black girls in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. In time, I will learn more about what that organization should look like based on what black girls tell me they need. I’m excited to explore questions like, “what sort of intervention and attributes do I want to be making in the field? What kind of support do I want to be offering to black girls and how do I want to collaborate with them?”

When I was little, my mom told me to “always do what you love, because then it will never be work.” That’s the philosophy that guided every decision I made at Illinois; what majors I chose, what organizations I joined, what new activities I tried out.

The college experience goes beyond getting the degree. There are so many experiences for growth – academically, intellectually, and personally – and self-exploration, and I would tell students to make sure you’re getting out of the experience exactly what you want out of it. Make that experience work for you, so you can look back on it and say that you did everything that you wanted to do.

Follow whatever your dream or passion is, even if you come in not knowing what that is. You don’t have to know right away. Make your focus figuring it out. Dedicate yourself to figuring out what it is that you love to do, because that’ll make the experience even better and more enjoyable.