Pan-African bonds reach beyond KSU

Christina Stavale

Francis Dorsey, interim chair of the department of Pan-African Studies, said he was proud when a former student stopped in and told him that without his support, she might not have succeeded in her years at Kent State.

The two built a strong relationship during her years at Kent State, and have kept in touch since she graduated this past summer.

Within the Pan-African Studies department, it’s not uncommon for students, faculty, staff and the community to share a strong bond. This, Dorsey said, makes him proud.

“I didn’t create it,” he said, “but it’s something that seems to be so ingrained in the African community. We become that extended family. It’s painful to see (students) not succeed, but then it’s just as rewarding to see them succeed.”

And when that student stopped in to thank him, Dorsey said it reminded him of why it is so important to build these relationships in the first place.

One way these relationships are built, Dorsey said, is within the African Community Theater. Though the theater is not housing any productions this year because of renovations to Oscar Ritchie Hall, relationships built through the theater have remained intact.

Quiera Lige, sophomore psychology and justice studies major, said she built a strong relationship with Dorsey when she worked on one of the productions last year.

“In my (high school), they didn’t teach me a lot about myself,” Lige said. “Dr. Dorsey did amazing things with the plays. I just kind of latched onto him. And they (professors in the department of Pan-African Studies) really allow you to do that.”

Within the African Community Theater, Dorsey said he becomes similar to a father figure because he is tough on students, but only because he wants the best for them.

“I have never asked anyone in a production (or in life) to do something that I’m not willing to do,” he said.

Each year, he said students talk about what lessons and experiences they have gained out of theatre productions, and he has always gained something out of the students as well.

Lige said last year, being a freshman, she saw Dorsey as a mentor. One piece of advice he gave her that stands out in her mind is to “never let somebody else make a name for you.”

Dorsey said he gives this advice to students because when students do what is truly important for themselves — and not somebody else — they can truly embrace their own character and be themselves.

Traci Williams, instructor in Pan-African Studies, was president of Black United Students during her days at Kent State. Because of this, she said she feels a special connection to student leaders.

“It’s almost like my duty to make sure the students don’t mess up, even though I know they won’t mess up,” she said.

She said she talks almost every other day with current BUS President Sasha Parker, both as a friend and a mentor. Sometimes, she said she even feels like she’s still a student herself.

“Everyone has my cell phone number,” she said, “and my office is sometimes the ‘hang-out place.'”

She said students will sometimes hang out in her office even if she isn’t there, and come to her whether they just want to talk or need advice.

Preston Mitchum, senior political science and Pan-African studies major, said he sees George Garrison, professor of Pan-African Studies, as a father figure. With Garrison’s number saved in his cell phone, Mitchum said he knows he is always a phone call away no matter what.

“He’s a great person in general,” Mitchum said. “I know I can call him at any time of the day.”

He said no particular conversation they’ve had stands out, but he’s always appreciated the way Garrison always notices his dedication and commitment.

Mitchum said he’s built close relationships with professors in the department of political science as well. However, he said professors in the department of Pan-African Studies really make the initiative to reach out to students. It was those professors that gave him encouragement to pursue a double-major, instead of the minor in Pan-African Studies that he originally intended.

Lige said she doesn’t know of a single professor in the department that hasn’t reached out to students — and in some ways, it is part of their job.

“We’re minorities, and they want to see us graduate, they want what’s best for us,” she said. “It’s kind of their jobs. Our professors do a great job with it.”

Dorsey said though things have changed a lot this year with the faculty housed in the Lincoln Building, he receives many phone calls and e-mails from students who are eager to keep in touch. In some ways, he said this will make the reopening of the newly-renovated Oscar Ritchie hall even more appreciated.

Lige said she makes it a point to keep in touch with professors through e-mail at least once a month, keeping them updated about what is going on in her life. She encourages others to do the same, as the “professors really do value students.”

She also built a close relationship last year with Christopher Williams, associate professor of Pan-African Studies from taking his Black Experience I class last year. And if students want to meet a great professor, and find someone to build this kind of close relationship with, Lige said to look no further than the department of Pan-African Studies.

“I would advise people to take Pan-African Studies classes,” she said, “because that’s really the best way to meet a great professor.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Christina Stavale at [email protected].