Thursday, February 24, 2022

During Black History Month, we interviewed a few of our Black and African American faculty about Black History Month and their experiences and work.

Distinguished Senior Lecturer in Design, Cheryl D. Miller

Distinguished Senior Lecturer in Design, Cheryl D. Miller

Q&A with Cheryl D. Miller

What classes are you teaching this semester?

I'm teaching Decolonizing Graphic Design, teaching the history of it this semester.

What does Black history month mean to you?

It means an opportunity to reflect on historical contributions of the African American community. But I really feel that even though it's been something that's been recognized and established and set apart, a part of my work is integrating these stories into the main dialogue, so my class does just that. I teach graphic design history, but it's laced with Black graphic design history and my class and scholars are encouraged to find their affinity and voice of origin and integrate their stories. I think what's really important is that the whole pedagogy of graphic design should be far more integrated than it is. Black History for me is every month – it's every day when I wake up.

Who or what has been your biggest inspiration in your life or in your work?

That's a hard question because I don't have inspiration like that. I didn't have a design mentor. I've had one academic coach, but my energized and inner vision has been my greatest inspiration. I have a gift to see design solutions, so I can't say I have anybody who's inspired me like that. I know that's an odd answer for an everyday question, but no mentors, no one to take an interest. I have had deep desire to solve design problems and challenges that I see in society and humanity and, thus, my work, I didn't depend on anybody to inspire me to get up to do what I see needs to be done.

Do you have a message that you would like to say to African American and Black students?

Be curious. Document the answers and just journey towards scholarship. That's what's brought me is, I was curious about things, and I found answers. I collected answers and have been writing the answers that I've discovered. For me, writing and creating scholarship has opened doors of opportunity for myself and for others. I'm a believer in developing and birthing new scholarship, and there's so many stories to tell if we research and respond to the questions that come to us. I think that's one of the things that all students take for granted, is that we get questions, and we don't run them out until its very end. So, listen to your heart, listen to the sound of the drum, and follow where it leads. Make something of what you find. That can that's more difficult than it sounds, but that's the key to making a difference. To be inclusionary means to be patient and tolerant and accepting and welcoming, and that can make any community well when you decide to be a citizen that offers inclusion in your heart.


Professor of Art History and African Diaspora Art, Eddie Chambers

Professor of Art History and African Diaspora Art, Eddie Chambers

Q&A with Eddie Chambers

What classes are you teaching this semester?

I'm teaching the one class which is Art identity and Racial Difference.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

That’s a good question because I think it's difficult for me to have a settled opinion about that history month. In some respects, I take the view that every month should be Black History Month. I have that view on one hand, but on the other hand, I have the view that if there's a month that can draw attention to the depth and the relevance and the importance of Black history or history from a Black perspective or however you want to frame it, then so much the better. We have to remember, of course, that Black History Month started out as being Black History Week, which was initiated by Carter G. Woodson. In many respects it has expanded, and he was one of the founding figures of of African American history, who was the driving force behind Negro History Week, as it was first called. We have to respectfully bear those kind of things in mind.

Who or what has been your biggest inspiration in your life or in your work?

Looking back on the decades since I was young, I would say Marcus Garvey. Born in Jamaica in 1887, he went on to form an organization called the Universal Negro Improvement Association. I would say that Marcus Garvey is probably one of the biggest influences on my life from a number of perspectives. I mean, not only not only in terms of his various ideas and activism around Black identity and Black personhood and the progress of Black people internationally, but also, I've been inspired by him in terms of his organizational abilities. He was a complicated figure, but at different times his life a formidable organizer. I think perhaps, unconsciously, I have been inspired by Garvey's ability to organize to get things done.

Do you have a message that you would like to say to African American and Black students?

I think in some respects, any kind of broad comments would probably be to the student body as a whole. In my classes, I invariably have reason to ask my class if they've heard of Paul Robeson, who, to me, is a leading American figure of the 20th century. Invariably, no hands are raised. That, to me, speaks of things being chronically problematic, probably at the high school or middle school level. Certainly, the ways in which some people like Paul Robeson - and of course we can add any number of figures, any African Diaspora, African American figures, historical figures to that the fact that certain people are chronically under recognized. There's a devastation that comes from that. When you stand in a class and you realize that levels of knowing, levels of knowledge, levels of awareness about a wide range of figures are chronically lacking, these are difficult issues. When I asked the question, it may well be the African American students who are able to raise their hands, but it's not always the case. I would much rather say: have this challenge, ask questions about learning. A pupil probably doesn't feel empowered to ask questions about what they're being taught. I think they're much more likely to be on the receiving end of whatever the teacher is saying, but I think by the time students get into university, they absolutely have a right to make it known if they think what they're teaching on any subject is lacking. Students absolutely have the right to say, I'm not comfortable with this, with the absences that are in my syllabus. I'm not saying they should take the part of the instructor and say, I could teach this custom better than you can. I'm not saying that, but I'm saying, students do have the right to make it known if they feel that what they're being taught is incomplete and it is lacking.


Associate Director of Bands and Director of Longhorn Band, Cliff Croomes

Associate Director of Bands and Director of Longhorn Band, Cliff Croomes

Q&A with Cliff Croomes

What does Black History Month mean to you?

For me, I thought about it when I was younger and in school. There really wasn't much to it. I remember specifically when there was a push by Stevie Wonder to get Martin Luther King's birthday recognized as a national holiday. So that's kind of when I first really noticed, oh, whoa, this is a thing. That was like the first realization, like, oh, this is important. As I grew up, it's sort of stayed sort of in that realm now. With more social justice movement, it's taken on a different significance. Throughout my career, I've been in a lot of places where I'm the first Black teacher or director or the only Black teacher or director. It kind of has taken on different significance and different points of my life.

Who or what has been your biggest inspiration in your life or in your work?

I’ve always had really good teachers. I always look to my teachers, my parents, and my reverend. My pastor has always been a big source of inspiration to me. I looked at a photo of him and President Obama yesterday. I don't even know that existed. Wow. I've always looked up to people like that.

Do you have a message that you would like to say to African American and Black students?

I would just say always work your hardest because traditionally, our work doesn't stand out unless it's at the highest level. So always work your hardest and just be prepared for an opportunity when it comes.

What does it feel like for you when you are the first or only Black teacher or faculty?

It’s like a lot of people, non-African Americans, will go into a job with an assignment like, “This is my job. This is what I'm supposed to do.” Whereas, in that case, as being the only African American or the first African American, you go in with the responsibility because you’re representative of a lot of people, and if you're the first given opportunity like that and you're not responsible with that, you may not be able to open that door for somebody else behind you. This is being totally honest. That’s the sort of responsibility every time I'm in one of those positions. I will say, I'm extremely proud to be the first African American band director here at UT. This is my alma mater, it's the flagship of the state of Texas, so I feel like that at some point this will become a historic moment. But I'm just trying to live in the moment now, do my best for the students, but I'm proud that I was able to accomplish this achievement.

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