Friday, April 30, 2010

Frederick Douglass Fellows at Washington College Explore Race, Education in U.S.


Chestertown – Education has long been viewed as the fundamental stepping-stone to success in American society. But the relationship between education and opportunity sometimes breaks down. Exploring the racial dimensions of this breakdown has been a journey of discovery for Beverly Frimpong ’12 and Brian Suell ’12, this year’s recipients of the prestigious Frederick Douglass Fellowship at Washington College (shown in photo, far right and far left, flanking, from left: Suell’s mother, Mary Mooney, and faculty advisers Jill Ogline Titus and Joseph Prud’homme.)

Now in its fifth year, the Frederick Douglass Fellowship supports independent student work in African-American studies, Native American studies, and related fields. The fellowship, which provides annual grants of up to $1,500 to Washington College sophomores or juniors and $500 honorariums to faculty mentors paired with the students, is administered through the College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

Frimpong’s project, “W.E.B. DuBois & Booker T. Washington: An Ideological Fusion for the 21st Century,” explored the political and social ideologies of the two leading spokesmen for black America at the turn of the 20th century. Going beyond their famous rivalry, which included a basic disagreement about the relationship between education and opportunity, Frimpong detailed the intricacies of their visions for black advancement.

A political science and international studies double major who emigrated to the United States from Ghana as a child, Frimpong brought the issue into the present with an argument that minority groups in 21st-century America could benefit from a fusion of these adversaries’ ideals.

Frimpong and her faculty mentor, Dr. Joseph Prud’homme, Assistant Professor of Political Science, plan to continue their exploration over the summer. Thanks to grants from the Cater Society of Junior Fellows and the Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture of the Goldstein Program in Public Affairs, they will spend a week researching DuBois’s Pan-African activities at the University of London’s Oriental and African Institute.

Suell’s project, “The Essence of Equality: An Investigation of the Current State of Education and Poverty in American Cities,” focused on urban education in majority-minority communities, using Newark, New Jersey, the tenth poorest city in America, as a case study.

A native of the Greater Newark area, Suell constructed his study around an extensive  series of personal interviews with those most qualified to comment on the educational prospects of urban students: classroom teachers and students in the Newark schools, Head Start and charter school administrators, child psychologists, public defenders, and officials in the juvenile justice system.

Blending the information gleaned from these interviews with statistical and historical data, Suell, a sophomore political science major, argued strenuously that educational revitalization is the most promising avenue for dismantling the structures of de facto discrimination that continue to handicap many young African Americans.

Suell worked closely on the research with his faculty mentor, Dr. Jill Ogline Titus, Associate Director of the Starr Center, and plans to continue his investigation as a senior thesis project. During the summer of 2010, he will intern with the Essex County Office of the Public Defender, which will provide him a firsthand opportunity to explore the connections between educational deprivation and criminal activity.

The Douglass Fellowship was established to encourage students to develop independent projects exploring the culture and history of diverse sections of the American population. Each year, during the spring semester, it also brings to campus a visiting professional (scholar, writer, musician, or artist) actively engaged in the study or interpretation of African American history and related fields. This year’s Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow, civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, spent a week in residence at Washington College in March. During her visit, Ifill gave a public talk on the role of race and gender in the process of judicial decision-making – her current project – and discussed restorative justice with students in the Pre-Law Program. Both fellowships are supported by gifts from Maurice Meslans and Margaret Holyfield of St. Louis.

The author, activist and diplomat Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), for whom the fellowship was named, was born in Talbot County, Md., about 30 miles south of Washington College, and retained a deep attachment to the Eastern Shore until the end of his life.

In addition to the Frederick Douglass Fellowship, the Starr Center also offers a range of special programs and extracurricular opportunities to Washington College students, including the Comegys Bight Fellowships and the Presidential Study Fellowship in Washington, as well as weekend road trips and summer programs. For more information, visit http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.

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