FURSCA Profile: Black Student Researchers Pave the Way

Akaiia Ridley, Albion senior, flips through pages of The Pleiad archives at the Archives and Special Collection Center. Ridley is one of the many Black student researchers at Albion College and aims to bring more awareness to Black history on campus through her research (Photo by Irene Corona-Avila).

Every year, Albion College students have the opportunity to develop and carry out research and other creative projects through the Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (FURSCA) with a faculty advisor. Students have the option to conduct their research in the summer, fall and spring semesters.

In honor of Black History Month, The Pleiad highlights Black student researchers and their FURSCA projects. 

Amanda Duncan

“Identity” is a poem written by Amanda Duncan, Chicago junior. Duncan participated in a summer FURSCA project where she researched repetition in form in poetry and later, she would write her own poems using repetition in form in poetry (Photo courtesy of Amanda Duncan).

Chicago senior and English major Amanda Duncan paired up with associate English professor Helena Mesa to research repetition in poetry and eventually, Duncan would write poems of her own using the skills she learned.

Mesa is also Duncan’s academic advisor, who asked Duncan if she wanted to participate in a FURSCA research project. Duncan felt motivated to strengthen her skills using repetition in poetry. While repetition can enhance meaning, Duncan wanted to learn how to use repetition in poetry in a way that improves meaning without making it sound boring. 

Poetry can come in different forms, such as villanelle, gazelle and pontoon, and in repetition poetry, repeating a line throughout the poem could enhance or change the meaning of that line.

“When you read so many forms, the way it’s created kind of sticks with you,” said Duncan. “So I found that when I was writing in the forms after researching it, it was a lot easier than trying to write in the forms right off the bat.”

Duncan found it challenging to simultaneously follow repetition and themes of the gazelle forms of poetry. Traditional forms of gazelle are themed to be lust or love and each line must stand as their own stanza. Duncan found that these two features were hard to stick with. 

While Duncan read some poems from Black poets, most of the work she read were of women poets. 

“There were some Black poets whose work I’ve read under the forms I did, but it wasn’t as many as I would have liked,” said Duncan. “I did read a majority of women’s work as opposed to men because I’m like ‘if you can’t read a black woman’s work, at least you’re reading a woman’s work, but I did kind of want to see more from Black women in the forms that I was researching.”

In the summertime, Albion’s campus can feel vacant. Duncan emphasizes the importance of Black students finding each other because it can feel lonely on campus. Having someone else to talk to can help make students feel like they belong, that they are meant to do research and talk about the struggles in their summer experiences, according to Duncan.

“Having someone on campus, especially someone who shares the same experience, is really beneficial for feeling like you belong while doing your research, so if there was a way for (Black researchers) to meet up throughout the summer that would be cool,” said Duncan.

In the end, she found that reading the work that you intend to write can be beneficial to your writing, and if you’re going to be a writer, you must also read. Duncan does not plan to continue her research but plans to use the skills she learned in her next poetry class.

Moses Jatta

From left to right, professor of earth and environment Madeline Marshall, Riverview senior Lauren Bergeron, Madison, Wis. senior Moses Jatta and assistant professor of geosciences at Penn State Kimberly Lau. Jatta took a trip to Idaho to explore the state’s phosphoric rock complex (Photo courtesy of Moses Jatta).

Geology major and French minor, Madison, Wis. senior Moses Jatta also spent the summer of 2021 on his FRUSCA project. 

In partnership with professor of earth and environment Madeline Marshall and French department chair and associate provost of Advising and Assessment Dianne Guenin-Lelle, Jatta combined geology and French to translate historical and recent French text collected from Madagascar and recent field data sedimentary deposits to better reconstruct the paleoenvironments, the interactions between organisms their environments across geologic timescales. 

At first, Jatta was skeptical about the ethics of research in colonialism due to the long history of exploitation, trauma and biases that came with colonialism. After sitting down with his advisor Guenin-Lelle, Jatta felt better to learn the ethical approaches and the mutualistic benefits in the research project. 

While excited to be given the chance to excel in his studies, Jatta found it challenging to translate the French text but overcame the obstacle in a step-by-step mindset. 

Jatta first learned French in middle school in his home country Gambia, but now only practices his French during class. One of his goals is to speak French on a daily basis.

One of his major findings in this project is the reluctance and dismissal in holding conversations centered on colonialism, some people didn’t even want to acknowledge colonialism. 

“I wasn’t even thinking about colonialism or anything when I started to do research, and now, in my classes, we talked about colonialism, and it sort of connected my research in my classes to my French class,” said Jatta.

He also became aware of big companies that fund colonialism and, as a result, contribute to the problem. Jatta believes that colonialism should be a conversation that people need to have, despite how uncomfortable it could be, and bringing in diverse voices to the conversation can bring new perspectives. 

Towards the end of his summer research, Jatta, along with Marshall, Riverview senior Lauren Bergeron and assistant professor of geosciences at Penn State Kimberly Lau,  spent two weeks in Idaho to gain experience in field work. It was separate from his FURSCA project. While there, the team sampled sedimentary rocks in Idaho.

Jatta gained a new perspective on research while observing and learning from the rest of the team. He felt inspired to work harder in his studies. Upon return, Jatta presented a FURSCA presentation talk on climate change in Idaho, where he saw drought and food shortages as a consequence of industrialization. 

Jatta carried over his project into his senior thesis. Through this opportunity, Jatta learned that he enjoys research and has incorporated it into his future plans, which are still yet to be determined.

“I learned so much from research, all these little things, I’m like, ‘oh, my God,’” said Jatta. “The research I’m doing is also influencing what I’m doing in the future.”

Jatta encourages Black researchers to make a difference, even if they are underrepresented because they could be the first to accomplish it.

Akaiia Ridley

Albion senior and history major Akaiia Ridley has partnered with archivist Elizabeth Palmer to create and build an exhibit showcasing Black history at Albion College.

After the student protests in April 2021, Palmer and Bergeron, also a student archivist, reached out to Ridley in search of a student willing to create a project to highlight Black students while respectfully and appropriately presenting Black student history and Black student culture. Ridley’s firm belief in the past and efforts to document minority history accurately pushed her to take on this project. 

Ridley interviewed a combination of current Albion college students, alumni and employees and worked through 20 boxes of information from Intercultural Affairs information to build her exhibit. 

Throughout her process, Akaiia found it challenging to work with the minimal work in the archives and to gain the interviewees’ trust. But it took Ridley to reassure the interviewees of the confidentiality within these interviews and the good intentions of this project to preserve and highlight Black experiences on campus. 

Ridley would come across unique stories. For one, the Common Reading Experience  was started by Preston Hicks, a Black faculty, to increase the diversity of perspectives on campus. 

In 1968, 22 of the 24 black students on campus created and presented a list of demands to faculty but it took years for it to be on the agenda. In the 80s and 90s, resident assistants, now known as community assistants, were mostly Black students that would later come together to create a safe space for student college experience.

Black students at Albion College have created history by taking the initiative to improve student life experience and in translation, academic and social excellence.

Ridley encourages Black researchers to find their own history and to tell their story how they want it to be told. She also encourages students from other diverse backgrounds to research the history of their demographic throughout Albion

“I’m a Black woman. I am a Black student, so I can only feel responsible to document Black history,” said Ridley. “I can’t do other identities, which is why I am writing a thesis to go along with the project, so that if another person who identifies differently would like to do something similar, like to see their own making, they can read my thesis as like an instruction manual so that they can see all of the steps that I took to do this.” 

Ridley emphasizes the importance of using your voice to demand student cultural change. She hopes that the right people will view her exhibition to learn the history of Black students and make changes accordingly. 

“This is the reality,” said Ridley. “If we don’t demand it, they won’t know, because the people that are in charge don’t look like us, and so it’s like how can they know what we need without us and them trying to decide what we need is coming from their own perspective. So I think that it is very important for students, especially students of color, to straight up tell the people, especially if they’re not Black and they don’t know.”

Ridley also continued her FURSCA project into her senior thesis.

Duncan, Jatta and Ridley will present their research in the upcoming 32nd annual Elkin R. Isaac Symposium on April 21. Times for posters and presentations have not yet been determined.

This article is the third in a series of four published today in honor of Black History Month. To view the other articles from this series, click here

About Irene Corona-Avila 48 Articles
Irene is a fourth-year student and a prideful Georgia Peach from Atlanta. She is a biochemistry major with a minor in . Aside from running and writing, you can find Irene dancing freely or talking up a pun. She's currently reading a book on gravity, but she can't seem to put it down.

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