Authored by Oge Ibida ’21 in “Black Faculty and Imagining Black Studies“
last updated 02.09.2021
Ten months after the Sankofa Induction, the Africana majors and faculty gather in Hance Auditorium to watch the seniors present their capstone projects. This photograph is unique to other photographs in the collection because it shifts focus away from celebratory events that are typically captured through photography. If we examine this photograph on a macro level, it expresses the intellectual labor produced by Africana students and faculty while simultaneously cultivating a sense of community. What immediately jumps out is the strong support of the Africana community and seeing other Africana majors support their peers. Again, we see an integration of faculty and students in the space. In particular, Drs. Bertholf and Mariscano have their bodies turned to talk to students, namely Nahomie and Maurice. We see the students smiling in what looks like an engaged interaction. This is a moment of Black joy even during times of intellectual labor.
To build off of this notion of community, there are other Africana majors that are not a part of the conversation that happened in the middle of the auditorium. The side conversations and note-taking by individuals continue the production of Africana knowledge and these individuals remain in relationship to the community despite not actively engaging in group conversations. Furthermore, this picture is a celebration of the work and knowledge that the seniors acquired throughout their four years at Davidson. In this photograph, there are no choreographed smiles because it was caught in the moment by Dr. Devyn Benson. Dr. Benson’s role as a photographer is imperative because we witness other students’ engagement with the presentation intellectually through their notetaking and discourse.
The auditorium is designed to direct everyone’s attention front and center. Despite this rigid structure, some of the faculty members were able to shift their bodies to have conversations with students behind them. Nonetheless, Dr. Benson captures the in-between moment of the presentations and uses her lens to shift the focus to the audience rather than the front of the auditorium. Essentially, the photograph is a reclamation of the space and a form of resistance that disrupts the intended structure of the auditorium. The photograph can be seen as a self-assertion and acknowledgement of the visible presence of the Africana Studies Department.
One thing that is not visually apparent is the influence that the professors have in shaping the intellectual knowledge of the senior’s capstone projects. They provided them the knowledge which they will use their capstone to share the knowledge that they have acquired during their time as an Africana major. The individual presentations make me wonder how each student views Africana for themselves, the community, and their future career paths. The presentations become an event that invites the department to come together to witness the intellectual performance of the students. Despite the seats not being filled in Hance, the level of intellectualism and Africana presence fill the room. What we can gather from this photograph is the importance of a community as a defining feature of Africana Studies.