Growing in Circles
While I was taking The Black Self with Professor [of Philosophy] Todd Franklin, I went with the Black and Latino Student Union to Yale for a black solidarity conference, and one of the scholars who was presenting mentioned Alain Locke. We’d just finished reading his work in class, so I emailed Professor Franklin and said I’d be really interested in doing more research about the concepts Locke talks about. Professor Franklin said, “Go for it: Why not pursue an Emerson research project?” And sure enough, I did. I was one of two first-years to receive an Emerson grant that year, and I got to work with Professor Franklin for the summer before my sophomore year. It was truly amazing.
The way I grew from that experience was through the professor’s hands-off approach, which I really am appreciating now. At first I thought, “He’s not really helping me.” But he was helping me in ways that I didn’t know. At the end of the summer Professor Franklin asked, “Well, what do you wish you could have done better?” I said, “I wish you could have told me that I was going in circles.” His response was: “By telling you, you wouldn’t have learned.” And I didn’t think about that, you know? He really let me engage in the process of research, and that process revolved around formulating your own original, unique questions. Theorizing, basically hypothesizing, then really going into the archives and into the Library of Congress to find these old documents to see where you’re going next. It’s not like there’s a perfect roadmap. It’s constantly evolving, constantly changing.
I think one thing that I appreciated was every time I’d say, “I think I’ve found it, I think I’ve found it,” Professor Franklin would ask a simple question. And me not feeling comfortable answering that simple question made me realize — OK, I’m just on the surface. I have to dig deeper.