Rome Free Academy
1 Dart Circle
Rome, N.Y. 13440
January 16, 2020
Dr. Clemmie Harris, Professor of History
125 DePerno Hall, School of Arts and Sciences
Utica College, Utica, N.Y. 13502
Dear Professor Harris:
Please accept my apology for this overdue thank you letter. I had knee surgery. Hence, I was scrambling to keep up with my professional and personal responsibilities. Nevertheless, I am writing to let you know how much your presentation meant to numerous stakeholders.
Foremost, of course, is the impression you left on the students. The students were excited to learn from a professor and they continued to discuss what they learned about Jim Crow for the next couple of days. A ripple creates its own current leading to positive down-stream effects. I can aver that the students who attended your lecture are more enlightened and motivated to embrace their academics and their world.
Thank you, again, for the time and consideration that you extended to the students of Rome Free Academy.
Dear Professor Harris,
I’m sending out thank you e-mails to my previous teachers and professors because I received my Master’s degree in the mail today.
I was an exchange student at Utica College a few years ago, a Vietnamese student born in Finland, from Åbo Akademi University in Turku. If you’ve already forgotten who I am— no worries, I completely understand. You have had a many students and I was only there for one spring term! Still, I wanted to send you this thank you message.
Your course “Topics in History: Africa Relations” is, hands down, THE most incredible course I have EVER taken in my entire life. You made such a profound impact on me with your teachings that I’m pretty sure that both the course material and your way of teaching will stay with me for the rest of my life. We were thoroughly and properly challenged in that course to analyze, evaluate, re-analyze and re-evaluate what we knew and what we were learning about international relations. You taught me so much.
Your course was, of course, made incredible by your way of teaching and who you are as a person. You are the most inspiring professor that I’ve ever had and you continuously inspire me to become a great teacher.
Thank you for your words and for your guidance. Thank you for all that you do.
I hope you have a truly wonderful life.
All the best,
Good Afternoon Dr. Harris,
My name is Emily Allard and I took your class The African American Experience in the Fall of 2019 and I wanted to personally reach out and thank you. I know that I ended this course a semester ago, but I wanted to let you know that your course has been the most impactful so far in my college experience, and probably will be the course I think about the most even after I graduate.
I am grateful for everything you taught me. I am grateful that you have opened my eyes to the oppression and injustice in this national that still stands after centuries. I am grateful that I feel more educated and understanding about this part of history. And I am grateful that I had the opportunity to take this course, had I not transferred I would have loved to take more of your classes.
I have no words for what is going on in the United States right now, but I truly hope that George Floyd gets justice and I pray that a real change is made soon in not only our justice system but that change is made in the mindsets of citizens in every corner of this nation. I want to thank you for teaching me so much about Africana Studies and I hope that the other students have been moved such as I have. If everyone could take your class I know there would be no hesitation to make a change.
Thank you again and I wish you the best,
How the Study of History Can Inspire: A powerful message from a former History major, now teacher and activist, to my colleague Dr. Sherri Cash and myself.
Hello Professors! I wanted to reach out to both of you, as your classes inspired me to become much more active in the black community and learning many of the true overlooked details of history here in the United States.
I have been teaching Social Studies for one year and have already helped so many children learn to question what they read and hear as well as beg to learn more and uncover the true history of their country.
I have since become an active member of the protests and community that donates and helps to educate those who wish to learn more as I feel it is my duty as a historian trained by such high quality and passionate doctors of history.
I wanted to share my recent petition with you, not asking for support, but letting you know the influence and inspiration you had on me during my years as a UC history major.
Please take the time to read it over and I would love to have a chat with both of you soon regarding many of the issues being discussed about reform in this state and country. Take care and enjoy your summer!
Mr. Cory Patterson
A mentee from Utica College reflects on the importance of racial diversity at a predominately white institution. His post is a haunting reminder of how segregated our society has become.
...I would like to express how apologetic I am towards you. I am sorry it has taken me this long to reach out to you. You really do start growing up after you leave college and adulthood isn't necessarily a walk in a park. More so, this is not an excuse and hope you do not harbor any harsh feelings towards me(despite me knowing you would never).
2020 will forever be remembered as a historic year for numerous reasons. Within this year alone, we all have undergone a spiritual shift/awakening that has brought our deepest fears to the surface. Due to this, I have grown tremendously and have taken months to reflect on how I have gotten this far in life. In my reflections, I have relived all the great times and all the hard times. In these reflections, you were a key factor in my life.
In order for one to lead, one must learn how to follow. You decide to teach at Utica College and that was so impactful to the campus especially all those of color. You were the first knowledgeable black man I have come across in all my 21 years on Mother Earth. You could imagine the excitement and pure happiness I felt to finally meet someone who looks like me and holds such power in their speech. This was when I started learning the truth regarding our people, and our history.
Knowledge is truly a treasure and practicing that knowledge is the key to it. You put time and effort to squeeze me into your busy schedule for us to meet. That alone, I am very grateful for. Yet, it did not stop there. You made time to speak to me about my future and all possibilities I could take. You taught me how to be self-proficient which led me to learn how to be my own supervisor. Assignments after assignments, they all encouraged me to stay the course. I asked numerous questions on how you combated life and I will never forget what you told me. "In life, there will always be a storm." The best thing anyone can do is prepare in advance so that when the storm comes, they do not lose everything. You taught me that if one has faith and persistently work, you will ultimately arrive at your destination. That inspired me to start a clothing brand titled Faith and Focus(unfortunately, the name was already taken). Through your eloquent words, you sparked a fire within me to become the absolute best version of me despite all those who wish to destroy me.
Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, mentoring me, and reassuring me. You have allowed me to see the attributes and qualities a powerful black man should possess. Though it was for a short time, I learned as much as I possibly could and I am eternally grateful. Thank you for seeing me, uplifting me, and believing in me. I would not be the man I am today without your support and guidance. I pray and hope you continue to remain safe during these hysterical times. It is about time America wakes up to their own sh**. I hope to speak with you soon!
P.S Congratulations on becoming the program director for African Studies. I already know that Utica College has made the right decision and am extremely excited for you! It is an honor to have you as a mentor.
Good Morning Dr. Harris,
I wanted to congratulate you for all the work you’ve already done and will do for the new Africana Studies major and minor! Once I heard the announcement of the new program, I was extraordinarily excited. Seeing that you will be chairing it only added to the immense excitement! It is such an important subject to study, and I’m glad that the school is taking steps toward greater inclusivity. I know you will do incredible work in the years to come with both the History and Africana Studies students, and I look forward to hearing about it!
I also wanted to thank you for your guidance and care during my studies at Utica College (something I hoped could be done in person)! When we met after your interview lecture, you said something that has stuck with me to this day. You told me to be confident in myself and to put myself out there. From that day four years ago, I have made it a point to contribute confidently, not only in class but in my role as a residence life employee and as a member of numerous communities. That one interaction epitomized your philosophy that "you don't teach students, you train leaders," and I could not be more thankful for it!
Between your classes “Race, Crime, and Punishment” and the “History of North Africa,” my perspective of the world expanded significantly and opened my eyes to such ills as the Prison Industrial Complex and the deeper implications of colonialism around the world. While I still have much to learn, you helped me develop an essential foundation to build from! As a result of your impact, I made it a point during student teaching to emphasize the role racism and colonialism have and still do play in the world to my students, in the hopes of imparting on them the wisdom you imparted on me and to develop individuals who will go forward to make this world better for all people by seeing the world for what it is. Once I get into a district officially, I will strive to do the same there.
It has been a privilege to study under your guidance. You are a great professor and an even greater man! Thank you again not only for your guidance but for your inspiring care throughout my time at Utica College! I wish you the best in guiding students in the new Africana Studies program!
Matthew Thomas Bertollo
An encouraging note from a Utica College grad who took my Intro to Africana Studies course two years ago.
Hi Dr. Harris,
I am reaching out just to say hello. How have you been? With the number of innocent black Americans being killed by cops only rising, I have been thinking about you and your class often. If only our nation could hear just one of your powerful lectures, I believe things would be much different.
I hope you are doing well and hope someday soon we can find peace.
Thank you for all that you have done! Keep climbing.
A timely message from Hermina Garic on how the power of Africana instruction during her time in seminar at Utica College inspired her vision as an educator. Hermina took my course on North Africa, Islam, and the Middle East. Her words are a reminder that education remains key to societal progress. I am honored to have been one of her professors and a mentor.
I wanted to share this with you as I just started teaching virtually and in general for YWCA Mohawk Valley.
I remember sitting in your class, always aspiring to be the educator that you are and taking note to myself that when I start my path as a Professor/Educator that I want to give students the control of the discussion so that they feel empowered as leaders.
This was because sitting in your class inspired and connected me to the historical material we were learning on such a personal level. I felt like I could take the knowledge with me and not just learn it for regurgitation on a test. This was because you allowed us to process the material in our own way and then allowed us to connect with it on the level we were at, but pushed us to open up our viewpoints.
This message I received right here... said to me that I am now doing that with younger students and they feel engaged in the way I educate in the same manner that you engaged me when I sat in your class.
Julia Smiegal, a young white woman, had never taken an Africana Studies course, but she was deeply concerned about the state of race relations and so she enrolled.
I should add mid-way through the semester, I learned that she changed her dinner schedule with her parents so that it aligned with the days the course met.
Since her parents did not have "kitchen table" discussions with her on issues of race, i.e., "the talk," she started having it with them. The topics we covered in class became the basis of weekly family discussions at home. She essentially extended the classroom to her family's dining room. This gave me a whole new perspective on "the talk."
The following are her reflections. They are the substance conscientious professors hope to hear at least once in their careers.
"Dr. Harris, thank you for granting me extra time to add citations. I have enjoyed your class more than any class in my college career. This has been the most eye-opening and transformative class and I don’t think there could be a better teacher for it. Thank you for making the class so entertaining and worthwhile."
Going back to the fall and my reason for choosing to take this course all points to the topic of this week and what can be done. After watching the news last summer and seeing how police brutality was taking out our country, I felt helpless, and thought that this course could at
least educate me on what was happening in the United States.
This week alone could change anyone’s views on racial equality and show anyone that change needs to happen. I truly like to believe that me taking this course made the small move towards change like Shakur joining those black union groups in college made for her. I now know that I need to look past my own needs and see that there are people out there that have it so much worse than I do, and that rather than sit here on my privilege I need to be one of those people making a change. If this were the end of me making an impact there would have been no purpose behind me taking this course and reading these reading, which is the same way that people need to look at what can be done.
You can’t just make one post on social media or march in one protest to make a change.
People need to stay active in this movement and keep educating themselves and that is the major thing that I have taken from this week’s reading of what can be done to make a change.
This week’s readings along with the rest of the readings we examined this semester have taught me that there is always more to do. By researching historical context topics relating to race, crime, and punishment I am able to understand that all three of these intersect, leaves minority groups marginalized and criminalized. Spreading this knowledge is key to other’s understanding of race and crime’s historical contexts. By continuing to do research and educate more people about the United States’ history of punishment, the more people will be able to understand how to apply pressure on local, state, and federal government officials leading to a mass movement that cannot be ignored. Reinforcing and spreading awareness of all of the cruelties a majority of people of color are subjected to by the police is an important step to reform.
One of the key things that I learned this semester is that anyone who is willing to understand, listen, and fight against the many injustices and inequalities minorities face can be an ally. Especially after reading Lorde, my eyes were opened to the reality of my position as an ally to people of color and what my role is as a white woman in the movement. I have been shown to be empathetic and passionate but quiet when it is time to speak, because there are many experiences minorities have that whites do not, but I am ready to listen.
By collectively directing our anger towards true issues in America, listening to each other, and applying pressure on those in charge will bring us together to reinforce that with our current criminal justice system, if there is no justice, there is no peace.
Overall, what can be done? There is no one solution and one institution that needs to be uprooted as there are many that are embedded with systemic oppressive powers that are still in place. It takes more than just law and reform to produce change. People need to care, show compassion and empathy. Stop with the labeling, stereotypes, and other forms of derogatory language towards people of color.
Abolishing the police and prison system as a whole may be extremely difficult to achieve, but reform may be possible if society is willing to do so. Education and training, like Daniels suggest is important in combating police brutality and misconduct. Lorde, Shakur, and Daniels make sound arguments that racism, sexism, and classism have been, and continues, to evolve across time. Shakur says it is perfectly, "No movement can survive unless it is constantly growing and changing with the times. If it isn't growing, it's stagnant, and without the support of the people, no movement for liberation can exist, no matter how correct its analysis of the situation."
...The response to racism with anger as Lorde argues is extremely necessary due to the oppressive powers of all institutions on Black, Brown and people of color. There are stories behind the anger that need to be heard; white men and women need to sit down and take the time to listen. As spoken in class, that is, education starts at the dinner table. The K-12 school system is one of the institutions that need serious reform. As it often leads to school to prison pipeline of students of color and students with disabilities.
... in conversation with Assata in regard to history... is the 1619 project. According to Yelena Dazahanova from "Business Insider," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell urged the Education Department to avoid support of the 1619 project, and in a letter, he and dozens of other Senate Republicans said the project is an attempt at a "historical revisionism." Furthermore, McConnell wants to remove funding from schools that teach the 1619 project. This puts schools and especially students of color in jeopardy... this is not about revisionist history; it... continues the myth of American Exceptionalism. It suggests to me that the funding will go into other institutions and quite possibly the prison system that does not reform... The fight for equality, more so equity, must be carried by each generation building the foundations from before. No matter how many steps backward, we cannot give up...
This course has opened my eyes to the criminal justice system's impact on people of color, all ages, genders, and classes. I am thankful for the opportunity to take this course and agree that it should require a course for educators, those in the criminal justice field, and other disciplines to take. I plan to further my education not just for my future career but as the personal duty as a global citizen to educate myself on the effects of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism that continue to shape our world today.
As a white middle-class woman living in a predominantly white neighborhood, my lens and perspective did not have much exposure to different narratives while growing up. As expressed before, I always wanted to take the Race, Crime, and Punishment, and the course came at one of the most critical moments not just in the United States but globally in history. I want to continue building my knowledge in the Africana studies field within my personal and future career as a special education teacher.
My hope is that Utica College will expand Africana Studies in all disciplinary areas. I believe the 135 Intro to Africana Diasporic Experience should be mandatory core credit for all undergrad and graduate students here at Utica College.
It is an honor and privilege to be the first student to graduate with a minor in Africana Studies program. I can not wait to see how the minor and the major and related courses in Africana Studies here at Utica College are expanding.
Thank you so much, Dr. Harris, for helping shape my mind and my historical skills. I am forever grateful for the skills and access to this vital knowledge.
I wanted to take the time and thank you for your help that you gave me throughout my time at Utica College. Taking your course in my first semester of college was the best thing that could have happened for me.
The teachings that you gave me on how to approach critical thinking and instilling a good work ethic set a foundation for me for my academic career. I wish that I had the chance to thank you in person but I felt that it was important to reach out to you. Once again, thank you for everything that you taught me.