- My Degree Is Black
Dr. Asheli Atkins| Prairie View | '09
Welcome to the MDIB Yard Dr. Asheli Atkins!
Reppin': Prairie View A&M University
Occupation: Sociology Professor, Executive Director of Greater Northside Chamber
Can you briefly walk us through your HBCU story? How it started, how you got there, and how it helped you get to where you are today.
Prior to my senior year, I had no idea what college I was going to, but I knew I was going to college. My older brother was attending Prairie View A&M University for their Navy ROTC program, so I decided to go as well. It was that simple. Looking back on it now it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. Not only did I make lifelong friendships, but unknowingly many of the professional relationships that I made allowed me to accomplish goals that I thought were unattainable. My undergraduate sociology professor, Dr. Veeda Williams, is the same person who reached out to me 5 years after I graduated to introduce me to someone at Texas A&M University’s Sociology Ph.D. program. It’s crazy because Sociology was just my minor but I fell in love with it. Majoring in Communication gave me the skills I needed for the business opportunities that came later on in life.
How did your HBCU shape you and impact your understanding of Black Culture?
Being a military child, I was never in educational spaces where Black culture was a part of the curriculum. So attending Prairie View A&M University and learning about the history of the campus and of Black people in America was life-changing. It allowed me to see the diversity that exists among Black people but also the respect that we have for variations of Blackness. It was the first space that I entered where I was able to understand the complex history of Black people in America and Black people in the south; which is a painful but rich history. Simultaneously, I was able to witness and be a part of current black culture and the creation of future Black excellence.
Before we go any further, let's have a brag session! Tell us about your HBCU(s). What are y'all known for? What are the most exciting things about the yard?
Prairie View A&M University is the 2nd oldest HBCU in Texas. And, one of the most beautiful campuses in the state of Texas. Known for its Nursing, Engineering, and Education program. The most exciting thing is the Homecoming experience!
What do you say to people who believe HBCUs are not as good as Predominantly White Institutions (PWI)?
It’s not a competition. Historically Black Colleges and Universities exist because of the racism and white supremacy that prevented Black people from attending colleges and universities. So we had to develop HBCUs for not only access to higher education but also the development of a safe space for Black people to learn and live. Most PWIs were founded with both racist and sexist standards and even though they allow Black people, women, and other people of color to attend now, we find that they continue to be unsafe environments for Black people. For me, being at an HBCU gave me access to a top education while also keeping me safe from the racism that I later endured when I attended PWIs.
"INSTEAD OF STUDENTS HAVING TO GO HUNT DOWN THESE ORGANIZATIONS FOR INTERNSHIPS OR CAREERS, THESE ORGANIZATIONS SHOULD REALLY BE RUNNING FULL SPEED TO HBCUS BECAUSE OUR STUDENTS RUNNING LAPS AROUND STUDENTS FROM OTHER UNIVERSITIES."
Tell us what you wish everyone in the world knew about the HBCU experience.
Because the HBCU experience is like no other. It’s an environment where you know you are taken care of by friends, faculty, and staff. You may have a professor who is telling you how much they love your hair, but they’ll also hold you accountable for not doing your homework and then sit with you to help. The HBCU experience is going to a history class and not being given this watered-down version of history. It is watching a Black man be murdered on TV, going to class, and being able to have the most transparent and therapeutic conversations. It’s stepping outside on a Wednesday and seeing hundreds of beautiful stylish Black folks smiling, laughing, watching people step and dance. And sometimes it’s as simple as going to the cafeteria and having well-seasoned food.
Tell us about your most memorable HBCU experiences. (Yes we in yo business, tell us about all of 'em!)
I’m not going to get into too many details, but my first Spring Fest.
Was it like Hillman on "A Different World"?
Exactly! Expect the Col. Taylor and Jalessa thing because why? What was that about?
As any alumni will tell you, HBCUs are nurturing environments. What person(s) during your HBCU experience deserves some flowers and recognition?
Dr. Veeda Williams. I remember I missed class once and she contacted me to ask if everything was ok. Seems small but that showed me that she was concerned with me as a student and a person. She is the same person that again reached out to me to introduce me to the admissions for Texas A&M‘s Sociology, Ph.D. program…. Just for clarity, when I say introduced me, I mean she drove me to Texas A&M. She stayed in contact with me throughout my entire Ph.D. program… Five years! For five years she gave me advice and support because she herself had gone through their Ph.D. program. She helped undergrads at Prairie view understand that Sociology is the space where you talk about race; it’s a space for you to understand how systems of oppression operate; and how we are all impacted by these systems. She was invested in the education and future of her students.
How are you using what you learned from them in your everyday life?
15 years after taking her class, I’m now a sociology professor at Prairie View A&M.
Thank you for showing us Your Yard and telling us Your Experience. Before you go, tell us, what do you imagine for the future of HBCUs?
I want organizations outside of HBCUs to understand the wealth that exists at HBCUs. Whether it is the programs or the students who are the next leaders. Instead of students having to go hunt down these organizations for internships or careers, these organizations should really be running full speed to HBCUs because when I look around my classroom or when I reconnect with some of my former students, they are running laps around students from other universities.