Samantha E. Erskine '07
- Graduated from the Women's History program in May 2007.
- Earned her undergraduate degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park.
- Received two BA's: one in Psychology, and one in Women's Studies, and a certificate in Spanish Language and Cultures.
In what field did you work prior to coming to SLC to study Women’s History?
I worked in a number of non-profit organizations, from domestic violence legal clinics to a homeless shelter for women to a civil rights legal organization. But I had decided that the 9-5 type of job was not right for me at the time, and I wanted to travel, so I joined a professional Latin dance company and performed and taught workshops around the world for seven years. While I was doing that, I also worked as a Web designer/manager, which was easy to balance with my professional dance career.
Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school? Why Women’s History?
I heard that Sarah Lawrence College has an excellent reputation and that the Women’s History program was a pioneer in the field, so I knew that pursuing a master’s degree there would sharpen my intellect, writing, and critical thinking skills, and look good on my resume! I also like the individualized curriculum, and with my non-traditional background, I knew SLC would fit perfectly with my personality.
I chose Women’s History because I wanted to immerse myself in a curriculum where I could study the progression of women’s rights and civil rights. I was particularly interested in studying the lives, struggles, and accomplishments of Black women and Latinas.
How did your coursework prepare you for further study and/or an eventual career?
I really enjoyed Visions/Revisions, and while taking that course, I became convinced that there is a conspiracy to keep young people oblivious of what really occurred in history. I often wonder what happened between the civil rights movements and now. It’s as though people fell asleep, like Rip Van Winkle did, and woke up complacent 20+ years later. With Barack Obama running for President recently, race and gender are daily topics of political conversation, which is both exciting and frustrating.
I also enjoyed my social movements course. After graduating from SLC, I decided that I wanted to work at an organization that uses an intersectional approach to further the social justice movement. I now work at an organization that advances racial justice through research, journalism, and advocacy.
Finally, I enjoyed my thesis-writing class. I really immersed myself in my topic, the legacy of slavery on black erotic laborers. I do intend to further my studies, focusing on the intersection of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality.
How did the courses and/or faculty help shape your experience as a scholar?
Because of my coursework, beginning with Visions/Revisions, I now identify as both a scholar and an activist, and I do not see how the two can be separated. As a woman of color, I’m particularly focused on the intersection of race, class, and gender in public policies, culture, and the economy.
In addition, I truly believe that if young people of color learned the truth about the U.S.’s history of colonization and imperialism, they would have more of a race-conscious identity and not fall into the trap that dominant America wants them to believe: that we live in a colorblind America and that America could do no wrong. Just as expected, after Obama’s pastor’s sermon was broadcast across the world, Obama was labeled anti-American and his legitimacy as the “first credible Black President” was questioned. America does not want to be reminded of all of the malice it has inflicted upon its own citizens and others across the world; nor is it ready for an “angry Black man” to be in power. I believe that if young people of color learned the truth, and not simply the self-righteous history they’re taught in schools, which frames America as “pioneers” and “discoverers” instead of as “colonizers,” “murderers,” and “rapists,” they would have more of a sense of purpose and become active in movements for social justice.
Please describe the seminar that had the greatest impact on your development as an historian and scholar.
Definitely Visions/Revisions and my Social Movements class. They both opened my eyes for all of the above reasons.
How did the interdisciplinary nature of the program affect your training?
I already knew I on what I wanted to concentrate, so the interdisciplinary nature of the program gave me the freedom to pursue my own intellectual interests.
What was the focus of your M.A. thesis?
The title of my thesis was, Slavery’s Echo in the Lives of Black Erotic Laborers: Racism, Stigma, and the Politics of Respectability. I focused on the racism that is the norm in the exotic dance industry and referred to that underground/taboo world as a microcosm of the “real” world.
Where have you worked, and what have you worked on, since graduating?
While I was in my final year in school, I worked at a feminist legal organization, which I was excited about…until I saw that the issues and virtue of women of color weren’t really a priority in the organization’s messaging. We helped women of color but only as an “us vs. them” approach. There was never a “let’s work together” approach or any attempt at a sisterhood. So, I became disillusioned with the white feminist movement. I now work at a racial justice organization doing development work (fundraising, event planning, and publications) and Web site editing, and I am helping advance a movement that is not afraid to be race-explicit, as a central component of social justice. I also have opportunities to continue writing on race, gender, and sexuality, which is preparing me for further graduate study.
Have you/do you intend to pursue another degree or explore certification options?
I do plan to pursue another degree, and the Women’s History Program definitely provides the necessary preparation and training for continued study and/or teaching. It is rigorous and it enhances students’ reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.
What advice can you offer to people who are considering pursuing a career in a field related to Women’s History?
Be prepared for a lot of reading and writing, as well as a non-traditional approach to your coursework. Do not think you will be able to get through the program without having to also speak up in class. Also, it helps to know what you’re interested in, but through your coursework, you may be moved to focus on an issue/topic that you may not have previously considered focusing on. So, have an open mind.
Do you have any anecdotes or stories you would like to share that highlight your SLC experience?
I loved my conversations with faculty members. The Women’s History Program is so personal and individualized. I never felt like a number. I also really enjoyed classes with a number of the women who started the program with me. We grew together and helped each other out throughout both years. Another vivid memory is of Priscilla Murolo getting frustrated and/or nervous about my grasp of what I needed to do to write my thesis. Because my thesis was based on an ethnographic study of women who worked at a gentleman’s club, and that was the first ethnographic study I had ever done, I was overwhelmed. But thankfully, I got it together. I also really enjoyed graduation day. The speaker seemed to sum up all of my experiences at SLC, as well as my mission for future study and activism.
What do you consider the strongest attribute of the Women’s History program?
The individualized and interdisciplinary aspects of the program, the freedom to be creative in your projects, and that SLC creates scholars who are also activists.
Who at SLC would you consider your role model, or who would you consider most inspirational, and why?
Priscilla Murolo was definitely my role model and hugely inspirational. She is simply brilliant.
How have you stayed connected with SLC, and why?
I stay in touch with some of my classmates, regularly check out SLC’s Web site for updates, and send updates on my life to Tara James and Priscilla. I do so because I feel that I gained a lot from my experiences at SLC.
What is your most special memory of the time you spent at Sarah Lawrence?
My one-on-one chats with Priscilla, the fact that Pat Dunn in Graduate Studies and Janet Alexander at the Library were extremely helpful to me (particularly in my final days at SLC), and our hooding ceremony.