Last summer, Elsa Hardy ’14 worked for a youth enrichment program in New York City. Several of the children came from the Frederick Douglass Academy, a middle school in Harlem where 75 percent of the students are black.
“I asked the students who went there, ‘Do you know who Frederick Douglass was?’ None of them did. They had no idea,” Hardy recalls. “I was shocked to learn that the students didn’t know who the namesake of their school was.”
Hardy, who is majoring in African American studies and Hispanic literatures and cultures, became curious as to why the average middle school student received such a diluted black history lesson in the classroom. As a 2012 participant in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship summer session, Hardy launched a research project on “Middle School U.S. History Curricula, Black National Identity, and Academic Performance.”
“If U.S. history curriculum covers black history minimally, or not at all, what effect does this have on the ways in which black students understand their place in our nation’s history or in contemporary American society,” she asks.
The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program is a highly selective mentoring program that prepares students of color and others committed to overcoming racial and ethnic disparities in education for graduate study and careers as university professors in the arts and sciences. Four fellows from Wesleyan and six fellows from Queens College spent six weeks this summer working on their preliminary research. They presented their findings and plans on July 26.
“The summer session is just the beginning of a life-long relationship with these students,” says MMUF coordinator Krishna Winston,