Michigan State University junior Morgan Braswell has had an interest in Black Studies from a very young age. Growing up in Detroit, watching shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and A Different World, and hearing her father talk about Malcolm X, instilled in Braswell a sense of pride in her culture. That influence has led her to become one of the first students at MSU to major in African American and African Studies (AAAS).
“I have two very wonderful parents who were very proud of their culture and they wanted us to learn it, know it, and be able to teach it,” Braswell said. “Since I was 5, I’ve always been a big learner of Black Studies. Having gone to predominately white schools throughout my whole life, I was forced to learn it on my own — and the more I did it on my own, the more I loved it. That love has just always been there.”
When MSU’s Department of African American and African Studies launched its AAAS major in 2022, Braswell jumped at the opportunity to add a second major and pave the way for future African American and African Studies students. Braswell also is majoring in Psychology.
“Black Studies has been an interest of mine ever since I can remember and has always been a very important part of my life. I always had planned to do something revolving around Black Studies, and I knew I needed to do something career-wise with it,” she said. “I was minoring in it and I loved it, but I knew that minoring in it just wasn’t enough. I had a class with Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown where she talked about the new major, and as soon as she mentioned it, I knew I was supposed to major in this.”
After her first semester as a AAAS major, Braswell says that being a part of a community interested in Black history has been refreshing.
“I really love the department. It truly has been a lifesaver for me to have a space where I feel completely comfortable.”
“I really love the department. It truly has been a lifesaver for me to have a space where I feel completely comfortable,” she said. “It’s hard at a predominantly white institution to have these spaces where I am the only Black face, or if I’m not, there’s only three of us. When I sit in the AAAS classes and meet with my fellow majors, it’s truly like a little community. I appreciate it so much.”
Braswell says that walking into North Kedzie Hall, where the AAAS Department and most of its classes are located, is like “lifting a weight off” her shoulders.
“It’s truly a beacon,” she said. “Oftentimes when I walk on this campus, just naturally I have my guard up — even if it’s not intentional. It’s not out of fear or hate or anything, I just naturally know that I am not a majority on this campus, so there’s some type of protection that I have to put up. But when I go into this department, it’s just gone and I can truly relax. It’s like taking a deep breath — truly a long, long sigh.”
Braswell also said that the AAAS faculty have gone above and beyond to meet her needs.
“They’re all Black women, which as a young Black woman, I’m obsessed with everyone. It’s crazy having professors that look like you,” she said. “They treat us right. They know that it’s hard being Black students at a predominantly white campus. It truly feels like they care for us, want us to do well, and to know that they’re there to support us.”
As Braswell plans for her future, she is considering graduate school and would like to do research on mental health for Black youth, and maybe one day get a Ph.D. and teach at a university.
“I’m incredibly interested in mental health because it can be such an overlooked topic in the Black community. My goal is to help the Black community and to break down barriers that can prevent people from opening up.”
“My biggest goal right now is to land somewhere where I can do research revolving around Black mental health and just continue learning about Black people in history,” she said. “I’m incredibly interested in mental health because it can be such an overlooked topic in the Black community. My goal is to help the Black community and to break down barriers that can prevent people from opening up.”
As Braswell and her peers pave the way for MSU’s future in African American and African Studies, she described her experience with the program so far as “sweet.”
“That’s the only word that can truly describe it,” she said. “It’s so cool to watch this being built and to be a part of the first layer of this program. I look up to everybody who works in the department and to see their hard work payoff is really inspiring because their heart is not only helping me, it motivates me. I want to do something like that, and I can do something like that. A Black department that focuses on feminism studies — that’s so specific, it’s probably the hardest thing to find — and I’m a part of it. So, it’s sweet.”