Wanda: This book is a continuation of my doctoral research at Texas Woman’s University. Just as I began my course work, I was hired to create a dance program at an historically black university, but all my training and education had been in predominantly white institutions. I looked for literature to see how other HBCUs had begun their dance programs and found there was no literature at all. I researched and wrote to fill both my immediate need to know how best to serve my new campus and also a need to diversify the literature in my field and make it inclusive of people of color and specialized institutions.
e: Fantastic! You mentioned a dearth of publishing within the world of dance academia. Why do you think that is?
Wanda: Because educational opportunities were segregated for so long in our nation’s history, people typically wrote about what they learned and experienced. I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone in predominantly white institutions that there were other institutions with histories and traditions that are of equal importance. As a result, nobody went to these institutions to search their archives and add their knowledge to the greater conversation about dance in academia. The same is true for other specialized institutions, such as tribal colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions, Asian & Pacific Islander institutions, and men’s and women’s colleges.
e: What does your book address and how does it fill the void?
Wanda: This book begins to address what historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are, why they were created, and how five subject schools have approached fulfilling their historical and current missions through the subject of dance, both inside and outside the curriculum.
e: What was the writing process for you? (i.e. how long did it take, your experience with research vs. the actual writing, struggles/challenges, etc.)
Wanda: This was a long process for me, particularly getting through the doctoral process. It was a low-residency Ph.D. program to begin with, and we were urged not to make any major life changes during the process. I took this new job; was immediately promoted to Department Chair; moved my family to a new home in a new city; and was tasked with creating a new interdisciplinary arts degree program with concentrations in dance, theatre, film, graphic art, and studio art. I was advised to continue my doctoral program, but realize that it would be a long process, due to the inherent distractions of my job. Finishing the degree took nine years and a divorce. From there, it took less than a year to get a book contract and a year to finish and publish the book.
e: Wow, Wanda. That is commendable! You’re now a published author, how does it feel!?
Wanda: It’s validating, because I can see and touch the result of years of hard work. It’s encouraging, because I know I can conduct research and write far longer than my body will continue to dance in a studio. It’s fun, because I love reading, research and writing. It’s exciting, because my field needs this research and there are so many more schools whose histories should be excavated and shared with the world! Finally, it’s a relief to know I can help diversity and decolonize dance curricula by reminding my field that our history is a shared one. So, too, should our texts be.
e: I had the wonderful pleasure of being there when Wanda's box of author copies arrived - her very first time to receive a box of books that she wrote! Her face says it all...
Wanda: This is only the beginning! Because no literature on this topic existed prior to this first book, a career trajectory is set for me to excavate and share histories and traditions. Then I’ll work on becoming an editor of dance education texts, so that I can ensure all the diverse histories are produced in inclusive texts, rather than relegated to the special interest shelves marked “Black Interest.” I am also interested in the histories of the other visual and performing arts disciplines in these institutions, and in the dance and other arts histories in other specialized institutions in higher education. They are all relevant, because we are all here in this country at the same time, influencing each other daily.
e: Indeed! What challenges do you expect to face with this book?
Wanda: First, advocates for HBCU dance programs will want all of the histories to be told at the same time, but the research process is slow and the data has to be manageable. That means there will always be some people who feel I’ve slighted their school. Second, it may prove difficult to convince predominantly white institutions that these other schools’ histories are relevant to their student body. It is similar to when non-black people challenge why they have to learn about black history month. There is one American history, but we only tell part of it. If institutions want a significant share of the ever-browning student bodies in America, all institutions will have to figure out how to treat all histories as interwoven. Because HBCUs have always done this, teaching students to survive not only black society, but also integrated society, they provide a model for inclusion that could work across all institutional boundaries.
e: Important words, Wanda. And congrats again!!
I hope you'll check out DANCE ON THE HISTORICALLY BLACK COLLEGE CAMPUS: THE FAMILIAR AND THE FOREIGN. Wanda is brilliant as is her new book!