“Last July, I walked on stage in front of a large audience. I was an invited speaker, asked to share my perspective at a summit at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, organized by ROSE (Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere), a grassroots coalition founded to raise awareness of breastfeeding among Black and African American women. My objective that day was to give a 30-minute presentation on ways to increase breastfeeding initiation and duration rates among this group, who statistically continue to rank lowest of any demographic in our nation, and whose increase could effectively help thwart the staggering infant mortality rate that plagues this community. As I stood behind the podium and looked onto the crowd, which consisted of lay and professional healthcare advocates, community activists and many other officials from local and nationwide, including the 16th U.S. Surgeon General, I told them that in order to eradicate the lengthy list of health disparities linked to these low breastfeeding rates we must cease focusing on Black women who breastfeed. Instead, look past these protagonists, and recognize the unique and complex history of Black women in this country and enlist the help of anyone interested in challenging socio-political inequity, structural violence and cultural insularity, all which are situated at the center, and all hinder an infant’s access to its mother’s breast. This was a significant shift in the way breastfeeding advocacy and promotion has been viewed as a tradition.”
Remember a little while back when I said I was busier than life and I’d let on to what was going on around here soon enough? Well, I was engaged in what felt like an unyielding application of school and fellowship applications, (the first paragraph of my Statement of Purpose is above, because I just thought I’d share. I used my experience speaking at ROSE Breastfeeding Summit, to set the tone. And I’m sure the fact that the Surgeon General was in the audience didn’t hurt with the decision). But without further ado…..
I GOT IN!
Just the other day I received notification that I was accepted into the renowned Sociocultural Anthropology PhD program, after I opened my email and viewed the fancy schmancy letter – well, here, let me read it to you:
Ahem – *Clears throat*
Dear Acquanda Y. Stanford (that’s me ;)
Dear Acquanda Y. Stanford:
We are pleased to inform you that the Sociocultural Anthropology Graduate Program in the Department of Anthropology has admitted you…. Our faculty, staff and students join me in welcoming you to one of the most prestigious, progressive universities in the United States…. This is a very competitive program and many applicants with impressive backgrounds apply…. Please contact me if you have any further questions…. We look forward to hearing from you.
The Anthropology Department is well-known for its rigorous curriculum, which I am SO thankful for. I love challenging environments, and being worked in school. And not to boast or anything, seriously, but it is an extremely difficult program to get into. But I still think it’s crazy insane I am about to enter a PhD program, since I initially never ever planned on it. When I was in community college I remember my instructor one day said to me (though I don’t really remember the exact subject at hand) “You’ll see when you teach anthropology….” This is the same one who gave me the extra push to actually apply to this program, and the one who previously introduced me to the idea of a concurrent PhD and Master’s of Public Health degree, which I will also be pursing, along with a certificate in Feminist Studies.
I want to teach – to transform – and create a reciprocal learning environment that opens up the doors for radical social change. That’s my goal. And pursuing a doctoral degree will qualify me to do so at the university level, which is my ultimate endeavor. But I also want to continue to engage people in the public sphere. This is also the reason I feel my education is a double-edged sword. In some ways I believe it may hinder my access to the communities I most want to serve. Yet my reasons for even attending school is that I recognized that in order to ‘use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house’ I would need to equip myself with what it takes to combat these issues – in various ranks. That’s why I’m here.
What will my research focus on? Bet you’d never guess in a million years, right?! As far as I know I am the only Black woman in this country with an anthropology background who focuses on this area and the Black experience. Using the tools of anthropology, I want to construct the larger framework around Black breastfeeding. Breastfeeding extends far beyond a baby on a breast, and it requires critical attention to areas of gender, race, class, geographic location, history and much, much more. I want to delve deep into the issues of power and dominance, culture and biology, female and community agency, language and our knowledge of the past and present and view this area through various lenses that encompass critical social theories. I believe that “this biological site can serve as a gateway to underpin a new set of theoretical questions that can complicate our thinking and allow for the expansion of knowledge on ideas of community engagement, globalization, global health and disparities, maternal-infant health and various others with research that will evolve and syncretize local, national, and global processes, expanding perspectives not previously explored.” Sorry, that’s just another small clip from my Statement of Purpose. *smile*
I also am ready to continue transforming this discipline. I absolutely believe that an anthropological approach is key to addressing many issues that face our society, and its tools can be used to create radical and revolutionary change and positively transform. But I also know that it has a long and sordid history of participating in colonialism and exclusion and racial and gender exclusivity, but there have been many who have worked effortlessly to challenge this legacy. I’m thrilled to carry the torch.
When all is said and done, where I always urge people to disregard the hierarchy and ensure everyone has a say, and used a string of letters of the alphabet to mock our reliance on formal education, which I believe can too often keep people from truly engaging each other, I really will be Professor HIJKLMNOP. I will have a zillion and one initials behind my name that if you ask me, is actually kinda creepy. But still not so bad for a H.S. dropout, eh?! Thankfully this area is one that allows for academic activism, and using education to lift and liberate because I really do love what I do. And I’m so, so thrilled about what lies ahead.