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Season One, Episode Six: A Seat at Our Table

Black and white image of Galltatin professor Shatima Jones standing at a kitchen table under a bare lightbulb, looking at the viewer

Photograph by Colin Jerolmack (2021), after Carrie Mae Weems

FULL TRANSCRIPT
Interview recorded in April 2021

KC Trommer (host):

Welcome to Criss Cross: the NYU Gallatin Podcast and I'm your host, KC Trommer. Today, I'm so pleased to share with you a conversation I had in April 2021 with sociologist and Gallatin professor Shatima Jones and her former student Cheyenne Porcher (BA '21). Our conversation looked at a collaboration between Professor Jones' courses, "Detangling the Business of Black Women's Hair" and "Black Experiences in Literature, Movies, and Television," and Gallatin's online platform for student reading, writing, and research, Confluence. For this collaboration, Professor Jones worked with Confluence editor Allyson Paty to showcase and publish the final papers of students in Professor Jones' courses. And as an example of one of the student papers that was published, Professor Jones invited Cheyenne Porcher to speak about her “Black Boss Ladies of Shondaland” paper in our conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed talking to both of them.

We arrived here because you taught two different courses that were showcased on Gallatin's online platform, Confluence, and you showcased those during Black History Month and worked with Allyson Paty, the editor of Confluence for that. I wanted to understand how that came about. You wrote a bit in your introduction for the series about what you were hoping to achieve with this partnership and I wondered if you could speak about that a little bit.

Shatima Jones:
Thanks for the question and thanks for the invitation. So one of the lessons that I learned from having difficult conversations over that summer with my inner circle about police brutality cases and the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer, was that everyone wanted to be heard, right? Most of us were grappling with questions around Black experiences and how we fit into the system of racial inequality and so going into teaching, I was just sort of like, I don't really want to teach. I'm not sure if I can even get myself together enough to be a professor and teach, not just be a professor in a pandemic and adjust to remote learning and all that sort of thing, but to now teach about Blackness in both my courses. I couldn't avoid talking about Blackness and what was going on in the world. And so what I thought to do was, okay, we all want to be heard and students who take my courses are just the best students around. I was just like, okay, I think it would be really cool to give my students a platform to share their ideas. They have something to say and they have really smart and insightful things to say and so I wanted to give them a broader platform to share their thoughts and ideas. At least in my experiences, being a Black woman, it's like my sort of obligation or duty. It's like extra labor. It's tiring to always have to teach people, "teach them," right? About race, teach them about Blackness and different kinds of Black experiences and that can be draining and I just sometimes just opt out of it and I'm just like, okay, I can't do it all the time. And so this is what I wanted to do for my students is give them a space to share their ideas, sort of teach or at least engage a broader audience to have it count towards their academic career. So they can now have a line on their CV that they have a publication and to be a part of something that can benefit them beyond.

KC Trommer:
That's such a generous perspective to take and also, if students have already done this work of writing the papers, then when they share them, it's another way of not having to reteach, but to offer what you've already thought through with a wider public. I feel like I should have set this up by saying, of course, we're recording this during the week of Derek Chauvin's trial for the murder of George Floyd. So, of course, all of this is very much in the air and in the conversation and it obviously shouldn't come to this, but if it means that we can have a change in the conversation around race and really move things in the direction that they have needed to go for so, so long then, this is one way that, this is one good thing to come out of something awful.

Shatima Jones:
Yeah. I'll just add, it was also my form of activism because I also felt really frustrated and I just felt like, well, what can I do? What can I do? What should I be doing? Should I go on protest over up here? And it's like, we could still protest up here, but I have two small kids. And it's just like, well, what? And I was actually afraid for my life as a Black woman. So it's also the freedom to just go out to protest, but being concerned of what might happen to me. So I'm like, well, what can I do with what I have? And it's like I have to teach these classes. Being a sociologist, having that platform, being a professor, it's like, okay, if I can give a broader platform to my students, that's a sort of act of . . . And do it in Black History Month, right? And also acknowledging that a lot of the students who do take my classes tend to be Black students and first-generation college-goers, students from lower-working class like me and actually I wanted to give them an opportunity to publish. I wanted to give them opportunity of working with a professor, having me give them line-by-line comments and having that sort of writing experience that they might not get otherwise. And I was just like, well, this is me also of investing professionally and in the kinds of students who take my courses.

KC Trommer:
And it speaks to the fact that activism happens in so many different forms. It can go out in the streets and you can protest, which is a form and a very visible form. But if you can start orienting your activism or engaging in activist activities in every aspect that, a holistic approach to it is really helpful. And so that it doesn't just end up being something performative or just something that only happens when there's a protest. It becomes part of a larger cultural change.

Shatima Jones:
Right. Or even trendy. Right? Unfortunately it could be trendy like, okay, I'll go out and protest because that's what we should do. But activism comes in different formats and different forms and I just would like to encourage people, because this is something that actually friends told me, they were like, Shatima, that is your form of activism is showing up to the classroom and teaching your students and giving them a space to share their ideas and so that was also some of the inspiration and the way that I got the idea.

KC Trommer:
Just so I'm making sure that this is set up properly for listeners: You had two courses. I know one of them was the “Black Experiences in Literature, Movies, and Television” and the other course was--

Shatima Jones:
“Detangling the Business of Black Women's Hair.”

KC Trommer:
So, final papers for those two courses were showcased on Confluence and then Allyson Paty, who's the editor of Confluence, helped bring them out, a set of papers every week for the four weeks of Black History Month, and then Cheyenne, who's here with us, wrote this fantastic paper called “Black Women Boss Ladies of Shondaland,” as the final paper “for that Black Experiences in Literature, Movies, and Television” course. Cheyenne, maybe you can speak about the genesis for the paper and if it speaks to some interests that you had, or if maybe where the paper came from?

Cheyenne Porcher:
Yeah, of course. So my paper focuses on to Shonda Rhimes’s series, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, and those are both actually series I watched in their entirety at the very beginning of the pandemic and these are both shows I never saw when they were actually airing. So those are always shows that all my friends watched, a couple family members watched, people would be talking about it, and I just did not know that they were talking about. So I watched Scandal full through and then after that, we were still, of course, shut down and so I watched How to Get Away with Murder, and I think in a lot of ways, they were both comfort series to me. This devastating virus happening at this time was just a lot and to have that sort of constant, like I can watch a couple episodes of Scandal and then How to Get Away with Murder became that afterwards, as well as I finished Scandal and I was like, what do I do now? So both of those shows actually mean a lot to me. And of course, the paper is a critique of some of the dynamics that came up in both, but really it was because I really enjoyed them so much and they meant a lot to me and I think that we should always be critical to things we care about, if we know they can be better, or if they display harmful tropes or whatever the case may be. So I actually do love both of these shows, even though the paper may not always reflect that. It definitely was something that came up of trying to find this sort of escape.

KC Trommer:
And to your point, you critique the things you love. That's also can be a kind of love because you're asking them to be better. Can you speak about, in your essay, you cover colorism as it's expressed, and I thought you did a really beautiful job of comparing the two shows and how that works. Could you speak about that a little bit, about your critique?

Cheyenne Porcher:
Yeah, of course. So, yeah. So I watched the series completely separately, so I wasn't watching them at the same time, even though they were on air, I think, for a couple of years at the same time. So when I had watched Scandal and Olivia Pope, the main character and something that was kind of strange to me, but I didn't think too much of it, but throughout the series, was just how focused they were on her beauty. Like every season, there was like a monologue about, he can't get enough. You're the most beautiful woman, all this stuff. And it's like, you guys are killing people, people are dying right now. Why are we talking about this right now? Obviously, Olivia Pope or Kerry Washington who plays her, she's a beautiful woman, but it felt a little bit strange how there was this constant focus when the subject matter at hand seemed to go way deeper than any sort of physical appearance, but I didn't think too much about it. But then in watching How to Get Away with Murder, I think for both of the series, there are a lot of overlaps there, but a very stark contrast I noticed was how people spoke about Annalise in general, not even just physical appearance, but, they're afraid of her. In the first episode they call her like a monster and even though she's very successful and a very influential attorney, it's like, she's like a nightmare, this sort of thing, where Olivia Pope was this dream of I want to be her. I want to be with her and Annalise Keating was like, I'm not going to get in her way, but wanting to reap the benefits of her hard work, but still very much having this disdain for her. I thought that was really strange because in two series that I think had a lot of overlaps, especially to have come right after each other, this being a place where they deviated so far felt significant. Again, I enjoy both series and their plots. But both of these things were how they were treated specifically in a romantic, sexual, attraction sense, I think, we're really stark differences and I definitely want to delve more into that and I even found more like, even from the immediate flags that went up for me as watching them, as I'm writing the paper, sort of conceptualizing it more and more came up where I was like, okay, this is definitely . . . We need to talk about this.

KC Trommer:
Can you explain what you noticed as differences and what maybe those are commentaries on?

Cheyenne Porcher:
The character of Olivia Pope. She's a light-skinned Black woman. I don't think I mentioned that. So she's a light-skinned Black woman and Annalise Keating from How to Get Away with Murder is a dark-skinned Black woman. And it's sort of the way of Olivia Pope's, the mysticism of her is she's very mysterious. She does her job and she does it the best and she's the best and she's perfect and intelligent. But she goes home every night and no one knows where she goes or who she's with and that sort of thing, of course, throughout the series, she's having an affair with the President of the United States and that sort of is also the long-running conflict in that, because he's married and this is also the literal president of the country and that sort of thing.

Shatima Jones:
And he's white.

Cheyenne Porcher:
He's also white . . . Thank you. Yeah. So that's another aspect of him, too. And she has a lot of suitors along the way who are also, I think, except for one, all white as well. But again, everyone who meets her pretty much comments on how beautiful she is and then with Annalise Keating, in her series, she, at the beginning of the series, she is married and she's also married to a white man and she is having an affair with a man who is Black. And even in that, it just seems more . . . And of course, Olivia Pope, her affair with the president is secretive, but he doesn't really want it to be. He wants to leave his wife. He wants to leave his job. He wants to air it all out. And she's the one he was like, we're not doing that. Whereas, with How to Get Away with Murder, for the most part, a lot of Annalise Keating's, sort of love of fairs or whatever you may call them, are very secretive, but also another layer of this sort of hiding her, this suppression of that, or even just not wanting to be, even in private, not really wanting to love her out loud in a sense. And even though she also excels at her job and she also cleans everybody's messes in the same way Olivia Pope does, there's this expectation that she's supposed to do that, or she's often blamed for people's problems, where I don't want to spoil too much, but really the main conflict of the series is that her students killed her husband. But somehow her students resent her for ruining their lives and making them murderer but she wasn't there when that happened. She did not ask them to do that. And if anything, I would argue, they ruined her life more, but there's a lot of resentment that comes, where Olivia Pope also in her pursuit of power even, ruins a lot of people's lives, but she's not blamed in that same way or if any, her followers, so to speak, her coworkers, her peers, have this thing, they'll go over a cliff for her and it seemed for Annalise Keating that everything she did was wrong.

KC Trommer:
Their power is received very differently. I feel like that was one of the things that you pointed to that I thought was really interesting.

Shatima Jones:
Cheyenne, you mentioned that you watched us during the pandemic and I was watching these shows as they were on. I was sort of pulled into them at the time and it was comfort, for me, in the sense of seeing a Black woman character on prime time television. And it was something that was created by a Black woman, Shonda Rhimes. And so it was something that me and my sisters and my friends, it was like our soap opera, right? Like nighttime soap opera of our generation. That was definitely linked too, right? The race of the main characters. And then having two shows back to back that feature Black women, that was really powerful. And again, that was put on by a Black woman artist creator. And so what I love about shows in Cheyenne's paper and even just hearing how she talked about it, is we learn lots of lessons about like Black women being in interracial relationships, particularly with white men. The lessons we learned about Black women and families and careers, like can you have it all? But also seeing these Black women on the shows but not really talking about race and Shonda Rhimes has talked about this a little bit, that she obviously realizes the significance of her career and the significance of the kinds of shows that she creates with these two shows in particular. But she doesn't explicitly take up race too often. She's talked about Blackness and she started incorporating the Black Lives Matter movement later on in the series of Scandal. And then she would talk about it very explicitly in the shows really centered on that. But so, just thinking about the openness that students have with their final papers, and this is what I want them to do, is I want them to be able to enjoy the show as Cheyenne has mentioned, as I've mentioned, to sort of have a glass of, well, I don't know you had wine, Cheyenne, but I did. Coming home at the end of the day, was like Thursday night is Shondaland. We're going to have a drink and call each other and text each other afterwards, but then being able to step away from it and analyze, wow, what does this say about Black women? And again, for me, because I'm a Black woman, I love just seeing that representation. But then also being able to take a step back and say, Ooh, what is this really teaching us?

KC Trommer:
What I think is really wonderful about featuring pop culture, but featuring this paper and showing them on Confluence is that yet you get something that people have and might not realize that they have some thoughts about . . . I watched a bunch of Scandal, but I didn't really talk about it that much because I watched it after it was a sensation and then there is a way to talk about race that's offered, even though they're not the characters, unfortunately, are not talking about it in the show itself.

Shatima Jones:
Right. You bring up . .. For me, I hear two things, just sort of, and we talked about this extensively in my courses, the sort of added responsibility that Black artists have when they're talking about different kinds of Black experiences and different maybe obligations that are placed onto them, and that they can choose to reject or not because Shonda Rhimes, as Cheyenne knows, she's talked about having a color-blind process to casting. Which we really kind of critique or just talk about in my class. But then also thinking about the ways that she depicts these characters. Yes, there is room to make them better or they still fall into certain kinds of stereotypes, but it can reflect the sort of more authentic, I don't really love to always use that word, but maybe, and a nuanced way showing Black experiences because she's a Black woman. Do you know what I mean? Because it's just maybe true to her experience. It's like, no, as a Black woman, I don't always talk about my Blackness. Right. I just go about my business. Right? But I do feel like if it was . . . And I do listen to Stevie Wonder. So for me, a sort of member of the Black audience, it's like, I can see elements of Black culture and elements, of even her facial expressions, their thoughts on how like Black women, we could just say exactly what we want with our facial expression. That I see in characters like Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating. That if you are a Black woman, you get it right? And if you're not, then maybe it goes over your head and that's fine. But then also thinking about intended audiences. So maybe your intended audience might be one audience, but then it broadens out to other kinds of audiences and then what does it mean to show these representations of Blackness now that maybe non-Black people going to watch it and consume it and may not be able to really unpack what it is they're seeing and the significance of these representations. So these are just some things to think about. If I can connect it to the project, it would be on the one hand why it is I wanted to use photos of the Kitchen Table Series to show facial expressions and then on the other hand, with working with students, taking their final papers, when I grade their final papers, usually I'm kind of more lenient. I know the student and I kind of have their voice in my mind by the time I'm grading their final paper, but for the sake of publication, I would say, oh, wait, you can't say this. You have to be more careful with what you're saying, because now it's not just me, who's reading this paper. It was a different kind of editing for me, on this end.

KC Trommer:
That's a really nice editorial perspective. I understand you and therefore I can also tell you, here's another way to present it or here's how it might be heard. And so I would love to talk about the Carrie Mae Williams series. I definitely want to talk about that gesture and that framework. I wanted to see first though, Cheyenne, how was the paper received and how was it for you to have it published?

Cheyenne Porcher:
Yeah, definitely. I got a lot of great feedback on it. I've had a lot of . . . Because the Gallatin has like their Instagram page. So I had a lot of friends putting it on their stories or messaging me and be like, oh, that's you because they showed our photos on the page. So, that was really great. And I was able to put it on my own profile as well. Something too, I forgot to mention before was loneliness was definitely a very heavy undercurrent of this entire pandemic and continues to be. I think by the end, I really just desperately wanted to talk about it with somebody and someone who would match my energy about it. So being able to just write this paper as a whole was really cathartic way to just get it all out, with all these things I noticed and this and that. And to continue uncovering new things as I'm rewatching specific episodes to do my further exploration. So being able to share this piece was, I think, even though it is a critique in a lot of ways, it does feel like this sort of love letter in other ways, because of just how much both series mean to me. So it was received really well, I think. Just having friends share it and just having it up and kind of seeing the physical layout of it on the website, meant a lot for me. And I think this is really the first paper, definitely at NYU, the first paper I've had published. So for this to be one of the papers that I'm writing in my final year of undergrad, I think I'm really grateful for and the fact that it was published and the fact that it this sort of. . . . It's going to exist on, long after I graduate online and on the internet is something I'm really proud of.

Shatima Jones:
Cheyenne. You're so awesome. I just had to say, Cheyenne's taken both of my courses and she's just amazing.

KC Trommer:
I wanted to go back to the whole project and to talk about Carrie Mae Weems's inspiration, the inspiration for the series, feels to me, and even from this conversation, there's a lot of support and back and forth and collaborative work that's happening in terms of generating ideas, as Cheyenne did with her experience, bringing that experience to the classroom and then to the construction of the paper, which you were obviously supportive of, Shatima, and then to have it presented in a larger platform, which is amazing. So I'm wondering two things, was there anything surprising for either of you in this process, anything unexpected? And also then, maybe we can talk about the things, Shatima, that informed the creation of this particular series.

Shatima Jones:
I think the way it was received was surprising. Obviously, that was my hope and intent that a lot of people would read it and I'd somehow find out that they were reading it and found it insightful and smart. So what was really nice was for instance, Gallatin's Instagram account, on their own, contacted each student and featured them each week and I just thought that was really amazing because to allow the world to see the faces of the author right and to ask their reflections on being a part of the project and their further ideas on their papers. I love that. I've had friends and family read it and I have a friend who was like, I'm in Week Three and still reading the papers. And it's like, wow, people, I thought maybe would just click like, or this is cool, Shatima, or whatever. But non-academics, people are reading it and are excited by it and then again, the project is A Seat at Our Table. So I want there to be a discussion.

KC Trommer:
So there's the activism happening right there.

Shatima Jones:
Right, right. The papers for the most part are all about Blackness in some regard. And so I really love that. It shows it in a nuanced ways, different topics. It's not just Blackness versus white and Blackness versus something else. No, it's all centered on Blackness and then all of these different aspects of it. So gender, sexuality, class, media, hair, and beauty. And so I think that that's been really nice, is those kinds of receptions. But Cheyenne, if you want to chime in, please do.

Cheyenne Porcher:
So, something I forgot to mention earlier actually about the reception for the paper was that I think, especially because it had been posted on the Gallatin Instagram was, I had a lot of prospective NYU students, where there was people had sent applications in or planned on applying the next fall or whatever the case was, who were contacting me. My Instagram handle was in one of the posts and that sort of thing, but talking about the paper itself, but also just asking for advice or like, I'm really interested in Gallatin and that sort of thing. I felt like a Welcome Week. It was great, just all these questions and people were generally just interested, like, I want to go to Gallatin, I want to study what you study because my concentration was in it. And that sort of thing was really nice and I think warmed my jaded senior heart or whatever. But I think these conversations ended up becoming really long reflections of my time at NYU and Gallatin specifically, which was really nice or even having friends be like, oh, I didn't know you were interested in this or I've never read any of your written work before and that sort of thing. That's also something I noticed too, is that having friends, unless you have courses with them, you don't really know what . . . You know what they're majoring in and maybe some classes they're taking because they talk about it, but you don't know, do they love to write? Do they do this? Do they do that? So also being able to share that, too.

Shatima Jones:
That again, it's also why I wanted to do this as well was thinking, well I have to grade students. I want them make sure they learn, but I understand that things are hard, right? Things still aren't normal and so I just thought, well maybe if I tell them early on that there's a chance that the papers can be published? We could do something more with the work that they do in the class and that'll give them a little bit more driving motivation to do the work that I'm asking them to do. Just the second thing in terms of, again, what was surprising is really the work ethic of students. Their final papers, they turned them in December. And I gave them comments, I think, in early January. They turned them back to me, incorporate it in my comments and then it was all published in time for February. For the most part, all of the students were excited. They worked very hard and diligently on turning, on their final papers and then turning it into an article over the winter break. So they really sacrificed their break time to do this work on their papers. And so I'm really grateful to them. And I was really surprised that everyone who I invited to be a part of it accepted for the most part and did the work and so that was kind of surprising.

KC Trommer:
Very motivating and really smart of you to find a way to kind of get them to think beyond the moment, because it's such an incredibly difficult time in such a dark winter. Really nice to kind of give them an incentive that went beyond. I do want to kind of circle back to circle back to the unifying imagery of the series, the kind of homage to Carrie Mae Weems by Colin Jerolmack. Am I saying that correctly?

Shatima Jones:
Yes. Colin Jerolmack.

KC Trommer:
Featuring you, Shatima, and your son is in one of them, I believe?

Shatima Jones:
Yes, yes. And Colin is my husband. Just so you know, that's why I said, it's Colin Jerolmack.

KC Trommer:
You wrote that the series was informed aesthetically and politically by the words of Shirley Chisholm by the music and lyrics of Solange, which I listened to while I was writing these questions yesterday, I listened to that album. Great album. The album, A Seat at the Table, not our table, but like the series is, and the photography of Carrie Mae Weems. So can you say more about those connections? I also wanted to say, you were worried about maybe centering yourself, but to me, as somebody who was following the development of the series and the rolling out of it, it just felt like a centerpiece of it, more than any kind of centering. It just felt like a touchstone and an umbrella under which all of these pieces could live.

Shatima Jones:
Yeah. Thanks for that. I don't know, there's a couple of ways to answer that. Solange's album is on repeat. I almost listened to it, if not every day, every other day. So even when I'm like kind of checking email or kind of getting started, I might put her album on. Weems's work, actually have it here, The Kitchen Table Series, at this point and in my journey as a Black woman, it just speaks to me. Sometimes I've experienced something or I'm feeling a certain kind of way and I don't have the words to say or how I'm feeling and I'll just get her book and flip through it. And I'm like, this is how I feel. Right. I'll just look at her facial expressions and it's like, yes, this is how I feel right now. But so thinking about the project again, making it, and now we're in a pandemic; it's a Kitchen Table Series and I'm teaching in my house and I'm bringing students into my place. So there are lots of just sort of ways that those ideas of the personal and table and seat and I'm the professor and it's Cheyenne and my class, in times . . . Cheyenne knows that in my class, sometimes I still struggle to take up space in my own class. So sometimes a student is talking or I'm talking and I'm like, oh, I just have one more thing to say, or like, hold on. I'll actually ask for permission, like, oh wait, can I say one more thing? And I'll say in front of my students, like, this is my class. See? This is me still working out all these years of being told by virtue of me being a Black woman, of coming from a working-class background, that I need to shrink myself, that I need to ask for permission to speak in spaces and to exist and to share what it is I'm thinking. And it's like, this is my class. I'm the professor. I don't have to ask anyone for permission to speak and so still thinking about more concretely, I'm going to always pass this book, Carrie Mae Weems's book, Kitchen Table Series around each class, the Black experiences class and the Black hair class when we meet in person. And so, it just fit for me. II am inviting the world into our classroom discussions. We have really awesome classroom discussions. I learn from my students. I hope they learn from me, but . . .That's obviously the goal, but I learn from my students and I listen to them and we push each other, we ask each other questions. And so this was really the big idea behind it. Again, a lot of the students who take my courses, will say like, this is the first time that I feel as if I can speak or as if I'm being heard or . . . I've had students say you're the first Black woman professor I've had. I've had students say, you're the first Black professor I've had at NYU and I'm like, oh, what year are you? And they're like, I'm a senior. I'm not making that up and so it's like, the classroom dynamic it's very special and so it was something that I wanted to share with the world because I felt like they needed to hear from my students.

KC Trommer:
I think it was a brilliant conception and a brilliant way to share. It's so respectful of what the students have to contribute. I love that about it because you're saying to them that these hierarchies don't matter right now, we're all sitting at the table and talking, then I'm going to share with the wider world what we've talked about is really, really beautiful, I think.

Shatima Jones:
Aw, thank you.

KC Trommer:
Oh, I guess also visually we should set it up for anybody who's not familiar with the series: they're Black and white photographs. Do you want to describe them?

Shatima Jones:
Oh, sure. Yes. They're black and white photographs. It's me mimicking several photos from Carrie Mae Weems's book, Kitchen Table Series. And so I will say that, what I really loved about this work and it fits with this concept of Black women in particular, in a sense, not quite belonging or maybe not feeling as if we belong in many spaces. Right. But what I love about the series again is that it's her space. There's no question about that and we get to see her experience a range of emotions. Going back to Cheyenne's paper of Annalise Keating and Olivia Pope, that we don't . . . And so the stereotypes that they may fall into, and the ways that they get to experience Black womanhood that Carrie Mae Weems sort of shows us the other side. It doesn't show Black womanhood in any stereotypical way. And I think that that's one of the things that's really powerful about this series, that it's her space, you can come in, but you have to follow her rules. She doesn't even have to speak, you can look at her facial expressions and yeah. She'll work it off from there, but that's what the series is. So it's me copying several of her poses and photos, and it is my kitchen table. It's also in the pandemic and--

KC Trommer:
Gesturing toward that and then Shirley Chisholm's quote the, "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."

Shatima Jones:
Yeah. So it's that, it's about . . . Again, thinking about the students and as I mentioned some of the comments and feedback that I get, this is a really special space for them and for me. It's just a really sort of layered dynamics concerning race. Again, I want to be clear that not all of the students who take my classes identify as Black, and that is also powerful. These are the people who, students who are thinking about Blackness and not only Black people think about Blackness and I think that that's cool. We should all be thinking about these topics and then also them learning from a Black woman professor. My classes are really special and I love all of the students who take my courses and so this is just me sort of wanting to bring that to students. You can come join our classroom. I think the last thing that I do want, that I was going to say that I forgot to say earlier was because of all the things that were going on concerning the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and just the pandemic, that a lot of the responses I was getting from administrations all around and NYU it was like, oh, we should plan more talks. We should bring in really prominent people who study race, who study Blackness, who study the topics. Have them come in and give a lecture and I thought, that's great. I was like, I don't want to hear anybody lecture. I don't need anyone to tell me about Black experiences. Actually, maybe you need to sit down and listen to me. Maybe you all need to hear me and as well, hear my students. Because I knew that they would have really smart, insightful, great things to say, and the importance of letting them know that they can educate others. So going back to how I said earlier, and it will benefit them in a way that--

Cheyenne Porcher:
I was going to, I was about to jump in and try to add a piece about that, especially as Professor Jones was talking about the sort of space she really wanted to cultivate. And I just want to say from the student perspective, I think that was accomplished and then some. I learned so much from Professor Jones for I guess, combined a year, a full academic year, spaced out. But then also too, for all the peers that I had in those courses. So that's just 20 times the amount of education each semester, which I think is a really beautiful thing and I'm so appreciative of, and that's one of those things. I'm going to miss a lot about college, but one of those things is being able to be in a space with people and maybe we don't all share the exact same perspectives on everything but the fact that we're just sitting . . . We have a seat at the table and we're all sharing. There's so much more that can be said, but I think that has been a big part of my experience in both of these courses.

KC Trommer:
Thank you for making the time to talk about the class and the paper and the whole series and I'll see you hopefully sometime in person and maybe you can come back to Gallatin, when there's a possibility of coming back to Gallatin, Cheyenne, and we can say hello.

Thank you so much for listening. If you want to learn more about A Seat at Our Table, the Confluence collaboration shared in honor of Black History Month 2021, please check out our show notes. Future episodes of Criss Cross will include a conversation between Gallatin faculty member Rosalind Fredericks and recent alumni Maame Boatemaa, as well as a conversation between me and celebrated artist Nina Katchadourian. Our theme music is Thelonious Monks’s Criss Cross. Hannah Beale is our editor and if any of you have ideas about collaborations at Gallatin that you think might suit this podcast, please feel free to record a voice memo and send it to me, KC Trommer: kctrommer@nyu.edu. I'd love to hear from you.