Driving Diversity in History and Higher Education

It was winter break when junior history education major Makira Davis received an unexpected email from Dr. Amy Scott with an opportunity she never saw coming. She offered Davis the chance to apply to the Catto-LeCount Fellows Program for Equity and Inclusion at Penn State. But, the decision to apply wasn’t so simple.

Before this, traveling to Florida or Georgia with her family was the furthest Davis had been from home, and this would be her first time traveling alone. But with her family’s encouragement, she made good on her vow to put herself out there more often and applied to the program that aims to demystify the grad school admissions process and academic profession.

“It opens the door for people like me. It was specifically for people from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups – I was talking to other people and they didn't usually get chances like this. It’s a helpful program – especially since they offer to cover all the expenses.” 

The program, offered to a cohort of around 10 undergraduate and postgraduate history and political science students, seeks to expose students to doctoral study in the discipline of history over the course of three days of advising and professional development. By the end of her first day, any residual fears Davis held had been assuaged. 

“Everyone we talked to – graduate students, faculty – was so welcoming,” Davis said. “My cohort was the best part because they were so nice and so intelligent. Talking to them really helped me expand my own ideas and gave me a new outlook. They helped me so much along the way.”

Networking with and learning from her cohort was the standout of Davis’ journey. From collectively skipping the icebreakers on day one in favor of debates on subjects like dehumanization during the Antebellum Era, she was consistently impressed and inspired by her peers. The importance of finding community was doubly reinforced by the faculty, who outlined many of the things to look for when applying to graduate schools.

Before entering the program, Davis never considered grad school an option. Now though, her perspective is starting to shift.

“I like history, but to see someone dedicate their whole lives to history was amazing.” 

Though Davis still intends to go into teaching after graduating from Bradley, she’s trying to decide if, in a few years, she’d like to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree.

“I think in a weird way, the fellows program made me appreciate Bradley more. I was thinking about how lucky I am to be working with some of the professors and students here. Everyone's so passionate about history."

Passion into Practice

Davis found her own historical passion project while completing an internship last spring for her Women's and Gender studies minor in which she was introduced to the Virginius H. Chase Special Collections Center. From there, she pursued a research project about segregation in Peoria schools that opened her to a broader research interest in the history Peoria as a whole has with segregation. 

“It's so interesting and not too many people know about it,” Davis said. “When I was looking in the archives, I found they abolished segregation in Peoria way before the civil rights movement. But despite that, there was still de facto segregation in Peoria through things like redlining.”

Though fascinated by the topic of local race-based discriminatory practices in real estate and the government, when asked if she’d be pursuing the same passion had she gone somewhere other than Bradley, Davis wasn’t so sure.

“I wanted to put myself out there through the internship. I just don't know if I went to another school, that opportunity would be the same.”

Now, having put herself out there through the fellowship program and her internship, her professional future is falling into focus.

-Jenevieve Rowley-Davis