Undergraduate Reflection: The Experience of Cierra Robson '19

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019
by Cierra Robson

I like to say the African American Studies Department possesses a radical imagination. 

By this, I mean that the department pushes students not only to think critically about our world’s problems, but also about feasible solutions. In Stanhope, our professors, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduate colleagues push us to ask normative questions about power. More than what is, we ask what should be. The department’s multidisciplinary approach teaches us that reforms of broken systems are not enough, that some of the best solutions come from the imagined worlds of fiction or artwork, and that history often repeats itself and has effects that ripple globally. The African American Studies Department has fundamentally shaped my understanding of the world. 

But Stanhope is more than just a building with people who learn things. More than my intellectual curiosity, the department has cultivated a community that I feel so honored to be a part of. 

I was eighteen when I first entered Stanhope Hall. It was my first day of class during my first year at Princeton, and I remember being struck by how kind, welcoming and passionate the entire building was. In that first week alone, I—an eager freshman pushing to enroll in an upper-level seminar—had already emailed and received responses from nearly all of the staff, two of the professors, and the departmental chair. As I walked into Stanhope on that first day, I realized that this widespread willingness to guide students wherever possible was a trademark of the department. I was greeted by smiling faces, snacks on the table, and an intellectual space where I was encouraged to collaborate rather than to compete. One year later, I regularly scheduled office hours to chat about life with professors who were interested not only in my academic work but also my emotional and mental wellbeing. As a junior in the department, several graduate students called me weekly while I studied abroad to help me workshop my Junior Independent Work over a five-hour time difference despite their looming general examinations. As a senior writing my thesis, I could often be found in the main office venting to any number of the staff members about my frustrations. I have experienced my highest highs and my lowest lows in that small building. No matter what the circumstance, I was always surrounded by support. 

Cierra Robson '19 during Fac/Grad Seminar event.

Photo by Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy

There is an energy and love in Stanhope that seeps into every crack and corner. Princeton’s campus can feel daunting, isolating and often outright traumatic. Through all of this, Stanhope has been my home: a place where I can wholly be myself, where I have met some of my closest friends and mentors, and where I feel empowered and energized to do good for the world. It is nearly impossible to condense four years of truly life-changing experience into only a few words. 

I am indebted to this department for so many things, but as I move to the next chapter in my life, I can say with confidence that the thing that I will miss the most is the extraordinarily rare collection of loving, daring, and inspiring minds. These people have helped make me who I am today and have helped guide me to my future paths. 

 

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