Shaina Camien, of Clarksville, faces criticism for her undergraduate research, but she isn’t going to let that stop her from pursuing a topic she loves.
“When I tell people that I’m minoring in African-American studies, they ask, ‘Why? Why would you do that?’ and I think that’s why I do it,” she said. “I think there’s such a stigma that ‘you can’t do that because you are Caucasian.’ However, I don’t see the relevance of my race on my degree choice. I study this subject for the same reasons a college student studies anything – because I have a genuine interest in it. But, I also see its importance in society today.”
Camien, a junior at the University of Tennessee at Martin, is part of the University Scholars Program, which requires students to complete a two-year undergraduate thesis project. She is devoting her research time to examining how African-American literature is taught in the United States and hopes to develop curricula to better incorporate these varied literary voices.
“I think it’s important (to teach African-American literature) because I think students have to realize that not every successful man and woman is a white male or white female, and white Eurocentric literature is not the only literature out there,” she said. “I think (students) can learn that there are other viewpoints and other cultures that are just as important to learn. And that, with individuality, comes a certain source of expression. Not every type of expression has to be the same. There isn’t a cookie-cutter sort of person in the world.”
Camien says she hears reluctance from all sides of the racial issue regarding her choice of research topic, but those comments only fuel her passion to find out why people feel the way they do.
“How can I know how you walk in your shoes if I don’t first reach out and show you that I care enough to learn about (you)?” she asked.
Camien is an English major and plans to graduate in the spring of 2019. In addition to participating in the University Scholars Program, she is also part of the Ned Ray McWherter Institute and serves as a resident assistant for the UT Martin Office of Housing.
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