By Christine Sweeney, Managing Editor for Digital Content, College of the Holy Cross

Andre Isaacs with students, pre-pandemic (photo courtesy of the College of the Holy Cross)


Andre Isaacs’ choreographed dance videos have attracted almost a quarter of a million followers on TikTok, but this associate professor of chemistry at the College of the Holy Cross might be even more popular in the classroom.

Whether working on copper catalyzed reactions via click chemistry or practicing choreography for his videos, Isaacs’ mentorship of students builds community and inspires confidence that leads students to feel secure in taking scientific risks and sharing ideas with colleagues without hesitation that they might not be “right.”

“Making mistakes and failure is a part of the process,” he recently told Advanced Science News. “That is something I struggled with. I wanted every reaction to work, but I’ve learned more from my failures than I learned from my successes. I think they’ve made me a better scientist.”

On his journey from his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, to Worcester, Mass., he’s learned that finding a community of support and being able to bring one’s full self to that community leads to a greater willingness to make—and learn from—mistakes.

“If you’re not part of a community that embraces your unique talents and values it as a benefit, then you’re not going to be able to bring your best. [It’s important to understand that] you are not just a researcher, you’re a human being who’s growing, developing and learning about who you are, and it’s so important to have a community that can support you,” Isaacs says.

Isaacs credits his own experience of coming out as a queer graduate-school student as a major factor in how he approaches students today. While he struggled with lack of support from his family and friends at the time, which he says impacted his ability to work effectively, he relied on his advisor and other friends for support and encouragement as he handled rejections from others. He aims to treat his own students as colleagues to demonstrate that they are learning from each other.

“I think it’s a mutually beneficial relationship when we build an alliance versus a power dynamic, where they’re always just subordinate,” Isaacs says about his teaching approach. “It makes it easier for my students to communicate their failures, their concerns, their questions, when they know you’re not going to be mean to them, or that they can just joke with you and you all can smile.”

“I would say I think my biggest contribution is that I am helping to train some stellar students who are going to make a huge impact on our world,” Isaacs adds. “Not just because of their talents in the lab, but because of the way in which they view diversity, the way in which they embrace each other and the values they take on, and I think they are going to be impactful. Training students has been the biggest joy of my career.”

Contributed by the Georgetown University Office of Strategic Communications

A year ago this month, Georgetown established the Racial Justice Institute (RJI), a hub for scholars, activists and thought leaders to work across academic, policy and advocacy spaces and address the structural causes of racial inequity and injustice in the U.S.

Three esteemed scholars representing law, the arts, health, African American studies and public policy have been selected as the founding faculty leaders of this cross-campus, interdisciplinary institute focused on race, equity and action.

“The Institute is university-wide and interdisciplinary—with leadership spanning all three campuses,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “Through this effort, we are able to deepen our university’s shared commitment to the values of justice and equity and more fully recognize the contributions and experiences of the Black community—at Georgetown, and around the world—as central to our history and future.”

In working to address its own historical ties to slavery, Georgetown has sought to find ways to transform the systems and institutions that uphold inequities in health, education and opportunity through research and scholarship.

Robin Lenhardt, a legal scholar, Derek M. Griffith, a public health and psychology scholar, and Anita Gonzalez, a theater and performing arts scholar, are directing this work. They will later be joined by a fourth faculty member focused on policy. Learn more about these three scholars, whose leadership is shaping Georgetown’s racial justice efforts.

Robin Lenhardt: The Legal Scholar

Robin Lenhardt is a leading scholar on race, family and citizenship. She joined Georgetown as a law professor in 2020 and teaches constitutional law and a Race, Law and Inequality Seminar.

Robin Lenhardt, legal scholar (all photos courtesy of Georgetown University)


“My research covers issues of belonging, citizenship and inclusion, and those spheres focus on questions of race and inequality,” she says. “I’m also involved in looking at the systems and structures that undermine belonging and success for families of color.”

Most recently, Lenhardt served as a law professor and faculty director of the Center on Race, Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. Throughout her career, the Harvard Law School graduate clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and worked at a Washington, D.C., law firm, where she defended the University of Michigan in landmark affirmative action cases. She has reviewed civil rights issues at the Department of Justice as part of President Obama’s transition team and is co-editor of a forthcoming book, “Critical Race Judgments: U.S. Opinions on Race and Law.”

Lenhardt first came to the Georgetown Law Center 18 years ago to pursue a fellowship for future law professors, earning an L.L.M. She has taught law ever since at Fordham Law School, Columbia Law School and the University of Chicago Law School. At the RJI, she applies an interdisciplinary approach to deep-seated racial equity challenges and continues to focus on using a family law model to better understand systems of racism and inequality.

“We have the opportunity to marshal resources in a way that really brings this work to the forefront,” Lenhardt says. “I think it can really fortify the kinds of policy interventions that I know many people at Georgetown are equally eager to build out. There have been people doing this kind for work for years at Georgetown, but I think the Racial Justice Institute can be a catalyst for collaborations that are really different from what we’ve been able to do in the past.”

Derek Griffith: The Public Health and Psychology Scholar

Derek Griffith is a professor of health systems administration at Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies with a secondary appointment in oncology. He founded and directs the Center for Men’s Health Equity in the Racial Justice Institute, which conducts research in men’s health and health equity to achieve well-being and social justice for men, and he is a member of the Cancer Control and Prevention Program in the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Derek Griffith, public health and psychology scholar


Griffith, a renowned scholar whose work has been funded by the American Cancer Society, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and others, uses his expertise in psychology and public health to promote men’s health, well-being and health justice more broadly. He examines the impact of structural racism on racial, ethnic and gender inequities in health, and develops and tests medicine interventions to prevent and control obesity and chronic diseases in African American and Latino men.

“I’m primarily interested in refining how we understand the factors that create and maintain health inequities and how we actually achieve health justice,” he says. “How do we actually intervene to improve lives—the health and well-being of populations—not just document how bad it is?”

Griffith previously served as a professor of medicine, health and society as well as founder and director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University. In co-leading the Racial Justice Institute, Griffith is enthusiastic about bringing together multiple perspectives to address structural racism.

“With the four anchoring areas of health, law, the arts and public policy, we’re able to systematically consider how racism and other societal structures, like gender, culture and ethnicity, affect health and well-being,” he says. “We have the depth and breadth of expertise to address issues from a much more holistic standpoint than many others do, and the time and explicit charge to do so.”

Anita Gonzalez: The Theater and Performing Arts Scholar

Anita Gonzalez is a professor in the performing arts and African American studies departments in Georgetown College. For more than 20 years, she has developed programming and curriculum in higher education to promote the global arts, learning and interdisciplinary research.

Anita Gonzalez, theater and performing arts scholar


“I call the work that I do ‘theater as cultural exchange,’ and it’s expanded more recently to think about storytelling and its impact on narratives,” Gonzalez explains. “I’m interested in dialogic performance, the way that people perform each other as they try to develop their identities.”

Most recently, Gonzalez served as a professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance and associate dean of faculty affairs at the University of Michigan. Gonzalez holds a Ph.D. in theater and performance studies and has completed three international Fulbright awards. She’s led cultural exchanges in Ethiopia, South Africa, Mexico and the United Kingdom, and has written a book about Black performance theory. Gonzalez’s stagings of historical and cross-cultural experiences have appeared on PBS, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors and Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre.

“The arts provide representation and visibility for disenfranchised populations,” Gonzalez says. “Communities fighting for racial justice use the arts to humanize their experiences and tell stories of their struggle and resilience, which is important because it activates, creating empathy for those with differing life experiences.”

At Georgetown, she directs, devises and writes operas and musicals in addition to educating students. In her role leading the RJI, she examines racial justice through a multidisciplinary lens.

“Georgetown sits in the nation’s capital close to policymakers who could actually affect change within our polarized, racialized domestic landscape,” says Gonzalez. “I’ve enjoyed interacting with faculty members who are working for racial justice through a variety of disciplinary perspectives so we can create impact in multiple arenas.”

Learn more about Georgetown’s Racial Justice Institute and its ongoing work on race, equity and action.

By Adam Doster, Staff Writer, Loyola University Chicago

Badia Ahad, Ph.D. (photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago)


There’s a passage in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia that’s always stuck with Badia Ahad, Ph.D., a professor of English at Loyola University Chicago. In it, the future U.S. president lays out what could arguably be described as the first theory of race in the United States. According to Jefferson, Black people held in abundance two faculties: memory and misery. They lacked other basic human emotions. “Their griefs are transient,” he wrote, and their love lacked “a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation.”

The complex interior lives of Black artists and writers have formed the spine of Ahad’s scholarly life. It’s her rejoinder to Jefferson, and anyone else who dehumanizes Black people—an assertion of “this mundane and trite idea that we’re fully human.” Her first book (Freud Upside Down: African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture) considered the collision of African American literature and psychoanalysis. In 2021, she published Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture. The seed of the idea was planted back in 2005, when Ahad watched (and then rewatched, and then rewatched again) the buoyant hip-hop concert documentary Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. The film got her thinking about nostalgia, and particularly about its role in Black creative life.

She writes in her book’s introduction that nostalgia has been generally understood as a “pretty form of memory and one that is largely unavailable to Black folks.” Racial violence has, for too many, framed the past as traumatic, not romantic. But a painful past is not without its pleasures, either; it can even offer a sense of optimism for the future. Afro-Nostalgia, then, attempts to locate in the work of artists, performers, writers and cooks “recollections of Black redemption, triumph over white supremacy, and resistance to state-sanctioned violence and repression.”

It’s a convincing and compelling survey, a tour through the growing public archive of an alternative Black historical past that cultivates well-being and builds community. “The past is harmful, but it can also be blissful,” Ahad says. “Neither perspective is the singular one.”

Ahad is also very attuned to the role of Black scholars like herself, and their presence in higher education. For the first 12 years of her own teaching career, she was the only faculty member of color in her entire department, which struck her as bizarre. “It seemed not to match what the city actually looked like,” she says, “and what made the city so beautiful and vibrant to me.”

Photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago


In June 2020, she got the chance to change that with a new appointment as vice provost for faculty affairs. Her primary charge? Diversify Loyola’s faculty, which no longer mirrored the school’s increasingly diverse student body. She’d given the problem plenty of consideration over the ensuing years, consulting in her spare time on behalf of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. Her husband, coincidentally, works as an executive recruiter. From him, she learned about the importance of proactive recruiting. Sometimes a job opens up in a remote Canadian city, say, and a dozen people in the world are interested and qualified to do the job. You can’t just run an advertisement and wait for applications to flood in. “You’re not sacrificing quality,” she adds, of the hiring push. “You’re just making sure your hiring practices are inclusive, that people are aware of biases that go into the process, and that you’re prioritizing areas of research that have traditionally been ignored or marginalized.”

To that end, Ahad launched a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion liaison program; those representatives were trained and served as equity advocates on search committees. She insisted that deans include Integrated Postsecondary Education Data in their hiring plans, to gauge the true demographic composition of their fields. Of the 84 new faculty members Loyola hired this past cycle, 47 percent identified as people of color, and 29 percent came from underrepresented racial groups. In the English department alone, there are now five assistant professors who don’t identify as white and who teach subjects for which Loyola never had specialists. Next comes a reconsideration of the curriculum for the English undergraduate major, which only requires students take one course (out of 12) touching on the literatures of non-white people. “Our students want to learn these things,” Ahad says.

When she shifts her focus back to her own writing, Ahad will turn inward, to the story of her grandparents’ migration from Livingston, Alabama, to the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, and into a house originally restricted from Blacks. Hyde Park is now an integrated neighborhood that occupies a special role in hyper-segregated Chicago; growing up there fundamentally shaped Ahad’s own identity. The family memoir, she hopes, will be informed by academic ideas but will be looser in tone than her previous work. For context, she’ll rely on sheaves of notes and letters that her grandmother (“a really great lay archivist”) collected over her life.

Recently, Ahad even found the first “book” she ever published, a collection she wrote as a 7-year-old in Hyde Park. Her mom had it bound at the time, and the pages have yellowed slightly over the years; the first story is titled “Smart Sally.” Apparently, young Ahad appreciated alliteration.

“I don’t know if I’m inherently nostalgic personally,” she says, “in as much as I’m inherently joy-seeking.”

By Jessica Goldstein, Content Specialist, Loyola University Maryland

Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, Ph.D. (photo courtesy of Loyola University Maryland)


Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland, founded and directs the Karson Institute for Race, Peace & Social Justice, which opened at Loyola in October 2020. The Karson Institute provides a scholarly space for professors, students, social justice workers and activists to come together to research, discuss, debate and explore answers to America’s most pressing questions about inequality, injustice, and racial and economic inequities.

Whitehead answers questions on the founding of the Karson Institute and how she hopes it will engage the community.

What inspired you to create the Karson Institute?
In 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin and the launch of Black Lives Matter, I decided to take my work out of academia archives and move it into public spaces. I started writing op-eds for The Baltimore Sun and The AFRO, hosting teach-ins, and facilitating Black Lives Matter training around the country. I was committed to doing everything to help co-create a world where my two Black sons could get home safely every night.

By deeply engaging with race, class and gender issues, I facilitated conversations either in person or through my work—on the radio or in my AFRO column—in environments as disparate as college campuses and barber shops. In 2017, as an associate professor, I partnered with WEAA 88.9 FM to launch a daily drive-time radio show, Today with Dr. Kaye, which has since won local, regional and national awards.

Last August, while we were amid two pandemics—COVID-19 and racism (after the murder of George Floyd)—I knew it was the ideal moment to launch an institute where we could deeply engage with these issues on campus, within Baltimore City and eventually around the country. I named it after my father, Dr. Carson E. Wise, Sr., because of his work during the Civil Rights Movement and his ongoing commitment to fighting against injustice and inequity. He was my first social justice teacher, and I thought this was a moment to honor him and draw attention to the nameless, faceless foot soldiers who have helped shape and challenge this country.

How is the work of the Karson Institute shaping your own scholarship and teaching?
I intentionally designed the Karson Institute’s three centers to support my work as a scholar and professor, and to make space for the work to be expanded beyond me:

How do Loyola’s Jesuit values impact the Karson Institute’s work?
One of the reasons I chose to work at Loyola was because of the University’s Jesuit values. I received my master’s degree from the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, so I was familiar with Catholic teachings. The five elements that characterize Jesuit education—context, experience, reflection, action and evaluation—are essential to how I teach and help my students engage in a more in-depth discussion. I want them to think about what these elements mean to them and about what it calls them to do with their lives.

I have worked hard to ensure that the Jesuit values of cura personalis, critical thinking, strength as a leader and passion for learning are present in everything I do and everything I do through the Karson Institute.

How does the Karson Institute serve Baltimore and its community?
Given that my work is so deeply tied to the city, I believe that the Karson Institute never had to work to be accepted as a suitable place to host and facilitate these types of layered conversations. It effectively builds upon the work that I have done in and around the city. As a former Baltimore City middle school teacher, radio host and opinion editorial writer with the AFRO newspaper, I have found ways to be engaged with communities, city government and the school system from both within and outside of the system.

As a predominantly Black, activist-oriented and close-knit community environment, Baltimore City is the canvas that is best designed for the Karson Institute to shine through and make an impact. I am tied to this city, and the Karson Institute gives me the platform to continue to deeply connect our students with the residents.

What do you ultimately hope to accomplish through the Karson Institute?
I want the Karson Institute to become an internationally recognized and respected authority on teaching and discussing these issues. I would like us to be inwardly focused, as we challenge our students to think and talk about racism, injustice and our collective responsibility to dismantle these systems of oppression—and outwardly focused, as we look to challenge everyone around to engage in these conversations with us. I want us to think beyond our borders and start talking about what peace and social justice look like in places like Palestine, Haiti, Afghanistan or South Africa.

What kind of action can readers take to help move the issues of race, peace and social justice forward?
It is incumbent upon us to be in conversation with others. The problems we are facing, from racism and antiblackness to wars and climate change, did not begin with our generation. Still, we can try to end some of these conflicts and, if not end them, at least force everyone to think about why we are still so actively engaged in behaviors that neither benefit us nor sustain us.

I want the Karson Institute to be where we can imagine the impossible, ask how it can be possible and then challenge participants to believe that change is possible—and is happening now. The work and the struggle continue, and I want us to continue to lean into this moment and do the work.

For more information on Whitehead and the Karson Institute, please visit

By Anna Wallace, communication intern in the Office of Marketing and Communication at Marquette University

Marquette University is proud to have more diverse faculty members than ever before.

One in five full-time faculty are people of color, and one-third of assistant professors are people of color. The increase in diversity is part of an initiative to increase representation and enhance the academic experience through elevating different experiences and perspectives.

In honor of Black History Month, here are just a few outstanding Black scholars at Marquette who are making major contributions in the classroom and to their respective fields:

Dr. Cedric Burrows

Dr. Cedric Burrows (all photos courtesy of Marquette University)


Dr. Cedric Burrows is an associate professor of English in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. He teaches literature, African American rhetoric and culture, social movements, and more. Some of his more popular courses include “I Am We: Memoirs of the Black Freedom Movement and Writing,” “Literacy, Rhetorical Studies: The Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement,” and “The Rhetoric of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.”

Burrows, who led the revamp of English 1001, a staple of Marquette’s Core Curriculum, also helped design Foundations in Rhetoric to incorporate more literature from diverse authors in order to recognize those authors’ experiences and validate the identities of traditionally underrepresented students.

Author of the book “Rhetorical Crossover: The Black Rhetorical Presence in White Culture,” Burrows is also engaged in several research projects, including one that examines how the United States constructs narratives around the Civil Rights Movement through public memorials.

Burrows was recently honored with the 2021 National Council of Teachers of English David H. Russell Distinguished Research Award. In 2020, he received Marquette’s Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Faculty Award, which recognizes select faculty and staff members who demonstrate exemplary leadership and manifest the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion into practical action.

Dr. Dora Clayton-Jones

Dr. Dora Clayton-Jones


Dr. Dora Clayton-Jones is an assistant professor in Marquette’s College of Nursing and an adjunct faculty member at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She teaches courses such as Nursing in the Jesuit Tradition and Health Equity and Disparity.

Clayton-Jones has dedicated her research to the self-management of chronic conditions, health disparities and equity, spirituality and health in adolescents, as well as qualitative and community-based participatory research.

Currently, Clayton-Jones—who serves as the president of the International Association of Sickle Cell Nurses and Professional Associates—is the recipient of critical funding for several sickle cell research projects on which she is the principal investigator. Projects include “Eliminating Sickle Cell Disparities Amount Youth: The POSSE Intervention” and “Exploring COVID-19 with Young Adults Living with Sickle Cell Disease: A Community-based Photovoice Project.”

She has received numerous honors and awards throughout her career, including the Betty Irene Moore Fellowship for Nurse Leaders and Innovators and Marquette’s Community Engaged Research Partnership Award. Clayton-Jones’ professional affiliations include the National Black Nurses Association, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Sigma Theta Tau International and the Health Care Transition Research Consortium.

Dr. Robert S. Smith

Dr. Robert S. Smith


Dr. Robert S. Smith is the Harry G. John Professor of History in the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. He is also the director of Marquette’s Center for Urban Research, Teaching and Outreach (CURTO), an intellectual axis and key convener of programs that address issues central to affirming human rights and dignity.

Currently, Smith leads an interdisciplinary research team developing the Education Preparedness Program, a CURTO-led initiative that supports students impacted by incarceration to succeed in higher education. In 2020, the program received a $745,000 award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

He authored the book “Race, Labor & Civil Rights: Griggs v. Duke Power and the Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity,” as well as “Black Liberation from Reconstruction to Black Lives Matter,” a collection that appeared in the “Debating American History” book series.

Smith, who serves on the Board of Curators for the Wisconsin Historical Society, is the resident historian for America’s Black Holocaust Museum and the chair of the Milwaukee County Human Rights Commission.

Additionally, Smith volunteers with Milwaukee-area high school teachers and students in discussing and preserving local history.

Prof. Kali Murray

Prof. Kali Murray


Prof. Kali Murray, professor of law at Marquette University Law School, is the co-director of the school’s Intellectual Property Program.

Murray’s research is focused on the politics of participation in patent, property and administrative law.

Her work addresses a range of issues, including the impact of different administrative actors in patent law; the effect of race, ethnicity and culture on the development of property law; and how administrative law can successfully manage heterogeneous policy environments, address social and political vulnerabilities of citizens, and structure information exchange between administrative actors and the regulated communities.

In addition to numerous law review articles and book chapters, including her recent work, “Infrostructures,” Murray is the author of “The Politics of Patent Law: Crafting the Participatory Patent Bargain,” part of the “Routledge Research Series” in Intellectual Property Law.

She is also lead author on the second edition of “Integrating Spaces: Property Law Social Identities,” which is a nationally recognized textbook on property law and social identities, including race, ethnicity, gender, sex and social identity.

Murray has served as the chair of the University Committee on Diversity and Equity, and the faculty adviser to the Black Law Student Association.

She has also served as a member on the AALS Scholarly Papers Committee and AALS Faculty Workshop on Pre-Tenured Faculty of Color as well as the chair of the Property Section of the American Association of Law Schools and the Board of Directors for the Association for Law, Society and Property. Currently, she serves as an adviser on Building the Bench.

By Micah Castelo, Web Content Editor, Saint Joseph’s University

Started by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz at the onset of the pandemic, Verzuz has since garnered millions of viewers and become an online community celebrating Black artists, culture and identity (photo courtesy of Saint Joseph’s University).


When COVID-19 struck, live music and entertainment were put on pause. To keep the music going and continue connecting with their fans during the lockdowns, many artists turned to livestreaming their performances on social media.

It was a hit, particularly in the case of Verzuz, an Instagram Live broadcast where Black legacy artists battle it out with 20 songs each to determine who has the better catalog. Started by music legends Timbaland and Swizz Beatz in March 2020, the livestream has since garnered millions of viewers and evolved into a webcast series.

For many, Verzuz became an online community where music lovers can engage with and celebrate Black artists, culture and identity. The public duels, some of which are between artists who had real-life drama, also allow for an examination of how Black women artists operate and are perceived in the music industry and pop culture.

Aisha Lockridge, Ph.D., associate professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University, and Janée Burkhalter, Ph.D., professor of marketing and associate dean of the University’s Erivan K. Haub School of Business, undertake this exploration in an essay on the Verzuz battle between Brandy Norwood and Monica Arnold, two R&B singers best known for their Grammy-winning ’90s duet “The Boy is Mine.”

Their essay, entitled “Don’t Take it Personal: Perceptions of Envy, Competitiveness and Authenticity in the Brandy vs. Monica Verzuz Battle,” was published last fall in the book “Sustaining Black Music and Culture During COVID-19,” a collection of works on the Black cultural significance of Verzuz and Club Quarantine, another Instagram Live event that went viral.

“We saw that to be considered as successful in the music industry, collaboration, competitiveness and authenticity are expected, especially for Black women artists,” Burkhalter says. “We were able to use the Brandy vs. Monica battle to show how those major concepts are demonstrated.”

“We also used the battle to question what those concepts mean,” Lockridge adds. “Instead of seeing them as flattened and uncomplicated, we wanted to tease out what those ideas permit and how they mobilize.”

Unpacking the Brandy and Monica Verzuz Battle
The two Saint Joseph’s professors had been meaning to work together on a project, considering that they had overlapping academic interests, Burkhalter says. She’s an expert in entertainment and social media, specifically on personal branding, while Lockridge is an expert in Black women’s studies and writing, Black popular culture and African-American literature.

So when they saw the book’s call for submissions, something in them sparked. “We were both part of the captive Verzuz audience, and having the research interests that we do, we wanted to think of ways to talk about it as scholars,” Lockridge explains. “When we saw the call, we were like, this is it. This is magic. This is synchronicity.”

Burkhalter says they chose to look at the Brandy vs. Monica battle because it allowed them to mesh some of the previous work they’ve done separately. Her research on authenticity and music and Lockridge’s work on the diva figure in African-American literature set a strong foundation as they questioned the relationship between competitiveness and Black women musicians.

“In popular culture, competition almost always gets framed as something negative, but we’re arguing that it doesn’t have to be exclusively negative,” Lockridge says.

That’s the case for Brandy and Monica, who were compared and pitted against each other since they debuted in the late 1990s, despite how different they were as artists. People followed their decades-long drama, much of which revolves around “The Boy is Mine,” their acclaimed song about two women fighting over the same man. The song and its creation sparked rumors of a rivalry that ended up being real; for instance, both artists have claimed that the song is solely theirs, Burkhalter and Lockridge write in their essay.

It was no surprise, then, that the Brandy vs. Monica battle garnered so much interest; people were drawn to their feud. But Verzuz does more than just showcase that; it provides an opportunity to see the nuances of the envy and competitiveness between the two artists.

“It makes us think, why are these two artists being pitted against each other, and why are we only willing to be interested in them in that way?” Lockridge says. “We see that they’re fighting to be individual singers and not singers who are always in relation to each other. They’re fighting to maintain people’s interest in them as solo artists.”

Introducing Verzuz to Saint Joseph’s Students
Lockridge and Burkhalter have also used Verzuz to engage students in courses they teach, such as Black Popular Culture and Entertainment Marketing.

For Lockridge, including Verzuz in smaller sections and different parts of her Black Popular Culture class made a difference in how students were engaging with the course content. “It was challenging to teach at first,” she says. “I think students had one idea about what Black popular culture was and what the study of Black popular culture is, so it was kind of difficult to do. But now, after adding Verzuz, I found that students really open up to the topic and are very interested in it when it’s framed more broadly.”

Meanwhile, students in Burkhalter’s upper-level Entertainment Marketing class watch an episode of Verzuz to explore different ways they can deliver concerts as they plan their own benefit concert.

“Concerts used to always be in person, but that’s not the case anymore,” Burkhalter says. “Verzuz also gets them to think about viral content and how to use music to help promote different things, so it’ll be a standard in any of the entertainment classes I teach going forward.”

By Angeline Boyer, Assistant Director of Media Relations, Saint Peter’s University

John Johnson, Jr., Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Saint Peter’s (left) with Martin Luther King III H ’21 (right) at Saint Peter’s 2021 Michaelmas Convocation (photo courtesy of Saint Peter’s University)


When it comes to Black history, Saint Peter’s University and members of Jersey City’s African American community are partnering to document it.

John Johnson, Jr., Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Saint Peter’s University, is leading the charge with a public history project titled “Living for the City,” which is designed to examine the rich history of the African American community in Jersey City, the city in which Saint Peter’s is located.

Prior to joining the faculty at Saint Peter’s, Dr. Johnson served as the executive director of Newark Celebration 350, a yearlong celebration of Newark, New Jersey’s founding. His work in Newark inspired him to conduct this similar project in Jersey City. The project is also aimed to give context to the two visits of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. H ’65 to Jersey City in the late 1960s. One of the visits was to Saint Peter’s, and the second was to the Metropolitan AME Zion Church.

The project has become a reality with the support of a Humanities Research for the Public Good grant from the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). Many aspects of the project are being carried out by Saint Peter’s students under the guidance of Dr. Johnson and other members of the Saint Peter’s faculty and administration, including Michael DeGruccio, Ph.D., associate professor of history, and University Archivist Mary Kinahan-Ockay.

“The CIC’s grant was created to increase student interest and participation in the humanities, and the receipt of the grant is making that feasible at Saint Peter’s,” Dr. Johnson said.

Overall, the project will explore the African American experience in the North beginning with the Great Migration in the 1930s, connecting with the civil rights movement and uprisings of the 1960s, and concluding with the history of Black urban space as it came to be in the 1970s. It will be conducted in a three-step process, which includes an archival research phase, an oral history phase and a documentary- development phase.

In partnership with Metropolitan AME Zion Church and the Jersey City Office of Cultural Affairs, students are currently conducting the archival research using The Hon. Frank J. Guarini Center for Community Memory; the Saint Peter’s University Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections; and other local archives.

For the oral history phase, students will interview people in the local African American community who arrived or whose families arrived in the Great Migration and who lived through the uprisings of the 1960s. The participants are largely members of the Metropolitan AME Zion Church and the Monumental Baptist Church in Jersey City. They will explore questions regarding the migration experience and memories of the 1964 uprising. Many of these residents attended both of Dr. King’s speeches and have not yet documented their experiences.

The documentary will explore the history of Jersey City’s African American community and the record of Black Freedom Movement speakers at Saint Peter’s and Metro AME Zion Church. It will serve as an essential part of the public history during this era of the community.

The need for this documentation became more apparent than ever when Martin Luther King III H ’21, the son of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. H ’65 and Coretta Scott King, came to Saint Peter’s in September to provide the keynote address for the 2021 Saint Peter’s Michaelmas Convocation. While there were articles about Dr. King’s visit in 1965 and Coretta Scott King’s visit in 1975, there were no audio or visual recordings of either event.

“We wanted to be sure to archive the details of the visit of Martin Luther King III to preserve this interesting history of the King family and Saint Peter’s,” said Dr. Johnson, noting, “The visits of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. H ’65, Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King III H ’21 are such a significant part of our history, which truly speaks to the uniqueness of Saint Peter’s.”

The archival work on the project thus far has already revealed some interesting intersections in the history of Jersey City’s religious communities. For example, the Monumental Baptist Church was, in fact, a Catholic school before it became a house of worship for the Protestant community. The researchers learned that many of the Protestants who were members of the Church actually attended the Catholic school.

“In the current political and social climate, we often imagine our histories to be extremely polarized, when in fact our research is unveiling the overlaps and intersections of how interconnected our history actually is,” Dr. Johnson said.

The project is also revealing some interesting aspects of how Saint Peter’s Jesuit traditions played an important role in the city’s African American history. The students are currently learning about Project 25, a program which began in 1968 through a partnership between then-Saint Peter’s President Rev. Victor Yanitelli, S.J., and the head of the Monumental Baptist Church. The program offered enrichment programs for high school juniors and seniors from underserved schools to prepare them for a college courses at Saint Peter’s.

“Project 25 is just one of the many examples of how Saint Peter’s has lived out the Jesuit traditions of cura personalis and of people for and with others,” Dr. Johnson said. “We are grateful for the opportunity to explore and learn more about the institution’s role in the rich history of the African American community of Jersey City.”

By Jenny Smulson, Vice President of Government Relations, AJCU

As part of our work at the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), we advocate for a strong investment in federal student financial aid programs that make postsecondary education accessible and affordable to all students, especially those with significant financial need and those who may be first-generation college students. We emphasize the power of a Jesuit education in developing the whole person and in preparing graduates to be leaders in pursuing a more just world (our current issue of Connections highlights some of our exceptional leaders).

Each of our colleges and universities contributes significant institutional dollars to students to make a Jesuit education possible. It is a joint financial investment (federal, state and institutional dollars) that we make in our students in hopes they will gain greatly from the academic and extracurricular opportunities available to them at our institutions.

The underlying assumption in our advocacy and investment is that a postsecondary degree, especially one from a Jesuit college or university, is a good thing. It is an endeavor that contributes to the common good as well as something that accrues benefit to both society and the individual. But what do we do when we encounter a federal lawmaker who questions this assumption and challenges us to explain why a college degree is valuable?

As we advocate for access, we must be prepared to respond to this fundamental question: Does a college degree really matter? Does it contribute to the common good?

The Answer Is “Yes”

At AJCU, we are confident that the answer is “Yes.” Our response is “Yes,” and there are many reasons why we answer with confidence. There are many ways to assess the value of college, and by all measures a college degree is good—for both the individual and for the nation.

What do we know from data about the “value” of a college degree? There is a lot of research available that looks at earnings over time of individuals with a college degree.

In general, an individual who completes college will realize higher earnings over their lifetime. According to a report from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), over a 40-year career (of the 1.1 million graduates of private nonprofit colleges and universities), a degree at a private, nonprofit college or university is expected to generate an additional $2.1 trillion (in economic impact), support and sustain 11.4 million jobs, and create $258 billion in local, state and federal taxes when compared to students not attending college. That same report from NAICU cites the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, noting the mean salary earned by a person with a bachelor’s degree is 67.3 percent higher than someone with only a high school diploma.

We also know that a college degree is a pathway to secure employment. During the Great Recession, and more recently during the pandemic, individuals with a college degree were able to maintain or gain employment at higher rates. According to a report from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), in 2010, the unemployment rate for all young workers was 15.8 percent, but for those with a college degree, it was much less: 6.9 percent.

Additional data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reveals that the current unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders is 2.5 percent (January 2022) (and 2.0 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree and higher), and 7.6 percent for those with a high school degree.

More Than Money

Higher earnings and lower unemployment are important considerations. What about preparation for the workforce and job satisfaction?

According to the Pew Research Center, “overall, about eight in ten adults say their education was very or somewhat useful in preparing them for a career.” The Pew report notes that even with challenges that come with paying for college, “83% of bachelor’s degree holders believe they have already seen a return on what they and their family paid for their bachelor’s degree,” and “only 6% of graduates say colleges did not pay off for them and they do not expect it in the future.”

While these measures show the positive impact of a college degree for an individual and for our national economy, we know it is not true for all students in all programs. For example, Georgetown University’s Center for Workforce and Education’s recent news release about their online Return on Investment tool noted that in some cases at some institutions, ten years after enrollment in college, some individuals earn less than their high school graduate colleagues, and this may be related to “low college graduation rates and disparities in earnings by gender and by race and ethnicity.” As we advocate for greater access and increased affordability, we must demonstrate that our institutions are laser focused on completion for all students and support their success beyond graduation as well.

While important, earnings are not the only measure of value of a college degree (especially given how undervalued/underpaid certain careers are in our economy—like police, firefighters, schoolteachers and social workers, to name a few). We can also consider other measures of value that emerge for college grads, including increased levels of civic engagement, increased volunteerism and higher levels of wellness. Graduates found college useful in job preparation and reported higher levels of job satisfaction compared with those with a high school degree.

What else? According to a Lumina Foundation report, college degree holders have higher participation in school, community, service, civic and religious organizations, as well as greater leadership responsibility within those groups. Government expenditures on this population are lower and community involvement is greater, as is trust and neighborhood interaction. Some of these measures are foundational to our democratic values and our health as a community of people.

Graduation Plus Personal, Spiritual Growth: #JesuitEducated

These measures are just some of the ones we can point to in demonstrating the value of a college education. Completion plays the most significant role in any measure of success. As a nation, we must do more to help ensure that once a student enrolls in postsecondary study, they are adequately supported in their academic pursuits and that they graduate.

The AJCU institutions make graduation a priority for each student at a Jesuit college and university. We want them to value what they pursued at our institutions—their degree and their preparation for a sustainable and fulfilling career. And we want them to value that which is harder to measure but equally important—their personal and spiritual growth, and their preparation to meet the challenges in the world with intellect, imagination, faith and reason. That they are proud to be #JesuitEducated.