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Andrea Y. Adomako

PhD candidate in the Department of African American Studies

Andrea Y. Adomako

We all need to be looking to these communities, who have had no other choice but to practice justice differently, to understand that there is a better way of being in community.”

Andrea Y. Adomako is a PhD candidate in the Department of African American Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. Her research examines what we can all collectively learn from Black girls’ friendships through critical engagement with their lives and those writing about them. She volunteers with the Chicago Freedom School and is on the board of the Akoma Institute. Andrea is a Presidential Fellow, the most prestigious fellowship awarded to graduate students by Northwestern.  

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?

My research thinks deeply about relationship building as a political commitment and intellectual practice, particularly in the context of violence and harm. To this end, my work reveals that, because Black girls have been overlooked or erased in the popular cultural landscape, they have had to imagine a new way of relating even as they negotiate what it means to live in a world where they are seen as a threat. I believe that we can all collectively learn from Black girls’ friendships through critical engagement with their lives and those writing about them.

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?

After college, I applied to over ten graduate schools and only got into one. I felt devastated because I thought it meant something was wrong with me or my project. I didn't quite understand the gamble of applying to PhD programs, in the sense that you never know what a department is looking for in a particular cycle. I felt really lost. However, I buckled down and went to get my MA at Purdue University in American Studies, which was essential to my growth as a scholar. I was able to focus and become clearer about my research and the kind of work in which I was invested. When I applied again, I was more confident and knew that any rejection was not personal.

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.

When I was an undergraduate at Barnard College, I was an Africana Studies and Human Rights major. In my sophomore year, I took a class with Abosede George called Children and Childhood in African History. That class got me started thinking critically about childhood as social category and what implications that has for the way Black youth are and are not allowed to live. This classroom experience was combined with working with young people in the New York Public School system. There, I heard second graders describe experiences of police violence and girls in sixth and seventh grade recite original poetry centered on empowerment and resistance. I noticed how it was often Black girls organizing and laboring on behalf of their communities. These experiences revealed the intertwined, mirrored, and complex existence of Black girlhoods, which made me want to further interrogate these dynamics.

Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?

Part of the joy of doing interdisciplinary work is constantly being exposed to innovative scholarship from different vantage points. I am particularly in awe of my committee members: Jennifer Nash, Martha Biondi, Nicole Spigner, and Nazera Sadiq Wright. They are incredibly talented scholars and also are committed to practicing mentorship from a place of generosity. My committee members model the kind of researcher and mentor I want to be.

What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?

We are currently in a global conversation about mutual aid and transformative justice, which boils down to the transformation of relationships. That is where my work comes in. In 2017, Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality did a study on Black girlhood which revealed that Black girls are seen as needing less nurture and support than their white counterparts. When your life is seen as less than, the way you conduct friendships—navigating conflict, addressing harm, maintaining connection and affection—are all re-imagined by necessity. My academic work and the youth-led work I do with Chicago Freedom School emphasize that marginalized communities have been engaging in trauma-informed crisis intervention, addressing root causes, and de-escalating harm for a very long time. We all need to be looking to these communities, who have had no other choice but to practice justice differently, to understand that there is a better way of being in community.

Why Northwestern?

I chose Northwestern because the Department of African American Studies has some of the most brilliant and encouraging faculty I had encountered. I feel supported in my research and professional development. Additionally, Northwestern's resources allow me to participate in various intellectual communities. Currently, I am a part of the Gender and Sexuality Studies cluster. I also received the Graduate Dissertation Award from Northwestern Buffett. These are just a couple of ways that Northwestern facilitates my growth as a scholar. 

What inspires you?

I find my motivation and inspiration in my community. There is a Maya Angelou quote I love that says, “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.” That's how I feel. My success reflects those who came before me, those beside me right now, and those who will come after me. My community allows me to stay grounded in my history and my culture.

Published: September 21, 2021

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