Empowerment Through Knowledge: The Essence of Black Studies — Dr. Jervette Ward

by Sofia Canonge

Black Studies is essential in fostering understanding, empowerment and recognition of the historical and contemporary contributions of Black voices and experiences. Dr. Jervette Ward, Director of the Black Studies Program at City College and President of The College Language Association, is dedicated to preserving and expanding the field. Through an unwavering commitment to advocacy, academia and community, she strives to amplify the identities of Black scholars.

Dr. Jervette Ward. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Ward.

Dr. Ward’s educational journey reflects her belief that learning transcends traditional boundaries. Through lively discussions, from the dinner table as a child to the corridors of her university, education has always been a constant companion for her.

“People often think that education only happens inside the classroom or inside the four walls of any type of education establishment,” Ward said. “But I think that we should always be involved in our own education and that it can be anywhere and everywhere.”

Her academic pursuits have been diverse and extensive, embodying the concept of perpetual learning. Ward obtained a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, a master’s in English and a doctorate in Literary and Cultural Studies from the University of Memphis. She continued her studies with a graduate certificate in African American Literature, another in Black European studies during her time in Amsterdam, and a TEFL Certification from The University of West Bohemia in The Czech Republic.

Ward’s career trajectory was influenced by her profound love for literature, shaping her approach to research and teaching.

“The love for books… there’s something so powerful about the human experience and to be able to help a student express themselves with language, it’s such a unique opportunity,” Ward said.

Her recent research interest focuses on exploring the pivotal role of Black women in shaping intellectual discourse and popular culture. Her forthcoming book project examines the great debates led by Black women throughout history, from iconic figures like Ida B. Wells to contemporary icons like Beyoncé. In her work, Ward stresses the importance of engaging with popular culture to make academic discourse accessible to everyone.

Dr. Ward serving as master of ceremony at the 2024 Langston Hughes Festival. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Ward.

According to Ward, one of her most significant achievements is her leadership of The College Language Association, the oldest and largest organization of Black professors in languages and literature. Founded in 1937, CLA has played a crucial role in promoting and advocating for Black academic excellence.

“It’s been an honor to serve as president of such a historic organization,” Ward shared. “Leading this group and carrying their legacy is truly surreal.”

Under Ward’s leadership, CLA is embarking on initiatives to expand membership, increase archive utilization and revitalize its brand image. She is making the importance of strategic partnerships and community engagement central to advancing the organization’s mission.

At CCNY, Ward integrates her research into her teaching, providing students with hands-on experiences through project-based learning. As the director of the Black Studies program since August 2023, she envisions a future where the department thrives, offering multiple opportunities for students and faculty.

“Changing the program to a department, increasing major and minor numbers, facilitating more partnerships and scholarships are among my primary goals,” Ward said. “But most importantly, I want to instill in students a sense of community pride.”

Ward shared that she looks forward to continuing to guide and empower her students to become future professionals and providing a safe space where they feel supported in their educational development.

Dr. Ward at the MLA headquarters. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Ward.

“For aspiring scholars, particularly women, I would advise being strategic, pursuing your passions unapologetically, and surrounding yourself with supportive allies,” Ward said. “Above all, I advocate for living a life rooted in love and compassion, principles that have guided my own journey.”

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