Sharieka Shontae Botex, a third-year PhD student in the Rhetoric and Writing Program, has received a 2022 Graduate Student Award for Community Engagement Scholarship from the University Office of Outreach and Engagement (UOE). Her project, Shaping Society Through Scholarship and Action, which took place in September of 2021, served to spotlight the community-focused work that local scholars and organizations are doing. Her work received the prestigious graduate student award for “exemplary community-engaged scholarship” from MSU’s University Outreach and Engagement.
Shaping Society Through Scholarship and Action, which took place on September 25, 2021, featured Black women scholars whose work classifies them as community-engaged scholars and/or scholarly activists. The event gave them a platform to share their professional and academic journeys and to discuss those who informed and influenced their work on panels moderated by graduate students. It also provided a platform for community organizers and leaders to share their efforts and discuss how and why they view their work as essential.
To accomplish the goal of providing stories, resources, and support to those interested in scholar activism, Shaping Society Through Scholarship and Action hosted multiple panels to spotlight discussions about individuals’ experiences with academia and community work.
- Dr. Natasha Jones , Associate Professor in WRAC
- Dr. Denise Troutman, Associate Professor in WRAC
- Dr. Tamara Butler, Executive Director of the Avery Research Center
- Elizabeth Stepnowski, former coordinator of the South Lansing Community Development Association
- Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, Inaugural Chairperson of the African American and African Studies (AAAS) Department
- Dr. Tamura Lomax, Foundational Associate Professor in AAAS
- Constance Haywood, Doctoral Candidate, Rhetoric and Writing Program, Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures
- Olivia Furman, a PhD Candidate in the Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education Program
The event also featured an organization and resource forum with guest speakers from local community organizations.
- Karrington Kelsey of Lansing Black Lives Matter and One Love Global
- Dr. Reverend Versey Williams of the Lansing National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
- Dr. Shondra Marshall, president of Michigan State University Black Alumni Incorporated
- Jaleah Rutledge, former president of the Black Graduate Student Association.
Providing a space for people to engage in dialogue about their experiences and work is important because sharing stories can motivate those interested in scholar activism while connecting them to valuable community resources. “The event provided organizations with a chance to talk about their missions, efforts, [and] projects and for everyone present to learn, be exposed to information and resources, and to connect to envision future work and efforts—while also giving people a chance to pause to acknowledge the already astonishing, amazing and essential work being done by all those present,” Sharieka said.
Sharieka was inspired in early childhood to do community-focused work. She grew up with family, church, and community members devoted to being present and improving the lives of others. “I’ve consistently been exposed to people in my life who dedicated their time to seeing what they could do to help someone else pursue their goals, do a thing they loved and enjoyed … or to improve their current circumstances and state of being,” she said.
Her interest in continuing to raise awareness, do community-focused work— and to do so in a way that took into account her experiences and the experiences and work of Black people on a local and national level—were among the things that led to her creating the project.
“I believe that Shaping Society Through Scholarship and Action is an event that worked to do some of the imperative and essential work that Dr. Lomax and Patrice Cullors spoke about during their Slavery to Freedom panel moderated by Dr. Marita Gilbert, while also serving as an event to pursue my interest in learning more about scholarly-activism, community focused work and providing examples of that type of work for other people in universities who want to do the kind of work. In being aware of my own experiences and interests, wanting to call attention to the local efforts and work of people and organizations working to combat racism, and injustices, work that shed light on the positive and community-focused work being done by people in academia, I knew that such an event could be useful and provide essential resources and support, and shed light about the dynamic and essential work of those involved.”
Sharieka is committed to raising awareness about critical issues and the academic or community-based work that is being done to solve them:
“It was and still remains very important to show the work of Black women scholars whose work needs to be uplifted and show the ways that they on paper … or in their creation and development of organizations, resources, [and] platforms are [doing] work focused on progress and prosperity. Because that is work that will lead to others being able to do their own versions of that work while pursuing their dreams and creating a better society for themselves and others.”
Sharieka says she is honored to have received the award for her work, and she is thankful for all of the feedback and support she received throughout the project. She continues to promote positive social change while supporting others who have similar goals. By remaining engaged in the community, supporting the work of those involved with the events, and continuously learning how to actively be engaged with and provide resources that connect people to information that uplifts this work, Sharieka is empowering and strengthening her community and setting a positive example for us all.
Kara MacKenzie (she/her) is a sophomore at Michigan State University majoring in Professional and Public Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is the website and communications intern for WRAC, where she helps to create and implement engaging content campaigns that draw attention to people in WRAC and the amazing work they are doing. She is especially passionate about the intersections between rhetoric and social justice, and hopes to one day use her writing skills to benefit an organization that works toward positive social change.