Nine students from Eastern Michigan University’s class of 2013 presented their research projects to attendees of the fifth annual McNair Research Colloquium on Friday, June 15 in the Bruce T. Halle Library Carillon Room.
One of the presenters, Briana McKoy, whose project was titled, “Tyler Perry and the Weight of Misrepresentation,” examined and defined the different stereotypes of African-American women in Perry’s films.
“I have served as the token black person from the time I was one in a private academy,” she said. “I served as the only black person for a lot of my white peers. Growing up in the suburbs they didn’t know what black was.”
In her research she indicated that consumers of black films believe these films are an accurate description of black culture, and the consequences of these negative stereotypes presented in mainstream media are rarely discussed.
“When I started hitting puberty and all these jokes started coming about my kinky hair and my curvy hips, I looked different [to them]. The dialogue stems from [the] black films that these people were watching. I didn’t teach you that. Where did you learn that from, you know? So they are getting that from this material,” said McKoy.
McKoy is double majoring in electronic media and film studies and communications and plans on attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she will be visiting this summer.
“This project was really hard for me to complete,” she said. “My first draft I turned in, [my advisor, Neff] said ‘This sucks.’ I was crushed but it just pushed me. I didn’t think I could do it.”
The McNair Scholars Program was created with the purpose of preparing undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.
The requirements for participation include either being a first-generation college student with financial need, or a member of a group that has been underrepresented in graduate education with a strong academic record that demonstrates the ability to excel in the program. The program’s goal is to increase the number of graduate degrees for students who are members of under-represented groups of society.
“It’s considered a privilege in this country to have parents who have college degrees and have succeeded in the college environment, and are therefore able to help their children through the college experience, or people who come from a high enough income level that going to college was not necessarily a challenge,” said Heather Neff, Ph.D., director of the McNair Scholars Program.
Some of the perks of being a McNair student include professional Graduate Record Examination test preparation, financial assistance in taking the GRE, a research stipend and a faculty mentor. Students also have the opportunity to attend a summer research institute that offers weekly seminars working with affiliates of graduate schools learning steps in preparing graduate school applications, how to apply for financial assistance for graduate studies, money management and speaking skills for graduate school interviews.
“Our goal is to put forward really strong academic candidates who also have the polish and the confidence to go forward in grad school, and sit down with Kennedy children if it comes to that,” Neff said. “We want them to be virtually indistinguishable from the kids who have prep school training.”
Sade Wilson, a past participant, was in attendance at the colloquium. She said she would recommend this program to everyone who is an under-represented student and who is prepared to do anything to help them reach the goal of pursuing a doctoral degree.
Wilson’s mother, a black Hispanic from Panama, and her father, an African-American, do not have undergraduate degrees, and both come from poor families. They never dreamt of this type of achievement for themselves, but they did for Wilson and her brother.
“I talk about this all the time. I think my friends think that I am some cheeseball. This program has brought me to where I want to be and to where [my parents] want me to be and that’s awesome,” Wilson said.