CSUF teacher elevates black culture and history in education | Campus News
As a poet, professor in the Department of African American Studies and director of the Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation, Natalie Graham said she hopes to give her community the representation it deserves.
Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Graham is a University of Florida alumnus and has been with Cal State Fullerton for eight years.
Prior to her career in higher education, Graham said she had no intention of becoming a professor, but after a few English and anthropology classes in college, she realized her passion for culture and arts.
“I love teaching students something they didn’t know about a story they’re really familiar with. It kind of opens up the world for them to think differently about very familiar and recognizable stories, ”Graham said.
Graham said his goal was to always inspire his students to see history and culture from different angles than they are normally used to.
In 2017, Graham published his book of poetry titled “Begin with a Failed Body,” a collection of poems that delve into southern roots that many people are not used to seeing, poems about trauma that people suffer in broken societies. The project began as she was finishing her university studies and wrote the poems for her master’s thesis.
“I really wanted to think about what it means to a place or a culture that isn’t considered perfect or could be seen as broken,” Graham said.
The book was published by the University of Georgia Press and won the Cave Canem Prize for Poetry, which is awarded to people who have written outstanding poetry of African origin.
Even as an accomplished author, Graham said she was very proud of the Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation at Cal State Fullerton.
“I think there is so much room to grow and serve our students and our community. I love, more than anything, creating conversations or facilitating conversations between people and allowing people to have access to art and to allow students to have access to different ideas, ”Graham said.
The Black Institute of Intellectual Innovation was designed to support and include black people, culture, the creative arts and history at CSUF.
Graham has influenced the Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation and has had the opportunity to take the department of African American studies and the students that go through it to the next level, said Vincent T. Harris, director of the Males Success Initiative at the CSUF.
Harris said that when he started teaching in the department, Graham had just started the idea around the Institute of Black Intellectual Innovation institute and is now amazed at the progress she has made.
“The fact that she had conversations with artists around the black imagination as part of social citizenship, reinventing what citizenship is for blacks and African Americans, that was just really revolutionary for me. Harris said.
Graham said being the program director made sense to her because of her background and the false statements she saw growing up.
“I think it’s important to really institutionalize the black presence, to invite people to come back and say ‘Yes, you are welcome. Yes, you can drive here. Yes, you can start moving here, ”Graham said. “There are people here who will support you.”
Graham said it was important to recognize the absence of black people in Orange County and why this poses a challenge for those in need of community in the area.
“I think most of the time people say, ‘Well that’s only 2% of the population,’ but even on campus, 2% of 40,000 is a lot of people, so I think what I wanted to do was recognize that we weren’t even represented, ”Graham said.
The racism and false statements she experienced growing up and going to school only encouraged her even more and is one of the main reasons she became an educator and why she pushes students to be better, a- she declared.
“I am grateful for all of my experiences. There are a few things that I go back to in my life and say, ‘My God, I wish it never happened that way’, because I think everything, every challenge, every difficulty is a opportunity to learn, grow and be better, ”Graham said.
Siobhan Brooks, an associate professor in the Department of African American Studies, said she arrived at CSUF the same year as Graham and developed a close bond with her colleague.
“I think she is very passionate in the classroom to harness the ability of her students to produce creative work, to generate intellectual ideas, I think she is very good in the classroom and outside the classroom,” said Brooks.
Gwendolyn Alexis, professor in the Department of African American Studies, has worked with Graham for eight years. She said Graham is able to see different topics through a historical and creative lens, and improve it for his students.
“She’s so brilliant and what’s important for her to teach is our experience and she teaches the African American experience in different ways because she’s creative,” Alexis said.
Mei-Ling Malone, lecturer in the African American Studies Department, said Graham has a great passion for preparing students for their future.
“She pushes students because she wants them to be well equipped when they leave college, and not many professors mention that,” Malone said. “She always thinks of the students and their future.”