College of Education
Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois (DFI) Fellowship 2012-2014
UIUC Graduate College Fellowship 2009-2012
As a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership in the College of Education, Samuel Byndom credits the Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois (DFI) Fellowship with helping him complete his doctorate. Funded by the State of Illinois, the DFI program aims to increase the number of underrepresented graduate students who pursue higher education positions in the state of Illinois upon graduation.
As a veteran of the Iraq War, the GI Bill had helped Samuel complete his bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. “At the time I applied for the DFI, my GI benefits were completely expended and I still had two years to go,” he says. “What better way to complete a dissertation on diversity than through a fellowship aimed at diversifying Illinois faculty?”
Samuel is certainly fulfilling the DFI’s mission, through both his graduate studies and his work in community education. He works full-time as the Director of the Urbana Adult Education Center, a nonprofit organization serving adult learners in Urbana, Champaign and surrounding communities. “I’m looking for how I can make the greatest impact and that brought me here,” he says. “Most of the students we serve here are low-income residents of Champaign County. I’m preparing these students to pursue a post-secondary education and have already established partnerships with the University through the Extension Office and the College of Business. I’m working to make higher education more accessible and inclusive.”
Samuel’s paths to his work with adult learners and his doctoral research began as a high school history teacher in East St. Louis, Illinois, where he taught students from minority populations, particularly African Americans. “I noticed that students felt disconnected from the subjects they were learning about in the classroom,” he explains. “This led me to think about what historical events and social movements were being omitted from the curriculum that might resonate with students,” he says.
Ultimately, Samuel ended up developing that question into his dissertation project. Entitled “Forging Freedom through Curriculum: the Emergence and Evolution of African American Studies at University of Illinois 1968-2008,” the dissertation examines the establishment of Black Studies programs at American universities and uses the University of Illinois as a case study. “The initial phase runs from about 1968 to 1974,” he explains, “when the idea of studying the African American experience from a cultural perspective was a new one. Programs emerged out of protests in which students advocated for having the intellectual and physical space to express their identity as African Americans.” Black Studies programs then blossomed throughout the country in the 1970s and 1980s as the discipline established itself. “Over time, they became institutionalized as autonomous departments. With the subsequent establishment of journals and national conferences, Black Studies was fully brought into the fold of the academy and legitimized as a discipline,” he says.
Samuel cites two early initiatives that impacted both the University and the local community. The first was Project 500, which was established in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and which brought over 500 underrepresented students to campus from all parts of the country. “The University’s aggressive recruitment provided new opportunities for people of color,” he says. The second was a lecture series from 1969-1974 that brought in Black artists such as the writer James Baldwin. He explains, “The bookstores in town began to carry African American authors. People would drive from far away to attend the lectures, buy the books, and participate in the discussions.”
At Illinois, these early initiatives would lead to the creation of both the Office of Minority Affairs and the Department of African American Studies. As Samuel summarizes, “The establishment of Black Studies programs around the country also paved the way for Latino Studies, Native American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Women and Gender Studies. They laid the groundwork for these other disciplines to thrive.”
Samuel will carry this richer understanding of the past with him as he completes his dissertation and continues his teaching and community service efforts for younger, and older, students in Illinois.