University of Southern Indiana

Tail Feather Dr. Sakina Hughes

Dr. Sakina HughesDr. Sakina Hughes, assistant dean, associate professor of history and director of USI’s Africana Studies Program, wants her students to hear voices—particularly “voices of diverse peoples from disparate walks of life.” It is through their stories that her students grasp racial, socioeconomic and sexual orientation experiences as an avenue to “challenge and critique all the –isms and phobias that plague our society.” 

Outside the classroom, Hughes’ research investigates the world of African Americans and Native Americans through the lens of their role as entertainers in the circus. Focusing on the 1800s to early 1900s, her research has led her to understand how participation in Wild West and minstrel shows allowed people of these groups to be legitimate entertainers, creating a space for themselves in society despite the prejudices against their races.  

Driven by social justice ideals in and out of the classroom, Hughes teaches her students the history of traditionally neglected peoples while challenging them to think about the future we are all creating.  

Describe your teaching style.  

use a combination of interactive lectures and student-centered active learning activities to encourage critical/historical thinking, to explore historical events and people, and to reinforce historical themes, classroom camaraderie and practice in public speaking.  

Student-centered active learning is a process whereby students engage in activities, such as reading, writing, discussion or problem solving that promote analysis, synthesis and evaluation of class content. Cooperative learning and problem-based learning are approaches that promote active learning.  

I strive to encourage every student to be involved in class activities and learning. Critical thinking, group cooperation and public speaking are important general skills that I emphasize. However, I also write my courses in ways that make the subject matter relevant to my students’ lives. For instance, I use a pedagogy known as Reacting to the Past in which students play elaborate games and use their historical imaginations to place themselves among the debates of the 19th century.  

How does your research inform and shape your teaching, and in turn your students?  

At its core, my research is about re-writing traditional narratives to include people who were routinely left out of or neglected by the historical record. I teach this type of inclusion and corrective history in every class. It is essential and, in some cases, life-changing for students. In my “Race, Power and Violence” course, some students have been so inspired they’ve decided to incorporate social justice ideology into their own lesson plans when they become teachers.    

What have you learned from your students? 

The old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” has been hammered home. Not that I practice judging students, but they are constantly surprising me in unexpected ways. What I love is when I see a student flourish from being shy and withdrawn to excelling in class and taking leadership roles. When this happens, I really feel pride in what I do and realize that everyone has a route to success. 

What book should everyone read and why?  

This might be the hardest question for me because there are so many good ones. Two come to mind. W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk and Bell Hooks’ Feminism from Margin to Center.  

Du Bois is one of our great American intellectuals and talks about so many things that were going on in the early 1900s that we still need to address today. The idea of Double Consciousness is so important in understanding marginalized peoples, and his take on education as a vehicle to personal and community uplift is just as relevant today as it was back then. Bell Hooks also writes in a way that recognizes the marginalized in society, but also teaches us to be inclusive no matter what one’s background.  

Can I add one more? I would say everyone needs to read Peggy McIntosh’s short essay, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” too. She does an amazing job at walking readers through how to recognize the hierarchies in society and how we all fit into them. This is very important if we are to begin to see social justice take root in our communities.   

How do you want to be remembered by your students? 

I would love it if students remembered me as someone who made them think about the important things in life in regard to being a better citizen of our nation and of the world. 

What is a life lesson you want readers to know?  

That constant self-scrutiny is the way—or a way—to make sure you do learn from life. Not taking anything for granted, rather looking deeply at how you live your life in relation to other people, animals and nature on this planet, and making an informed judgment on whether or not it is a good, healthy practice for you, your family and for the world.  

Being open to other people’s ideas, and even being open to the fact that you may be wrong about some ideas you have held for much of your life, is essential. 

What do you inspire your students to be? 

hope I inspire students to be critical thinkers and to develop a love for lifelong learning. My aim here is that as a critical thinker who is always seeking to better yourself, you become a model citizen of our nation and of the world. If I can do this, I am a happy and fulfilled educator.  

As a historian, with insight that history repeats itself, what lesson do you feel humans are doomed to keep learning? 

To respect everyone’s humanity, no matter who they are or where they come from. So many wars and atrocities have resulted in not recognizing this and I fear that with all the anti-immigrant rhetoric and rise in hate crimes, we are going further down that path. Once we are at a point in society where we can respect others, we will be on our way to solving most, if not all, of our problems! 

What keeps you hopeful in troubling times? 

As a historian of the African American experience, including slavery, I study some pretty gruesome things and sometimes must grapple with the worst things people have done to each other. What gives me hope is that at every point in history where there has been oppression—extreme, horrible oppression—there have always been people—black, white, and of all colors and backgrounds—standing up to that oppression and showing how incredibly brave, inspiring, creative and good humans can be. 

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