5 Questions for a Brunonian: Amanda Boston AM'16 PhD'18
As a grad student, Boston looked forward to learning from the top minds in her field. What she found was family. Learn why she gives back to Brown by serving as New Alumni Trustee on the Corporation.
A teacher of African American urban history, Boston thanks Brown for the pivotal experiences—and one particular role model—who helped shape her ideas.
What experiences from your time at Brown stand out to you?
A significant experience at Brown was the "Blackout" in support of students at the University of Missouri in 2015. Some of you may recall that time as one of unrest at schools across the country. And some of my peers in Africana Studies who were TAs at the time (Shamara Wyllie Alhassan AM '16 PhD '19 and Bedour Alagraa AM '17 PhD '19) arranged a teach-out. They went to the quad with their students, a crowd formed, and Africana Studies graduate students spoke about structural racism. We talked about Black student movements since 1968—in the U.S., in South Africa, and all across the world to give context for what was happening and consider how we might move forward. It was a really powerful moment, being involved in that political movement, that solidarity, but also realizing the importance of what we do as educators, in terms of teaching history and speaking truth during difficult times.
Who in the Brown community inspired you?
One person who I admire and who really impacted my time at Brown was Professor Tricia Rose AM'87 PhD'93, P'14. She's a professor of Africana Studies, as well as director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. She's also a Black woman from New York City and came from a similar background. To see her at the top of her field, being one of the most prominent Black intellectuals in the nation, of our time, and seeing her be so true to herself and so brilliant—but also critical and loving—is definitely a model for the kind of person I want to be, whether I'm in academia or not. Working with her was definitely one of the highlights of my Brown experience.
Can you tell us about your role as New Alumni Trustee on the Corporation?
I took the role as an opportunity to begin to give back in significant ways—and to also continue the important work that was taking place when I was a student and that enriched my time at Brown.
I'd say I'm a spokesperson for recent grads, current students, and the grad students in particular. It's important to have graduate voices at the table when decisions are made because what goes on at Brown affects us deeply—from our teaching assignments, to whether or not we have access to affordable housing, to what our stipends look like. So you absolutely want graduate-student alumni leaders who can speak to those experiences, who are in tune with the needs of the average graduate student, so that when the University sets its agenda, we're not left out.
What do you most enjoy about your work on the Corporation?
I've been enjoying meeting people from different walks of life, people I would have never necessarily even met, let alone sit in meetings with and spend time with. So it's been fulfilling to meet those people, to form relationships, to bond over our love of Brown, and to really work to make the University a better place.
I joined the Corporation really passionate about social justice efforts. Research being undertaken at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, in addition to Africana Studies, played a huge part in my development and was on the vanguard of some of the important anti-racist work that was being done on campus.
When it’s time for me to leave the Board this year, I want to be able to say that I have helped in furthering diversity and inclusion efforts, not only in terms of research, personnel, and faculty, but a continued and strengthened commitment to those issues. Social justice, diversity, and inclusion are all essential to making Brown live up to all that it desires to become.
Why should alumni vote for Corporation trustees and officers of the Brown Alumni Association?
It's important for recent alums—for all alums—to vote in this election because our opinions do matter.
I'm a recent alum, but my voice matters just as much as the most established person on any committee that I'm on. You want someone who's going to advocate for your needs, even when they might not necessarily be popular, and so this is an opportunity to make sure that that voice is heard.
Bonus Round: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Corporation member Pamela Reeves '87, P'22, who has an incredible career in politics, told me that a job is not a career and a career is not a job. So, in short, she meant that you can change, you can be flexible, you can pivot if you want. Just don't be stagnant.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Amanda Boston, who earned master's and doctoral degrees in Africana studies from Brown in 2016 and 2018, respectively, is a Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University and an assistant professor/faculty fellow at NYU's Marron Institute of Urban Management. Her research, writing and teaching focus on 20th-century African American urban history, politics and culture.
At Brown, Boston was a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellow, a graduate fellow with both the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and the Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences initiative, president of the Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association, and a mentor in the Brown Center for Students of Color's ALANA program. She also worked with the Graduate Resources for Improving Professional Structures program and served on the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Board and the Graduate Student Advisory Committee for the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.
Prior to attending Brown, Boston earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Duke University. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she sits on the alumni council of the New York City-based Prep for Prep program, which provides students of color with access to life-changing educational and leadership opportunities. She is currently a New Alumni Trustee of the Brown Corporation.