It wasn’t until Terry Kershaw went away to college at SUNY Cortland that he realized where he grew up in the lower east side of Manhattan was considered a ghetto. That realization spurred him to make good use out of his education by dedicating his studies to learning as much about his history and ways to change it; he began his lifelong journey in the fields of sociology and black studies.
“I was sitting in my sociology class when I learned my hometown was considered a ghetto,” Kershaw explains. “I thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to college, what can I do to make things better?’ Sociology attracted me because I want to critique society with the hope of making things better.”
Kershaw is excited to be at the University of Cincinnati as the new African and African American Studies department head.
He continues, “What’s the point of me getting educated just to keep things as they are?”
As a professor and the new department head of African and African American Studies, Kershaw hopes to be that vehicle for change he’s always believed in.
Since receiving his master’s in Black Studies from Ohio State and his PhD in Sociology from Washington State, Kershaw has taught at a slew of small, liberal arts colleges and large public universities. At each one, he has had a specific goal in mind: to develop and strengthen an African American studies program that shapes scholar activists who see the importance in not just academic excellence, but social responsibility as well.
“We want to develop scholar activists,” he says about his goals as the new department head. “We want to help out those who put their scholarship to use it in ways that can improve life chances and life experiences.”
How does he plan on doing that exactly? By strengthening the undergraduate program and hopefully creating a graduate program that focuses not just on black culture, but social policy as well.
Recalling the trailblazing life of W.E.B. Du Bois and his role as an educator and civil rights activist, Kershaw seems himself in much the same light.
“When he was in Atlanta, for example, he developed a cadre of scholars who would do research that ultimately was used to improve life chances and life experiences. I see myself in that mode,” he says. “I’d be very happy to call it a day knowing there are a lot of people out there doing the kind of work that’s going to move us to become a fair and just society. I hope to use whatever skills and knowledge I can to make that happen.”
Kershaw doesn’t just expect social responsibility from his students; he harbors the same sentiments as well. That’s part of the reason he decided to leave Virginia Tech after almost 10 years as associate professor and director of Africana Studies and the Race and Social Policy Research Center.
At the University of Cincinnati, he sees the challenges of his lofty goals, but firmly believes there is more opportunity for growth at the university because of its urban environment, the large percentage of African Americans in the city and ultimately, the palpable desire for change he recognizes in the people of the university.
“What I have noticed about UC so far is there seems to be an air of wanting to do something. There’s a strong commitment to making things happen,” he says.
If that is indeed the case, Kershaw should fit right in.