- Synopsis: ChildhoodKeywords: Pennsylvania; segregated high school;Tyco; marketing; accounting; DupontTranscript: ANSAH: Let me start off by asking you for some biographical data. Could you tell me about yourself, like your background and where you grew up?
GYANT: I'm from Chester, Pennsylvania. I got my college education at Cheyney State University, where I got a bachelor's in Home Economics with a minor in Marketing and Accounting. Then I got my master’s and doctor's degree at Pennsylvania State University. I worked in retailing for Macy's for almost fifteen years and then I worked at Penn State as an instructor and then later on as a Director of their African/African American Studies Program for about another twelve years until I came to Northern where I came here in 1994 as the Associate Director and then later became the Director. I think I was the Director for about maybe fifteen years and then it was time to move over. I went to the faculty in what is now known as Counseling Higher Ed and Student Affairs. I have one son who still lives in Pennsylvania and one sister who lives in California. I don't know what else to—I viced a number of organizations on campus. I'm still a vice to the S.I.S.T.E.R.S. organization and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, their Zeta Nu Chapter which I'm also a member at the sorority and S.I.S.T.E.R.S. as well. That's about it. I can't think of anything else.
ANSAH: Could you tell me a bit about your childhood?
GYANT: Like I said, I grew up in Pennsylvania with both my parents. My mother worked at Dupont and my father was laboring and the company he worked for was Tyco. Both of them worked at those companies until they retired. I went to the schools in Chester. My early education was at an integrated elementary school and then I went to a segregated high school. Then this high school became segregated due to a fire of our high school. I graduated from Chester High in 1988 and I lived my time between Pennsylvania, Brooklyn, New York, and Newport News, Virginia because I had family there. My grandmother would take us to Newport News in the summer and then we would go to Brooklyn where my father's family was on holidays.
ANSAH: Thank you very much. You mentioned you went to a segregated high school, could you tell me what it was like?
GYANT: It was different because we started off integrated, and then we became segregated after the fire. It was really hard but then again because we all knew each other, and we either all went to the same church or live in the same neighborhood, it was very easy for us. There was segregation because in Chester, you had a black movie and you had a white movie. We had become accustomed to that and was able to just—We knew the boundaries. You recognized what the boundaries of where you could go and where you couldn't go.
ANSAH: How did that make you feel at the time?
GYANT: It was hard because it was during the Civil Rights Movement. Then it was like when I went to high school was the march in Washington and I wanted to go to the march in Washington. My mother told me no but it's trying to understand what was going on. I think at an early age because I was a reader, I was reading black books when I was seven years old. I have the first Essence edition when it first came out at my mother's house right now. Reading Black History was always a part of me. Some of it I could understand and some of it I couldn't understand and to this day I still can't understand what are the issues that make people think they're better than people of African descent living here in the US. I still don't understand that when you preach God and you preach this and if we believe in God, we're all the same, there's no difference. It still brings up some anger at me at times. I've been known as being the angry black woman and that's what I have to do, but I also have to remember that I'm standing on the shoulders of people like Queen Nzinga, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa, Mary Susie King, Dorothy Heights, the founders of Sigma Gamma Rho. I know I'm standing on their shoulders, so I have to, if they could have done it, I could have done it. I have to find a way to balance all of this but the most important is, do what you have to do for your people and that's always going to be a priority, but while you're doing what you need to do for your people, you also got to respect people from other cultures and other backgrounds as well.
- Synopsis: IdentityKeywords: African American; African descent; spirituality; powerTranscript: ANSAH: Thank you very much for sharing that. You mentioned that people see you or saw you as an angry black woman. Could you share with me what your identity is?
GYANT: What do you mean what my identity is?
ANSAH: How do you identify? Would you call yourself an African American woman?
GYANT: I identify myself as a woman of African descent, born and raised in the United States. I do use the term African American.
ANSAH: What's the experience like being a woman of African descent living in the US?
GYANT: That's a loaded question. I mean that's a loaded question and I don't think you have time for me to answer that question, but it talks about pride. It talks about strength, it talks about weakness, it talks about creativity. It's spirituality, it’s uniqueness, it's faith, it's power, it's courage, it's determination, it's motivation, it's beautiful and it's angry and it's peaceful.
- Synopsis: Graduate educationKeywords: Dissertation;masters; doctoral program; Macys;apartheid;model OAUTranscript: ANSAH: That's a very interesting way of describing it. Thank you very much. Could you tell me about your undergrad and graduate experience even though you didn't do it at NIU? What was it like?
GYANT: Well, I went to the HPCU (Historically Black College and University), Cheyney State University is one of the first HPCU’s. I was a returning adult, so I was not a traditional student. I had a son. Cheyney was about—this sounds hard to see but Cheyney was about—by car, it's about an hour and a half from where my family lives but by public transportation it's about two hours so because I didn't have a car, I had to take public transportation and that was hard, but I did it for the three years I was there. It was good. I was challenged. I had some of the best black teachers I'd ever had. I think of some of them. I think of Ms. Carter, who would always challenge us, and she would always say, "Let me know when you get out of the fog". Which meant when you get it and you understand it, let me know so we can help you. I can't think of her name, but my design teacher was also great. We used to tease her, try to get out of class on Fridays. That's why for students today I know all the tricks because I played them all. We were trying to get her to let us out on Friday because we had a design class at three o'clock. She was great because she was a woman who could look at fashion and make it just from memory. We were all in awe by that and she really helped us get our design and together. It was at Cheyney that I think my confidence started to do because I was elected as president of our home economics association and I had the opportunity to go to a home economics conference by myself. That was challenging. They did have faith in me. I think my experience at Cheyney even though I failed in the accounting class, because it was at eight o'clock in the morning. No, I'm sorry. It wasn't at eight o'clock in the morning. It was at three o'clock in the afternoon and that's when I realized three o'clock classes were not good for me but the following two years, I got A’s in all of my accounting classes so I didn't have any problems. My chemistry class, I did a C but I was in the teacher's office every day. Every day I was in his office. When I graduated from Cheyney, I ended up graduating with a 3.4 GPA which was a little bit challenging having a son, particularly for one year. One semester my son had got sick right at finals week and he was diagnosed with Bell's palsy. I couldn't take my finals. I had to stay at home and take care of him. I still graduated with a 3.4 and I would say that was the grace of God. It was the blessing of the teachers that I had who really helped me and had confidence in me and gave me the courage to move on. Then I went back to Macy's and then I wanted to go get my master's and applied. My design instructor, her husband was working at Penn State and Penn State was recruiting African American students. I got into Penn State in the master’s program through him. That was a scary journey. My son and I went up there looking for housing. I was walking around campus and didn't see any black folks. I said to my son like, "I don't know whether I want to stay here." He was probably five or six and he said, "Mommy, you can do it." I ended up staying there but it was challenging. It just so happens that I had met a good cohort of African American students who were all master students who were in different departments. We hang out. We had a support group. We met once a month to support each other, to have dinner, hang out. We would go out for happy hours. We met the black faculty. All of us made sure that we had somebody black on our master’s and our thesis committee and our doctoral committee. I did have some challenges in my master’s program. I had a lot of challenges partly because my anger and I say some things. I was sitting in a class talking about family and culture and my white women colleagues were talking about—one was a farmer; one was an upper-middle-class woman. They were talking about how they had to do this and that. I basically said, "You can't expect those same things out of families of color particularly women of color because the economic base is not the same and we don't have the same leisure." My teacher pulled me aside and said, "This is not the place to have a chip on your shoulder. If you're going to have a chip on your shoulder drop this class because we're not going to have these kinds of conversations in classes." She was the Chair of my thesis committee. She dropped me as the Chair. She was no longer my Chair, so I had to find another Chair. I had met the Director of the African American studies programs. He said he would work with me on it. He worked with me on my thesis and he also gave me the opportunity to sit on his Black Studies classes. He asked me what I was going to do when I finished my Master's. I said, "I'm going back to Macy's work for about four years, three to five years. Then go to New York and work in New York and then come back and open my own fashion business there. He said, "You're too smart to do that." He said, "I want you to find a Doctoral program to get into." My first choice was the History program but because our History program was having some issues, I didn't want to get caught in—he suggested, "Don't go there and get caught." I took education and I met the Chair with that. Then again, he saw my writing and his comments to me was, "I know you people have a hard time writing. We're going to have to work with you." I did everything and I just sat there and cried because I was hurt. I didn't think that that was what he should have said to me. There was another way he could have said that but "you people" and from that day on I had no relationship with the Chair of the department, but he was also the Chair of my dissertation committee. I found somebody else Dr. Gordon Wasson ending up being the Co-chair. I worked mostly with her on it. My Master's and Doctoral program at Penn State was very challenging but good at the same time. In my doctoral cohort, I was one of the first students to get an article published and the Chair of the department once again degraded me based on what I wanted to do. I was doing my article on—it was just that challenging while I was working on my dissertation and other things. I had a black woman Co-chair. I had a black woman on my committee and another white person on my committee. I also started teaching in Black Studies. I never taught before; I did not want to be a teacher. I taught my first Black Studies class and it was preparing students to go to the OAU (Organization of African Union) African community. This was at the height of apartheid and all the students in the class knew about apartheid. They were updated and I knew nothing. I was reading two hours before class to prepare them for the OAU but my students—they weren't there. We spent time because after the first two weeks of school, they were no longer African American students. They became literally members of the—Pan-African union that became coalition— Their mindset was that whoever they represented that's who they were. When we went down to the OAU they were on point and those students couldn't beat them because their mindset was there. That was a good experience. I also developed an African American women's class while I was at Penn State after attending the National Council for Black Studies conference. Among the negatives, there were a lot of positives that balanced it all. I was one of the founders of the Black Graduate Student Association at Penn State. It was a challenging but growing experience for me, my graduate experience.
- Synopsis: Transition to NIUKeywords: Cultural shock; conference; teachingTranscript: ANSAH: Thank you very much for sharing that. How did you make that transition to come and work at NIU?
GYANT: Well, because I got my Doctorate degree at Penn State, and I was the Director of the program. If I wanted tenure at that time, Penn State wouldn't give you tenure, and most institutions don't give you tenure. If you got your degree there, they want you to go someplace for a couple of years and then maybe come back and so I had to look for a job and this is where God led me, so this is where I am.
ANSAH: What was the experience when you started working at NIU?
GYANT: I want to say it was a culture shock. It was really a culture shock because I had been at a place that was three to four hours away from any major city. I had been at a place where the Black community was intact, and we supported each other, and we did a lot of things together. I had been at a place where collegiality was high on everybody's thing even between undergrad, grad and the faculty and staff and then to come here and see the kind of separation and that was very hard for me. Even the social life because it was like, "Where do we go if faculty and staff want to get together and we don't—" There was no place here and I had been used to it. "We're going here, and we know that the students will be coming in at this time. We're going by the time students come." It was a culture shock. It was very much a culture shock for me when coming here.
ANSAH: How did you manage this cultural shock?
GYANT: My girlfriends kept my van on hold for at least two years or at least a year. I drove around, tried to find some easy ways to get out of town. I went out of town at least once a month. Then I kind of, "You can't be running from this. You got to figure out how you going to make it." I think my integration in northern was mostly due to the students. It was really mostly due to—I credit the student and I get mad at the students, but it was the students that really helped me inaugurate myself.
- Synopsis: Student EngagementKeywords: Family; Sigma Gamma Ro; Community; Zeta NuTranscript: ANSAH: How did the students do this?
GYANT: When I first started working at the center, there were a lot of students and there's this one lady named Nicole Pool and it was just organization, the Sister's organization. They had had a male advisor and the first thing she told me when I started work is that "You're going to be their advisor". That was the way I kind of—One of the ways also that I found that I needed to be inaugurated into the campus was, I would go to almost every student program. I was literally teaching my classes and then go to two or three programs at night for a long time just to get to know the students, feel what their needs were, what they were doing. Nicole had me maneuver that understanding. At that time, the Black Graduate Students Organization had what was called the African American Leadership Conference, which at one time was one of the largest student conferences in the state of Illinois. I worked a lot with them too, challenging them. Not only did they have the African American Leadership Conference, but they also had a journal called the Voices and a Black Student Union had a Black newspaper also added at the time. I was working with them and encouraging the graduate students to get their work published and then to go out and present. It was like I had opened this whole new door for them because they had not been encouraged to do any of those things.
ANSAH: After your earlier cultural shock when you started working at NIU, it sounds like you suddenly found a community to be part of. What was the experience like?
GYANT: It was basically more of which students dealing with grown folks. I always have to clarify that the students became my family and it was not that I went out to bars with them or I went over their houses or anything, it was just my office was open and basically, I hang out with them on campus. Then if I may invite a few over at my house for a dinner or to have some conversation and because I was a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, I was a little bit involved with the organization on Zeta Nu the chapter, but I had taken a break because I needed to develop my professional life first. The student was my community.
- Synopsis: Challenges as faculty memberKeywords: Diversity and inlusion; commitmentTranscript: ANSAH: Thank you very much. Could you speak a bit about diversity and inclusion at NIU when you started working here?
GYANT: How do I want to say it? It was there but it wasn't. It was like A, B, C, D E and then you jumped to R, S, T, Q, V, W, X, Y, Z. That's the way it was.
ANSAH: Why was there the big jump to?
GYANT: Because nobody was committed. I'll say it, there were a few people who were really committed and few people who would stand up for it but I would say the commitment was not from the top down and it wasn't from the down and up.
- Synopsis: Challenges as faculty memberKeywords: Million Man March; Northern Star; Black Students; Editor of the Northern StarTranscript: ANSAH: Did you try to do anything about it in your own way?
GYANT: Yes, I got my hand stabbed a lot of times. A lot of times. My experience, again at Northern has been very good but it's also been very rough. I did it. I remember one time, one of the things that students used to always complain about was the Northern Star. At that time, the Northern Star was just—I don't want to use the word horrible but anything about black folks was negative. The students are always coming complaining to me about, "What would I do about?" I met with their advisor at the time and I would meet with almost the Editor every year, but they still didn't get it. Then finding a couple but we were able to get a couple of Black students to get on air so there was three years, there were four Black young women who sat on the Northern Star and so we were able to get more positive stories about the Black community and what—or the organizations were doing. Then finally, one year, one of the young ladies who was a senior became the Editor of the Northern Star and I think that's the only time became the editor of the Northern Star, at least in my time. She did a lot of things so, for example, they did the Million Man March. We raised money and the young men went to the Million Man March. About a year later, there was a Million Woman's March and she was the editor. We had a group of women, we raised money to go to the march. As an editor, and she had one of her photographers, they did a full-page, like a special edition on all of us who went to the Million Woman's March. I think the Center may still have some of those pictures. If not, I can look for them. That's one way and then there were some other things with them as planned to survive and succeed plan that's at the center was something, I bought over from Penn State. They had a mentoring program, but when I went to talk to the Director of the Counseling Center at that time to ask some questions about it, she told me and one of my other colleagues that I didn't know enough about black students to do anything to work with them. Well, that didn't go over very well with me. It didn't go very—so I wrote one of my nice aggressive, the most to have. I got my hand slapped, but I got the S-plan started and so that's why I say my experience here at Northern has been positive and negative. I have had my hand slapped a number of times and I've been recognized a number of times.
ANSAH: In all the times when you say your hands were slapped, what kept you going?
GYANT: I believe I was sent here as an assignment and the students and nothing I have ever done on this campus has been for my benefit. It's always been something for the students. That's not to say, I had love for student—I loved all my students, but not all the students loved me, but whatever I did was for the students.
ANSAH: You say not all your students loved you, could you speak more about that?
GYANT: Well, some of them got the guidance too hard and, "I don't know who she thinks she is and she can't tell us what to do or not". In the end when they graduate, I'll tell them how proud I am and no matter how much they didn't do anything, if there were something that they needed or I knew that they could do a better job, I was going to push them.
- Synopsis: Position as Director of Center for Black StudiesKeywords: Director for Center for Black Studies; Dr. CK; 1994; mentors; woman; listenTranscript: ANSAH: Thank you very much. You became Director for the Center for Black Studies. How did you, assume that position? Could you tell me about it?
GYANT: Well, Dr. CK was going into another position, he got a promotion and so it was a search. I applied for it and that's how I got it.
ANSAH: How did you feel when you got the news?
GYANT: I was like, "Okay, this is great. I'm only going to do this for three years and then it's going to be time for me to go." I already been Director of the program at Penn State so I pretty much—but I'm still here.
ANSAH: Did you stay for only the three years?
GYANT: I've been here since 1994.
ANSAH: That's very impressive. What was the experience like as a female occupying that position?
GYANT: Well, because there's few of us, I think it was challenging but I thank God I had some wonderful mother mentors, sister-friends who when I couldn't understand anything, I could call them and they would help me make some decisions or by going to the black studies conferences, get together with them and we'd share stories and whatnot and having written an article about women directors in black studies, that also kept me going. I think there's a sense of realizing that it was a black woman who founded the National Council for Black Studies and the majority of women who have served as president of the National Council for Black Studies have been committed, have been top international scholars and have been student-oriented, really helped me. Not only that, but they also helped me understand this is why black men are or how our African-American men are and we have to recognize them and you need to recognize that they're going to cause you some challenges and you just have to figure out how to balance those challenges with what you have to do.
ANSAH: Could you share with me some of what these challenges were?
GYANT: Well, first of all the challenges that you're a woman and you're over a man that's a challenge by itself and them not wanting to listen to you to have the believe this is how you need to handle things and thinking that you're doing things, trying to stop them from doing what they want to do. You have to figure out how to work with those things.
ANSAH: How did you figure out how to work with these things?
GYANT: I was on the phone a whole lot with my mother mentors and sister-friends.
ANSAH: Did it get better? Did the situation get better?
GYANT: Some it did, some of it didn't but you just have to keep on moving. You have a job to do. You have students that you've gotten to look at and you have to remember that it's bigger than you, it's not about you.
- Synopsis: Initiatives and projects as Director for Center for Black StudiesKeywords: s-plan; John Henry Clarke Society; Kwanzaa; Miss Black NIU African Culture Pageant; Study abroad; KenyaTranscript: ANSAH: Were there any initiatives and projects you oversaw while you were a Director at the Center?
GYANT: A whole lot.
ANSAH: Could you tell me about some of them?
GYANT: The S-plan, the John Henry Clarke Honor Society. We've revamped our black graduation when I came here. I introduced Kwanzaa when I came here. We used to have what was known as the Miss Black NIU African Culture Pageant, but that was before I got here, but we've revamped it when I came here. We revamped some of the course offerings in the minor as well. We have the computer lab in the library, which was the idea which I had didn't ask permission to do. We started to study the study abroad to first study abroad was actually started by myself and Dr. Todd here. He was my Associate Director and we started that with Nebraska. The first study abroad program we had was with Gina, who was from what's known the Counseling and Health and Human Sciences. We organized a trip to a study abroad to Kenya. That was actually one of the first study abroad that we did to Kenya.
- Synopsis: Initiatives and projects as Director for Center for Black StudiesKeywords: studyabroad; Kenya; ritual; libation; ancestors; reverence; Africans; silenceTranscript: ANSAH: Could you tell me a bit more about the challenges you mentioned?
GYANT: Well, you always had the challenge with food. Because of who I am, there are certain things that—one of the things I have my students do when we went to, not Nairobi. It must've been Mombasa. We had dinner one night, and one of the things I said, when we finished dinner, we were going to go out to the ocean and we're going to do a ritual to the ancestors and I said, I just wanted the black students. Some of the white students got upset with me about that, but I had to do it with my black students because they had to realize that this was one of the places where our ancestors were taken and so we have to pay homage for them before them there and that was a challenge. Then we were supposed to go to this little village in Tanzania and we couldn't. At first, it was a challenge too and then it was really interesting thing that we stopped at the border and went in to talk to the guards to get the pass for us to go over there. They wouldn't talk to her. She was in there for almost an hour. Then, when I went in, they would talk. We got the passes and then we started on our journey and we took this little road. What ended up happening is—To this day, we're not sure we got stuck in the mud. What we learned, later on, was from some people in there—It took about four hours before somebody came by to help us. We've got a busload of students. Everybody was on their last snacks. People had to go to the bathroom. I was saying, "If you got to go to the bathroom, we're just going to have to go to the bushes." They were like, "To the bushes?" I'm like, "Yes, you've got toilet papers, so let's go." About four hours and then finally when some men came, they were not willing to help us. They were like, "We'll help you if you pay money." It took them about two hours to get us out of the mud. It was too late for us to go up the hill because it was too dark. Then we found out later on that they said that they believed, the guys knew that we were coming and put a lot of mud in there to stop us so that they could—to try to rob us in a sense, but we had a good tour guide who helped. We had to turn around and come back. We were coming back and this was probably about six or seven o'clock. We went in through the border and probably about twenty miles outside the border, we got stopped again by the police. Another ten miles we were like, "Okay, where are we going to sleep tonight?" We didn't know anybody. The tour guide was trying to think of places. He took us to this one place. It was a "Me and Mrs. Jones" place and I was like, "Dear, I told you that I cannot sleep here. I cannot sleep." The tour guide found a friend who found a friend who found us another place that was a really nice place, had a restaurant and a club. The students were okay after that. That piece was a challenge right there.
ANSAH: You mentioned a ritual to the ancestors. It sounds very exciting. Could you say more about it?
GYANT: We just simply went out to the water and put libations and just thanked them and then I asked the students to also honor any of their family members who had made—They had to. That was just simple. We just did it in a circle and just said some few words, because I thought—This is why. For me, the Atlantic and Indian Ocean are places that wherever we go we need to reverence because we lost millions of Africans who we'll never know who they are, so we have to pay reverence to them wherever.
ANSAH: That's very interesting. Could we have a moment of silence to honor—?
GYANT: Hard to share.
ANSAH: Thank you very much. You mentioned that some of the white students were not exactly happy when you mentioned you wanted to do the ritual with only the black students. Could you say more about that?
GYANT: At that point, it was something I needed just to have the black students because I think for me it's a sense of Africa is our home and we have to understand what our connection is to Africa and we have to do it by ourselves. This was also one of my rebellion times too. I wanted our students to be able to feel free. If they needed to cry, whatever they needed to do, I wanted them to be able to do it and just do it and not have anyone—As they say, be the savior for them. I just needed them to be able to understand what the moment was about.
ANSAH: You mentioned at the point, it was one of your rebellious times. If you could go back to that particular memory, would you still do the same thing?
- Synopsis: Center for Black Studies and larger NIU communityKeywords: relationship; attitude; colleaguesTranscript: ANSAH: It's interesting, thank you very much. Could you tell me how you think the program at the Center for Black Studies has changed over time?
GYANT: I think our program has evolved. I believe that the program has provided students with some opportunities, confidence and the leadership to be who they are and what they need to do. Even though a lot of students may not come to the Center and don't find the benefit of the Center, I think what those students who are involved in the Center do spreads out to other students who don't come to the center.
ANSAH: What was the relationship between the Center and the larger NIU community?
GYANT: Excuse me. We had some. Some units worked with us, some units wouldn't work with us. We did what we had to do and we tried to cooperate with everybody. I know a lot of people didn't like my attitude because my first concern has always been black students and some people didn't like that. The fact that I would always stand up for black students and I was always concerned about black students. Some people found it very difficult and didn't want to work with me but what that allowed me to do was allow me—I had to work with my other colleagues to let them know and to talk to them and share them with some things and then they could move forward and be able to do some things. When I started the John Henry Clarke Honor Society, some people wanted to know why I wanted to do that. My thing was I didn't have problem with the honors program, but I know we had students of African descent who have 3.0 or better and they were not part of the honors program and nobody was recognizing them. I think I remember when we first did it, we had forty-five students with a 3.0 or better. Again, I didn't do it—I needed to do something to recognize our students and their academic achievement. The Director at the time of the honors program was not happy about it but I had to do it. Now there's an honors program in the Latino Resource Center, there's an honors program in the Asian American. It's the same way with Black Graduation. When I first came here, the only black graduation was with this Center. Now every Center has a Black Graduation.
ANSAH: That's very impressive. You mentioned that there were some units that did not want to work with you. Could you speak more about that?
GYANT: I'll just leave it at that.
- Synopsis: AwardsKeywords: Strickland Award; president's commission; status of women; NIU 25 Black WomenTranscript: ANSAH: Thank you very much. In my preliminary research about you, I found out you have received the Strickland Award from the President's Commission on the Status of Women. Could you talk about the work that you did that earned this recognition?
GYANT: I don't even know what I did to get it. I don't know what I did. I don't know. I think it's just been my commitment to students and my commitment to diversity, and in my own quiet way my commitment to Northern.
ANSAH: The award celebrated some work you had done with regards to women. How did you develop an interest in issues pertaining to women, specifically?
GYANT: I'm a black woman, as a black woman I had to finish the work that our foremothers did. Do I need to say anything anymore?
ANSAH: Its good.
GYANT: Not to say, I think any woman no matter—whether she's in education, or business, or whatever field she's got to, you always have to be there for the next woman of color. I strongly believe that.
ANSAH: Thank you very much for saying that. How did your background and experience influence your position at NIU?
GYANT: I don't know. To be very honest I don't know because I'm an introverted person, very much an introverted person. Most people find it hard to believe that I lack confidence in myself. I think part of it is just been the grace of God. Part of it has to do with just remembering the history of other women of African descent that I know: my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, Mary McLeod Bethune, Susie King, Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Tubman, anyone else? Sojourner Truth, remembering the work of those women, and no matter what happened to them, they did what they had to do.
ANSAH: Thank you very much. Do you want to share any memory that's particularly stands out about an event, or experience while you worked at the Center for Black Studies?
GYANT: I think would be strictly in a work with probably one of them. Being recognized as one of the NIU's 25 Black women was—I mean, not Black woman, but one of NIU's 25 women was also an honor. My greatest thing seeing my students walk across the stage for graduations. I think that's my biggest honor. Gosh, so many memories. I remember there was one young man who was in the Center all the time. He had academic probation after academic probation, dismissal after dismissal, and he finally walked across the floor. I didn't need anything else after that because that just said all my work was right there, and I still see him today from time to time. There's a young lady who works at the Center who's a grad assistant at the Center now. Once you hear this, you'll probably know who it is, but I've known her since she was at DeKalb High School because we actually had her volunteering at the Center. I hired her as a work-study student when she came here. I fired her every other day. She's now getting ready to graduate in December, and I'm so proud of how much she has grown. I think of students who've had babies in the midst of the semester and graduate. As matter of fact, I had three students, one is in Nashville, her daughter says I'm her oldest best friend. Another student called me when she was up here with her son, I remember when he was a baby. I had another student who's in Atlanta, and I watched her son grow up, he's now in dental school. When I see these, that's my greatest accomplishment.
- Synopsis: RecommendationsKeywords: diversity; Dr. Janice Hamlet; Dr. Edghill-Walden; faculty of color; people of colorTranscript: ANSAH: That's very commendable, thank you very much. As a faculty of color, how do you think NIU could improve diversity and inclusion to enhance students' and staff experience on campus?
GYANT: That's a mind-blowing question, and I have to be very careful. I personally think that Dr. Edghill-Walden and Dr. Janice Hamlet are going to do some—and have done some good things to support it. I think there's still long ways in getting particularly faculty to be supportive of faculty of color. There's still a sense of, "We're still seen as an outsider looking in." It would be really nice to see when we can be recognized for the work we're doing, and being seen as an insider instead of an outsider, and being recognized for the work that we do with students because the difference between faculty of color, and our colleagues is that we have to take care of everybody else, and they don't have to unless they choose to, we almost have to. When a white student gets mad at a faculty of color, many times our white colleagues will go on the side of the white student and not on the side of the faculty of color. If you want to keep me, be my supporter. I'm not saying, "not listen", but most of the time the white student is always right, and I'm wrong. I think that to me has always been a veering. Again, it's to help, opening the door so that we can become true insiders and not outsiders.
ANSAH: Thank you very much for sharing that. If you think back to the day you first stepped on NIU campus, what advice would you give your younger self?
GYANT: Go back home. Go back. I think what I told myself was, "We're going to give this at least three years, and if it don't work we'll let it go." That's what I did. Every time I was ready to walk out the door, the students were like, "Dr. Gyant, but we need you. Dr. Gyant we need you." It was like, "Dr. Gyant, my brother's coming up here, Dr. Gyant, my sister's coming up here, I got a niece coming up here—"
ANSAH: What advice would you give a faculty of color who's coming to work at NIU?
GYANT: Put your shield on every day, pray up every day, put that mask on, and wear it because you got to wear it. The most important is; get to know the Black faculty and staff that is on campus, get to know the students on campus, and remain true to yourself.
ANSAH: Thank you very much. What are some things you think deserve attention during NIU's 125th Anniversary celebration?
GYANT: I think one of the things that has been ignored, is really the history of people of color on this campus. I think there's a long history of people of color starting with Fanny Ruth Patterson and working their way down. Understanding what the culture, what that history—Our Students of Color, particularly our African American students—When I say African-Americans I need to clarify this. Is that, our African as well as Caribbean, and other—Our students of African descent, let me put it like this, have done a lot to contribute to Northern. Our faculty and staff have done a lot to contribute to Northern and if we're going to do 125th Anniversary, what is their story? What are the things that they have done? Who are the people who have made some leads that should be part of the true story? Let's really be very bold and tell that story and not put that story to the side.
ANSAH: Thank you very much. Before we conclude, is there anything I didn't ask you that you want to mention?
GYANT: No, I just think Northern is good and I would say that it's been a good experience and when I look around the last twenty-five years that I've been here, I'm very proud of our Students of Color. They have stayed strong; they have fought for what they believed in and they're smart. They just need a little push in the right way, but they're smart and they have a lot to offer and their uniqueness is above anything else. I would say that for all of our Students of Color.
ANSAH: Thank you very much. Thank you so much for participating in this oral interview.
GYANT: Thank you. I hope this was helpful.
ANSAH: It really was. Thank you.
- Program Coming Soon!