Drew University Professor Receives Research Grant for Black Identity Development Study

Cathryn Devereaux’s study provides educational travel opportunities for low-income Black high schoolers

February 2024 – Drew University Assistant Professor of Education Cathryn Devereaux has been awarded a prestigious Spencer Foundation Racial Equity Research Grant.

The $75,000 grant is for Devereaux’s research project, “The ‘I’ in Africa: African-American Students’ Exploration of Black Identity Development through Critical Race Travel Pedagogy in Ghana.”

The study will take eight African-American high school juniors from low-income urban communities in New Jersey on a 10-day excursion through Ghana in West Africa. The Spencer grant will cover the cost of travel, lodging, meals, excursions, and photography, videography, and vlogging equipment for the eight students who will be participating in this study as their first ever international trip.

“This research study is significant in that it will provide students access and opportunity to travel internationally to Africa, unpacking ancestral histories that can support their Black identity development and academic identity construction,” explained Devereaux.

“Experiences like these are too often out of reach for this population due to financial constraints and limited access to and awareness of travel opportunities. Thus, this project will not only break barriers of access and opportunity for these students and center the development of their racial and academic identities, but it will also provide critical information for the education field that can support the efforts of academic institutions aiming to better serve marginalized students, close the opportunity gap, and creatively reimagine new and effective ways of bringing equity to systems not designed to be equitable.”

The study spawned from Devereaux’s personal experience in learning history, specifically Black history.

“As an African-American woman from a low-income urban community, Irvington, NJ, growing up, I struggled immensely in history class from seventh through 12th grade,” said Devereaux. “I thought I hated history, and barely earned passing grades in these courses, up until my freshman year of college when I attended an HBCU, Hampton University. I fell in love with history because for the very first time, it felt not only relevant, but central to me.”

Years later, Devereaux and her now-husband sold all of their belongings and traveled the U.S. for a month, unpacking powerful elements of African-American history that neither had learned about prior to college.

“From a 30-day road trip around the U.S, I learned more about my history than I did in 13 years of school,” said Devereaux.

The couple went on to spend seven months backpacking across the globe learning important elements of Black history. Now, through Devereaux’s research project and the intentional inclusion of eight student participants, she can help impart these same lessons to the next generation.

“How could we think that one chapter, or even worse, one paragraph, in a U.S. history textbook accompanied by a Black History Month assembly, workshop, article, or poem is enough? And how, then, can we expect our children to rise to the academic standards our inequitable education system holds them to if we don’t pour into them in impactful and responsive ways?”

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