Sondra Washington, Ph.D., grew up singing in the church choir every Sunday in a small town named Angie, in Southeast Louisiana. Though she always excelled in math, even tutoring geometry students in high school, eventually Washington switched majors and pursued her real passion of literature.
Immediately after high school, Washington continued her education, earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree in public relations from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Now, Washington will be joining FAU as an assistant professor of American literature at Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. Washington specializes in 19th and 20th century African American literature. Particularly, she focuses on Black girlhood and the ways in which race and gender related violence and trauma affect African American female children and adolescents.
Here’s a look at what Washington said about her journey to FAU:
What is your research focus?
My research focuses on literary depictions of Black girlhood, and the ways that the intersections of their identity (race, gender, age, sexuality, etc.), as well as people’s perceptions of and responses to them, affect Black female children and adolescents’ personal development and societal treatment. As an extension of my traditional academic scholarship, I created a digital humanities resource called “The Black Girlhood Project” to serve as a networking and information sharing hub for black girlhood studies scholars.
Why do you have an interest in this research?
I feel as though this particular research chose me rather than me choosing it. As a black woman and a mother, family member, and friend to many black girls, I am interested in the very distinct struggles, injustices, and trauma they face. My research naturally emerged from this concern.
What do you want people to know about your research?
I want people to know that Black girlhood studies, like other research in the humanities, is important and has real-life implications. Our perspectives about different people and cultures are often limited, and humanities research offers us opportunities to discover, critically consider, appreciate, and empathize with those with whom we might have no direct contact or experience otherwise.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Primarily, I hope to encourage people to read more diverse types of literature. But, my ultimate goal is to contribute to the elimination of society’s tendency to either overlook black girls or perceive them as being more mature and less in need of assistance, as described in a recent Georgetown Law study. I aspire to inspire others to value and protect black girls rather than criminalize and traumatize them. It is a big dream, but I aim to play a role in ensuring that America’s recently heightened focus on racial justice also extends to one of the country’s most vulnerable groups.
Do you have any advice for becoming a researcher in your field?
My advice to upcoming researchers is to find a mentor who sincerely supports your goals and personal success. Also, I urge them to practice self-care and locate opportunities to socialize and participate in other stress-relieving activities, especially during this pandemic.
What is an interesting fact that people at FAU may not know about you?
One thing that many people don’t know about me is that I love to sing. Growing up, I sang in church choirs and even led songs from time to time. Now, I limit my performances to my apartment, and sometimes, my 20-year-old cockatiel, Sunny, joins in.