2022 and 2023 MSU Outstanding New Academic Advisors

Yvonne: Once upon a time an email came through for University Advising Awards. I forwarded it to Chamara and wrote, “I don’t really care for awards but I’m really proud of the work we do. Should we apply?”  

Chamara: I had seen the email about Advising Awards too and thought about it but when Yvonne sent me that message, I thought, “Why not?” I also thought, “I wonder if we can be nominated together?” 

Yvonne and Chamara pose for their 2022 and 2023 MSU Outstanding New Academic Advisor award in their beloved Las Vegas Aces back-to-back WNBA champions gear. “They start talking dynasty when it’s back to back.”

Yvonne: Chamara forwarded it to our chair, Ruth Nicole Brown, who was immediately supportive. In 2022, Chamara won the MSU Outstanding New Academic Advising Award! Although we celebrated throughout the spring, given the shooting on campus in February 2023, we didn’t celebrate and get down as we typically would have. Ruth Nicole stated from the beginning that we’d have a back-to-back sweep. And we did what? Did that! She and Chamara submitted for me, and we are elated to celebrate both of us together. Cue Drake: we going back-to-back.

For this piece, Chamara and Yvonne did a feature on each other to celebrate this award: 2022 and 2023 MSU Outstanding New Academic Advisor Award. 

How We Met 

Yvonne: I remember the first time I met Chamara in person. We’d communicated for weeks but it wasn’t until October 2021 when we first met face-to-face. We both pulled up to Gregory’s Soul Food, both inadequately dressed for the weather, and she had her nephew with her. She didn’t know at the time but I’m forever a sucker for meeting and, especially, communing with family. I remember us engaging each other as we were meeting up after a long day of work. Maybe we were tired. Maybe it was indeed a long day of work. But it was chill. It was calm. No running up to each other, no squeals, no swaying hugs, no “IT’S SO NICE TO MEET YOU IN PERSON!” exclamations. Twas very much a “what up doe” and “hey gurl” greeting. Twas familiar. We’ve been here before. 

Chamara: I met Yvonne’s kind and generous spirit, before I met her in person. Ruth Nicole e-introduced us via our personal emails a bit before we officially started (on Wed. September 29th, 2021). In an email communication sent to all new hires in CAL, Yvonne noticed my name/email missing. She reached out to ask if I’d received an email about the meeting as she “looked for your name and didn’t see it”. She immediately forwarded it to me. I remember being struck by the fact that she was paying close enough attention to an email (that had gone out to several people) to notice that I was missing and then take the time to forward it to make sure I had the information. We hadn’t even started yet! She didn’t even know me yet, but she didn’t want me to miss anything. The care from that simple gesture let me know, She’s good people. When we met at Gregory’s and she greeted my nephew Idris with, “Hey Nephew!” It was confirmed, she’s not only good people, she’s mad cool.  

Started from the Bottom 

Yvonne: We started our advising work with nothing. We both asked multiple times in various settings to different people questions where the replies were: there’s nothing. It doesn’t exist. Pick a question. The answer is: nothing. Once we officially started and arrived in East Lansing, we realized, “Oh, they literally meant nothing-nothing.” There was little infrastructure of managing, tracking, and finding our caseload of students (we will always be with eternal gratitude for Andrew Murray and his support of the New Build and our advising), no physical space for AAAS, in the middle of a pandemic, and we were advising and doing the New Build work from a small, virtual box. We were doing what Black women have done for generations: making something outta nothing (also: much gratitude for our waymakers). What was immediately clear to Chamara and me was before we came in like a wrecking ball, we had to learn the stories about our students first. What was the Black student experience like at MSU? During the pandemic, the transition to back-to-campus, what were their needs? That means holding the harm, letdowns, mistrust, joy, beauty, dreams, and intellect of them all. We are purposeful with learning our students’ dreams. Chamara is incredible in creating opportunities for our students to step into their power. This is evident in the research opportunities she’s created for them, teaching students how to successfully submit proposals and taking them to present at conferences (as undergraduate students!) as well as serving as the co-advisor for Black Celebratory. She desires nothing but greatness for Black students’ and for them to stand their birthright to successfully and joyfully thrive in higher education. And the more you sit with Chamara, the immediately you’ll know her staunch position our need of a Black House. Ask her about it. She’ll tell you.  

What I know to be true and what I admire in how Chamara shows up is witnessing just how much she unapologetically centers Blackness and Black feminisms – not just in teaching and her research, but especially in how she advises and supports the department New Build. One of my favorite parts of Chamara advising is when she brings her whole Yemaya force to the table. I tell her she feels like “I’m on ya ass, Mr. C!” (see Abbott Elementary S02:E04) and a hug had a baby – not in an abusive way like how our elders might of did us (extending grace to them but also *raised eyebrow*) but more so accountable, non-shameful way (emphasis on the non-shameful way!! A skill! An underrated skill). Chamara is extremely intuitive. And not intuitive as in “it just comes to her,” it’s intentional. She took time to learn our students well enough to know “oh yeah this is what is about to happen, this is what they’re gonna do, so imma hit them with the boomboombop and clear that right on up.”  

Our students often say we’re their aunties, our space (virtual, physical, dialogical) feels like home, they don’t have to codeswitch with us is because that’s how we show up: in our full Blackness and Black feminisms. And as that is one of our values in AAAS, what I also know to be true is how much Chamara centers not just that singular value, but all our values in our work. Similarly, I remember realizing that Chamara not only went in on her enneagram she completed as part of our new build work together, but she studied everybody’s enneagram to gain a better understanding of who they are, their approach to their work, and understanding of how we show up as a collective. I said “oh shoot, lemme get on my job and uhh…look at some of these uhh…other numbers here.” Thus, not only does she go in depth to understand our students, she does that with faculty as well. 

Chamara: I remember touring the 2nd floor of North Kedzie as they were renovating the space that would be AAAS and seeing where Yvonne and my office would be. I was so happy when Ruth Nicole said this would be the advising suite. At the time there were no walls but one door that led to what we call the tunnel. The tunnel seems like a perfect name for what Yvonne, and I had been doing at the start of our first year, into the second year and sometimes even now. We have been digging through to create a passageway, a pathway. Digging through data on two systems (Campus Solutions and Legacy SIS) to find our students, digging through old curriculum to understand the new curriculum and the impact for current students, new students, and incoming students. Figuring out how to recruit in a pandemic that had the entire campus online. Figuring out how to get students to confide in us when we were only faces on a Zoom screen. All while adjusting to a new city (Yvonne moving from Las Vegas and me moving from Atlanta, although I’m L.A. forever!). The tunneling we were doing as advisors was making way for us set the tone for how we wanted to do our work in AAAS and to do what Black Studies and Black feminist has always done, make the revolution irresistible.  

In our early work I marveled (and still do) at Yvonne’s way of seeing things from a large scale to a small scale or from macro systems to micro systems. Due to coding issues from the transition from SIS to Campus Solutions, she found that our student numbers were off. Yvonne contacted the systems team to tell them of the problem and built our own AAAS internal tracking system for our students. It reminded me of how my Grandmother would check everyone’s math that handled her money. The bank, the grocer, the light company, water man, not one penny could be spared, and everyone would be held to account. That was/is Yvonne, not one student will go unaccounted for. That is a skill. Leaving no one behind and making sure every one of our students feels important and accounted for via our data and in person is her superpower. Even the way she listens to our students you can tell she is deeply listening. Not just to respond, or answer questions, or provide resources because she is thinking about how to make connections between what the student is saying, to what they need (or what they may not know what they need) to how we can best show up and be supportive and how they can support and show up for themselves to stretch and grow. In advising meetings she is the perfect mixed methods researcher, keenly attuned to numerical data while asking the correct qualitative probe to gain more insight into the student. Yvonne’s approach is so brilliant and balanced. What’s clear in her approach is her commitment to advance the values and goals of AAAS and to develop interventions that are culturally relevant, to translate interventions into practice, and to carry out research that leads to improved community-centered care. Her commitment to a balanced approach is not only reserved for our students. I’ve seen Yvonne do the same thing with faculty and staff in her role as associate chair. She is deeply invested in other faculty’s pedagogy, and connects that to possibilities in our course offerings, time to degree, and to our AAAS values and extracurricular programming. When I casually mentioned that I wanted to teach a class on the television show A Different World, Yvonne immediately said, “Bet. Let’s make it happen”. Cut to Fall 2023 and I am teaching “AAAS 402: Producing Culture: A Different World” where AAAS 402 uses the television show A Different World as text to discuss community, theory, praxis, and Blackness in the diaspora and discusses what it takes to produce and display Black culture.

Her eye for detail also extends to programming. When we noticed a drop in attendance in our classes in the spring semesters Yvonne came up with AAAS Happy Meal/SAD Lunch. AAAS Happy Meal/SAD Lunch is an intentional way we practice wellness (a AAAS core value), create community between students and faculty, and a way to get students to talk about and think about both intellectual and social emotional development. It was also a way she said, “we can lay our good eye on them”. That is Yvonne’s strength she intentionally builds with everyone in mind. 

Now We Here 

Yvonne: I sincerely tried to make this story solely about Chamara and her advising but I can’t help but venture into my gratitude and awe in how we work together. So, to my favorite misused Roberts Rules of Order, I shall take liberties and insert a point of privilege here: __. It would be easy to say that Chamara and I work effortlessly together. It would also be rather dismissive to frame how we work with each other like so. The easy part in our relationship is that we both lead with kindness, care, and reverence for each other’s thoughts, ideas, and work. That’s basic, off rip, GP, so on and so forth and what have you. Sure, mostly how we function together was inherent, but we still worked to learn each other and how we each experience the world at a personal and professional level. Given similar personal, academic, professional, and familial experiences, we do have different pathways. We’re not always there when you call, but our pathways are always on time (terrible lyric metaphor but statement still stands) and those pathways lead to the same goal: how do we support our students and how do we support the New Build? For example, I’ve learned Chamara is way more apt to simply go and do something whereas I lead with more caution and questions. And that dichotomy is present throughout our work – in different manifestations, of course, but still similar. She will go and create opportunities for students where I’ll research the paperwork, policies, procedures, and liberties. She may start the face-to-face engagement with others and I’ll send the follow up email to them. I’ll log the 5011 things on our action item list. By the time I finish, she’ll already have 5011 and 3 of them completed cuz she inherently knew I only have capacity to work on 5011 and none of them at that moment (math that math). We catch what the other misses. We learned what the other needs to make decisions. Both these approaches are useful, necessary, and balance each other well. We make it work for us.  

Chamara: What’s funny is that I wrote an almost identical answer about how we got here, so edited! The only thing I’d add is that what makes our work even better in year almost 3 is that we still have the desire to learn each other and grow with each other. We are not the same people that we were 3 years ago. Our jobs, responsibilities, and lives have changed, but we are flexible, committed and willing to build with each other at each growth step. I am always thankful that after a challenging moment, whether we experience it together or as individuals we can tell each other the truth and every time we’ve grown tell each other “You did a good job”. 3 years in our core our values are the same and like our advising mantra for our students (“We want our students to graduate with their spirits intact”), we want to leave here each day with our spirits intact too. 

Yvonne: Ruth Nicole always said we speak our own language and that didn’t hit until someone was listening to us converse and said, “…what?” We could follow each other, but they couldn’t. One of my favorite parts about us, which happened in that conversation, is finishing each other’s tangents. That, too, is a skill! Again: a whole, underrated skill. And even putting this into writing feels like it’s oversimplifying how we get down. But we both lead with vast gratitude for each other, the work, and for those who champion for us. We hold each other accountable for our dreams, boundaries, and no’s (that’s an experience to witness: us negotiating no’s with each other). And I treasure that immensely. 

I’m excited to see where we continue to grow. I’m so invested in conjuring up new and old dreams and seeing how we can make them grander. I’m eager to start initiating new sparks to set more foundations for others to stand on and expand. We can create and revolutionize so much change here in AAAS, CAL, and MSU. And we will. 

“We cried together. We prayed together. And now we’re poppin champagne together.” – A’Ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces, M’VP, two time back-to-back WNBA champion 

“Ain’t shit E-Z.” – Las Vegas Aces, two time back-to-back WNBA champions 

To infinity and Beyoncé. 

We going up Jay!