Engaged Scholars: Simone Drake
Engaged Scholars is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State faculty who have made an impact in our communities through their community-engaged research and teaching. Photo: Dr. Simone Drake (left) at Ohio States African American and African Studies Community Extension Center. (Photo taken pre-pandemic)
Hazel C. Youngberg Trustees Distinguished Professor and Professor of English
College of Arts and Sciences/Department of English
My community engaged scholarship takes various forms. It sometimes takes the form of public writing that addresses various social issues pertaining to Black people's lived experiences. Other times it takes the form of organizing symposia, panels, lectures, educational programs, and other events that engage directly with local communities in Columbus, Ohio; much of that work was done through the Department of African American and African Studies Community Extension Center, which is located off-campus in a historically African American neighborhood. Most recently, I have been collaborating in the area of medical humanities, working with allied health professionals and physicians on various projects, including research publications, diversity curriculum development, and the collection of African American womens oral histories related to racial health disparities. I have also been working individually and collaboratively on developing diversity training technology and other interventions for police and public safety training.
Why is it important to engage the community in your research and teaching?
As a scholar and researcher, I consider my work to be guided by an investment in the greater good for humanity. I think community engagement is critical for advancing an innovative and visionary future for higher education institutions. Most importantly, my academic training in Black Studies positions community engagement and social responsibility as a pillar of the discipline - a pillar that holds equal standing with academic research and scholarship. I ultimately want students to leave my classroom understanding how to be engaged citizens, and I want my research to be accessible and useful to the Black communities who helped shape the scholar and teacher I am today.
What led you to the path of engaged scholarship? How did you get started?
I cannot identify a specific point when my engaged scholarship path started, but my earliest memory of the idea of community engagement is the work my father did when I was growing up. He was a member of our neighborhood association in the South Linden neighborhood where I grew up here in Columbus. I remember tagging along with him to meetings, and I remember filling my wagon with paper-bag candles that we distributed throughout the neighborhood to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. My father's community service, or uplift, as it has been historically referenced in African American communities, was a model for the uplift work I would do in college in leadership roles in my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Those foundational experiences made the "social responsibility" arm of Black Studies common sense to me when I enrolled in a master's degree in Black Studies.
How has your scholarship benefited from engaging with community partners?
My scholarship always benefits from engaging with local communities and with community partners. Humanities scholarship, generally, is not collaborative research or public-facing. That has always been a conundrum for me, since I think humanistic inquiry can play important roles in applied and scientific fields. Thus, when I write or present work for both an academic and public audience, I am forced to think and write differently. Furthermore, when I work with community partners, the scholarship itself is determined by the needs and interests of my community partners. I use very astute listening skills to assess what community partners need and then what skills and resources I have that can facilitate projects that will serve the partners' interests. Engaging with community partners has made my scholarship a lot of fun, as has working with faculty and staff in colleges throughout the university.
What has been a highlight of your community engagement experience?
The highlight of my community engagement experience was when my doctoral mentee and I offered a free ACT/SAT Prep course. We offered it for seven weeks during the summer to 25 African American high school students from throughout Central Ohio. It was a relatively short course, but it was designed to try to accommodate the students' work and athletic schedules. That autumn, numerous parents contacted me to say how their sons were doing so much better in school. At first, I insisted that a seven-week course is not long enough to make such a marked change, but each parent responded by saying what we did in that class affirmed their sons and made them confident. As a mother of three African American sons, I knew exactly how those mothers felt that someone had cared enough about their sons to believe in them.
What advice would you give to faculty and students who are interested in engaging the community in their scholarship?
You must be deliberate, you must be willing to listen, and you must be prepared to accept that there is a lot that you do not know and that higher education will not and cannot teach you about engaging local communities - much of the learning happens organically, in communities.
Sample Engaged Scholarship
WEBINAR SERIES: BLACK MATTERS 101
Policing and Black Communities, June 24, 2020
Dismantling Structural Inequalities, June 29, 2020
Voices from Generation Z, July 13, 2020
Taking a Knee, Voting, and Making Speech Matter, July 20, 2020
How Are the Children?, July 30, 2020
Creativity During a Pandemic, August 5, 2020
Leon McDougle, Quinn Capers, Simone Drake, Leta Hendricks, and Eric Herschthal, Discovering a Hidden Figure of Service and Leadership: The Reverend Charles Edgar Newsome, MD, Journal of the National Medical Association. 12.1 (2020): 24-27.
Playlist: Music & the Art of Mickalene Thomas for the exhibition I Cant See You Without Me at The Wexner Center for the Art. October 2018.
Texas Public Radio, The Source, On Blackness: Performance, Politics and Power in 21st Century Pop Culture, February 2021
Fear of a Black Nationalist Flag, Ohio Humanities Pathways magazine, winter 2020.
Birthing Black Lives Matter: A Meditation on Staying Woke, NewBlackMan blogspot, June 28, 2016
Witnessing While White and the Violence of Silence, NewBlackMan blogspot, June 8, 2015