Cocoa Williams

Cocoa Williams - FSU Doctoral Student (English) | English | Digital Narratives | July 16, 2019

Why did you choose to attend FSU to pursue a graduate degree?
I came to Florida State University to pursue a PhD in English with a concentration in African American Literary and Cultural Studies based on the strength of the amazing faculty in the English department who are both dynamic scholars in their respective fields and also dedicated mentors to graduate students. It was also very important for me to enter a program that values interdisciplinary scholarship and provides students with opportunities for professional development both in and outside of academia. The program is also bolstered up by its dedicated administrative staff who work tirelessly behind-the scenes to ensure that graduate students are supported and well-informed about opportunities within the department and across the campus. I would be remiss to not mention that the greatest strength of the English department’s graduate program is its talented and ambitious cohort of graduate students who enter the program each year. I have been mentored by a great number of these graduate students who have matriculated through the program before me.

What motivated you to pursue a graduate degree?
I pursued a doctoral degree because I was fueled by a desire to immerse myself in an environment where interdisciplinary inquiry and creativity are at the cornerstone of intellectual thought. How I decided to pursue a PhD in English was because of the encouragement I received from former professors and mentors. The faculty I have had the pleasure of working with in the Florida State University English Department have been integral in the development of these lines of inquiry and have helped shape my dissertation topic, which investigates the intersections between art, literature, and museum culture within the African American literary tradition. But ultimately, I wanted to pursue the PhD because of the amazing students I have had the pleasure of teaching at various institutions since I finished my master’s degree. I wanted to be of greater service to them by sharpening my knowledge and honing my craft as a scholar and educator.

Importance of your research and work
My research seeks to connect discussions surrounding the campaign to establish a National museum for the preservation of African American arts and culture to the broader struggle of black artists within early twentieth century museum culture and beyond. This work also seeks to emphasize the importance of Black writer’s engagement with museum spaces and their sensitivity to the plight of the African American visual artists in their poetry and prose. My research strives toward understanding and celebrating the historical moment that the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture represents by connecting its history to other histories related to inclusiveness in museum spaces and productions of imaginative, visionary spaces when that need is not fulfilled by the larger cultural apparatus.

Career aspirations
My goal is to return to teaching in academia as a tenure-track professor, particularly focusing on how my research can serve minority communities across campus, especially women of color. I also wish to curate exhibits on the intersections of African American literature, art, and folk culture, in hopes of creating bridges between institutions of higher learning and the communities they serve. My greatest hope is that my contribution to scholarly letters will fuel in others the same intellectual curiosity that first drew me to the field.

Advice for anyone considering graduate school
I would advise those thinking of entering graduate school to consider how the academic space in which they are entering can be used as a tool and platform to diversify their own research, ambitions, and goals both within academia, if that is their chosen career path, or outside collegiate settings. I would also encourage those considering graduate school to contact graduate students currently matriculating through the program who can answer questions about the culture of the department they are considering entering and answer questions about the kinds of unique and dynamic support graduate students are afforded within the department and throughout the campus and local community. Lastly, I would encourage prospective graduate students to negotiate the terms of their acceptance into the graduate program of their choice.  Remember: You are an invaluable asset to your future department.

Accomplishments during your graduate career
I am humbled and honored to be recipient of several graduate support fellowships and awards including the: PEO Scholar Award, McKnight Dissertation Fellowship, Leslie N. Wilson-Delores Auzenne Assistantship for Minorities, Martin Luther King Jr. Book Scholarship, Ruth Yost Memorial Scholarship, Bryan Hall Teaching Award, Ermine M. Owenby Travel Award, FSU’s Office of Digital Research and Scholarship’s Grant for HILT, Harmon-Bickley Travel & Research Grants for Literature, and several departmental and Congress of Graduate Students funded travel grants. As a recipient of these awards, I will now be able to engage in sustained archival research across the country at various libraries and research institutions whose collections of African American art and literature are unparalleled.

GradImpact Profile