On being enough...
“Even though Black students were a minority at Maryland, we still are, I think, an even smaller one than when I was there. Because the university is so huge though, if you skip the percentages, and you actually take just the number of students, it’s enough to do stuff. It’s enough to have a step show. It’s enough to have some parties. It’s enough to congregate and feel like you can have moments where you’re surrounded by other people like you.”
ORAL HISTORY TRANSCRIPT
Interview with Halima Aziza Jenkins (1996-2000 )
Interview Date: August 3, 2021
Interviewer: Francena Turner
Method: Zoom recording
Length: 136: 22 minutes
Transcription software: otter.ai
Transcription edited by: Francena Turner
NARRATOR BIO: Halima Aziza Jenkins came to the University of Maryland, College Park 1996 from Silver Spring, Maryland. She graduated in 2000 with a degree in French and a certificate in Dance. She graduated from Johns Hopkins in 2010 with a Master’s in Writing. While a student at UMD, she was a member of the Caribbean Student Association, the Hispanic (now Latino) Student Association, and SEE Productions. Jenkins also served as the copy editor for the Black Explosion newspaper and worked with the inaugural group of volunteers for the Saturday Freedom School. In addition to dancing in multiple performances, Jenkins also studied abroad for a year in France at what is now the University of Nice. After working as an editor for several years, Jenkins is currently an educator and freelancer in writing, editing, and graphic design. She has published articles in Washington Independent Review of Books, Her Mind, The Change Agent, and Maryland Life.
KEYWORDS: segregation, Silver Spring, MD, Banneker-Keyes Scholarship, French, STEM Magnet programs, Tacoma Park Intermediate School, Montgomery County, Montgomery Blair High School, Dance, Experiences in STEM education, Miriam (Mem) Rosen, Study Abroad, Program, Nice, France, South Campus, Caribbean Student Association (CSA), Hispanic Student Association(now Latino Student Association), Hispanic Heritage Commission, SEE Productions, Rahman Culver, Black Student Union (BSU), Saturday Freedom Schools Program, Greenbelt Middle School, Buck Lodge Middle School, Prince Georges County, Alvin Mayes, Maryland Dance Ensemble, Sangre Caribbana, microaggressions, colorism, Black Explosion, Art Attack, The Roots, George Clinton, The Boondocks, Aaron McGruder, death threats, Stamps Student Union, McKeldin Mall, Hornbake Library, McKeldin Library, Madeline Hage, African American Studies, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (C-SPAC), Maryland Day, US Senate Page Program, Johns Hopkins University, Montgomery College.
Francena Turner 00:02
My name is Francena Turner and I’m conducting an oral history interview with Halima Jenkins, a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park for the Reparative Histories: The Black Experience Oral History Project. Was your name at the time that you were at UMD Halima Jenkins?
Halima A. Jenkins 00:25
Yes, I never changed it when I got married.
Francena Turner 00:28
What’s your hometown?
Halima A. Jenkins 00:32
Where I live now? Or where I grew up?
Francena Turner 00:34
Where you grew up.
Francena Turner 00:36
Silver Spring, Maryland.
Francena Turner 00:39
And what’s your birthday?
Halima A. Jenkins 00:42
February 15, 1978.
Francena Turner 00:45
For our first discussion, I’m interested in how you would describe your life prior to UMD in terms of your family composition and your family’s feelings and thoughts on education—that kind of thing.
Halima A. Jenkins 01:05
Sure. In terms of my family, before I went to college, I grew up with my mom and dad, and I have a brother who’s two years younger, who also went to the University of Maryland College Park. My mom is a career teacher. She’s retired now. But I grew up in a house where education was highly valued. Both of my parents went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. That’s where they met and got married. When I was really little–pre-K– before kindergarten, my mom stopped working when my brother and I were born and got her master’s degree in business administration, and then worked for a year in business, finance, marketing, and then decided to change gears to teaching. She liked that we would kind of be on the same schedule, have summers off together, holidays off together. She really, really is passionate about teaching. My dad got his master’s degree. He started when I was in high school, and he finished while I was in college. My dad’s parents were really highly educated, especially for a Black family back then. My parents were born in the early 1950s–his dad graduated from Howard University and his mom–my paternal grandmother–she’s from Calvert County, Maryland. His dad’s from DC–under segregation. She made it very clear to me many, many times that when she was graduating high school, the University of Maryland, College Park was not an option because it was still segregated. The option for Black students who wanted to go, of course, was University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. By the time I was accepted into the University of Maryland– especially with the Banneker-Keyes full scholarship–I heard many times about how different that was from her time, looking at 46 years later. My dad’s mother ended up getting her bachelor’s degree while my dad was in high school, and then she got her master’s degree right after that. She was a career teacher and retired a teacher. But in general, I’ll say, my family really highly values education so that was a very clear and constant message from the time I was very young, all the way through into the university.
Francena Turner 04:25
How did you make the decision to attend UMD?
Halima A. Jenkins 04:30
To be honest, I only applied to two schools. I applied to UMD and UMBC was the other one. And I thought about applying to Goucher or some of the other private colleges in the state of Maryland, but for family reasons, I was only allowed to apply locally. I also knew that I was going to have to figure out how to pay for college because that’s something that my parents articulated. It was very clear to me that the private schools in Maryland were going to be very expensive and the in-state schools were going to be much more affordable. Of the ones that were in the University of Maryland system, College Park and UMBC were the only two really that I was interested in. I focused on those two. Of the two, College Park was the one that I preferred over UMBC, and they offered me a full scholarship so that that kind of made my decision really easy.
Francena Turner 05:44
what year did you enroll at UMD?
Halima A. Jenkins 05:47
Francena Turner 05:50
And, and then, did you come in knowing what you wanted to major in? And is that something you chose? Once you got there,
Halima A. Jenkins 05:58
I did know what I wanted to major in, so I declared a major right away. Even in my application, I wrote about what I wanted to major in, and I there was no gap year or anything like that. I graduated high school in ’96 and I started college in ‘96. I enrolled as a French major. I knew that was something that I wanted to do because I was passionate about languages. I was a third generation French and English speaker, and my kids now are fourth generation French and English speakers. I knew that that was something that I wanted to use in whatever profession I ended up in. I didn’t approach college with the sense of choosing a major to do a specific thing. As opposed to an engineer, comp sci, business, finance, and education major, they go to college, and then they are they are lined up for a specific profession. My approach, when I went into college, was…I thought about, “What am I really passionate about? Whatever I’m passionate about is the thing that I’m going to enjoy studying.” Therefore, these are skills that can translate to a lot of different areas. So going into it, I said, “Well, maybe I’ll end up teaching French or maybe I’ll work in business bilingually, or maybe I will go abroad and do something.” I led with “What am I excited about in terms of shaping my college experience?” Prior to that, going to French was a little bit of a departure for me, because I had been in a very intense STEM magnet programs for middle school and high school. I went to the Mat, Science and Computer Science Magnet Program at Takoma Park Intermediate School. Now it’s a Middle School in Montgomery County. Then I attended Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring for the STEM Magnet Program. At the time that I went those programs, now, they’re very nationally recognized, but, at the time, it was still in the earlier stages of the program. They were well recognized then too. But what I’ll say is, I was probably in maybe around the seventh graduating cohort to go through those programs. You didn’t see a lot of females in science or the STEM fields in the ‘90s. It was an emerging thing, and you started to see these females in science groups, or you started to see some encouragement. They were like, “Oh, maybe this is a thought, you know?” Women doctors is still kind of a niche thing. I was excited. I love math. I’m passionate about it, and I still love science. But what I found by the end of all those six years of that intense STEM was that I was kind of burnt out, shall we say. I still love science to this day, but socially, culturally. It was a tough hill to climb as a Black female. I’ll just say that. I think that it takes a lot of grit to stay with it. In the programs that I was in, they were predominately white & Asian. There was a lot of feeling or very blatant communication from other students that you got this because they just needed a Black female to fill the slot. “You’re an affirmative action handout” kind of communication. It doesn’t matter what your performance was, that just was a lot of the air and attitude toward the Black and Brown students in programs like that, so, by the time I was applying to college, even though I love the health sciences and biology(I still read about those things for fun), I just mentally wanted to shift into a space where I felt like I would feel comfortable in my skin. I ended up with French, which I was also very excited about. After I entered as a French major, after my first semester, I realized that I wanted to also do the dance certificate program. And there was a professor…I just randomly signed up for dance class, because I loved, I love to dance. I’ve taken many, many dance courses over the years…she really pushed me to major in dance. Her name was Miriam Rosen. She went by Mem Rosen. She was in the dance department a long time, but she’s since deceased. She really tried to convince me to join the dance majors who already had a major. She said, “You can do both.” I said, “Well, I also want to do study abroad.” She said, “Well, I have a student doing that.” I said, “I want to go for a year.” She said, “Oh, okay.” I wanted to graduate in four years. She’s like, “Okay, we’ll do this certificate program.” I said, “All right, fine.” That was our compromise, and I was very happy with that. I also took a lot of Spanish classes. That’s my third language. That’s kind of how I ended up in that path of what I chose to study and why. I lead with what was going to make me feel satisfied. I had control over something that I wanted to do in my life for the first time–my first foray into adulthood at 18. Because I had the scholarship, it gave me an opportunity to resist pressure from family members to tell me what I should and what I shouldn’t do, because they weren’t paying for it. So that was very convenient. I was happy. I did end up taking advantage of the study abroad program at University of Nice, which is affiliated with the University of Maryland. When you apply, you’re taking courses at the University of Nice, well, it has a new name now, at the University of Nice, and there was a University of Maryland professor that they sent with the group. You also were enrolled in a University of Maryland course concurrently, but over in France. You end up with actual UMD course on your transcript plus your transfer credits from the university. I came back home with 39 credits that one year that I went.
Francena Turner 13:53
Which academic year? Freshman sophomore, junior…?
Halima A. Jenkins 13:57
My junior year, so I was there ‘98 to ’99.
Francena Turner 14:09
Can you walk me through your memories of the first time you walked onto campus as a freshman? What sticks out to you from that experience?
Halima A. Jenkins 14:18
I think it’s worth saying, though, that my freshman year is not my first time walking onto campus. When I started as a freshman, I felt a sense of familiarity because I had been on the campus so many times before. I used the McKeldin library multiple times before, so there was a lot of excitement there. I remember feeling elated to be away from home and living in a dorm– actually being an enrolled student and using the libraries that I had already been using. I loved the McKeldin Mall. That was one of my favorite things about the campus, the way that it’s a big kind of grassy mall lined with trees on the side. One of the things I look forward to, and that I still have fond memories of, is in the fall when the leaves turn colors, and it’s lined with red, orange, yellow, green, and brown. I was excited for a new adventure. I remember feeling very proud to be there. Very appreciative of the opportunity to go to college, and be on scholarship. I could appreciate the contrast between my experience and my grandmother’s, at that time, being 18, and being able to go there. I had a very…I think…coming from at least on my father’s side, a family that’s been in Maryland for so many generations. I was very clear on the oral histories of segregation and afterward and what did that look like? And how are my opportunities different from just a generation before me, or two?
For the full transcript, please email university archivist, Lae’l Hughes-Watkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.