A student leader par excellence, Monica Black is one of those Earlhamites who managed to thrive in a myriad of student activities while graduating Phi Beta Kappa. She's taken that same drive and enthusiasm - tempered with a bit more life experience - to graduate school. Here is an expanded version of an interview that appears in the Winter 2012 issue of Earlhamite magazine.
Tell us about your graduate studies.
I am currently enrolled in a master's degree program in the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at Indiana University, Bloomington. This is a two year degree and takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study and investigation of the Black experience in both a U.S. and Diasporic setting. This winter, I plan on applying to the Social Work Masters program at IU. I want to support underrepresented communities, specifically, communities of color.
What makes a great leader?
A great leader is someone who is able to both give commands and evenly delegate work, but who is also a good, active listener. Great leaders are people who work well in groups, but can complete tasks on their own and also have respect for deadlines. The best leaders I know are also the most flexible people I know as well because many times, they are forced to stray from their initial itinerary for one reason or another. The best way to deal with such changes is always to remain calm.
How do you feel called to be a leader?
I feel called upon to be a leader for others because of my deep appreciation and respect for people in general. I have found, particularly through my Earlham experience that people can do great things and literally change the world around them when they are able to work cooperatively and positively together.
At Earlham, you excelled in many areas, so you were called on to take many leadership roles. Did that ever feel like a burden?
As a student at Earlham, I was very, very involved on campus. And I loved every minute of it! At times, my over-committed schedule did feel like a burden, but it was always about the schedule, and never about the actual activity itself that sometimes weighed me down. To be honest, I loved being as busy as I was because it kept my days really structured and full and forced me to use my time wisely and efficiently. However, I did not have a very healthy sleep schedule while in school and that is something that hindered me, and that I would do differently now. In order to get everything done, I would stay up in the 24-hour lab all night at least once a week when I was a senior, and such decisions were not the healthiest for my physical and emotional health. I made it through, but looking back, I wonder how I functioned some days!
How well did Earlham prepare you for graduate school?
Earlham's rigorous curriculum certainly helped prepare me for the workload of school, particularly writing papers. I was always told at Earlham that when we get out in the real world, we will notice how few people can actually write, or who have a very hard time producing long, well-supported papers. I am also able to contribute to discussions in class and am able to think critically about a variety of subjects. More importantly, Earlham taught me the importance of community, and how to facilitate a healthy community space. This has been crucial in the last year, as I have been forced to make new friends and deal with a lot of change at once. I think I am also a better communicator now then I was five years ago, and I credit Earlham with that skill as well.
How have Earlham's Quaker testimonies affected you?
Quakerism has had a profound effect on my life since Earlham and it has happened in the subtlest of ways. While I do not consider myself a Quaker, my household always has a moment of silence before every meal now, something we never did in the past, and my boyfriend and I will even hold hands in intentional silence sometimes when we need to take a moment to regroup. I have found that taking these moments has greatly increased my ability to relax, breathe and take life one-step at a time. I think the Quaker values of equality; justice, peace and finding the inner light in each of us are things that I carry with me every day. These basic tenets were with me before Earlham, but going to Earlham helped illuminate then and cement them into my consciousness.
The one thing I've learned about graduate school that every Earlhamite should know is that skimming is CRUCIAL to your success! At Earlham, I would stress out about reading every word of an article or book, but there just isn't time for that in grad school. My advice to anyone thinking about grad school is to learn how to skim and do it well, because it will be the key to success in the future.
What are you goals for the next five to ten years?
Over the next 5-10 years, I hope to complete both of my Masters degrees by the year 2014. After that, I would like to pursue a career in the social services of some kind, and I would really like to work with young women of color. In an ideal world, I would like to have my own therapeutic practice where I see a certain number of clients a day and set my own schedule. I would also like to get married, (to my boyfriend, Jonathan Jenner '10) and have children by the time I'm 30 years old. I'm only 24 now so there is no hurry, I am committed to finishing my degrees before having a family, but having one is a huge priority of mine. I would also like to travel some more over the next couple of years as well.
What's your idea of a great day off?
Lounging in my home, eating delicious food and watching episodes of Star Trek or other wonderful movies. I love movies so any time I can watch one I'm happy. If I were not staying home, I would want to go swimming in Lake Monroe, a reservoir in my hometown of Bloomington, Ind.