Nubian Message had the privilege of speaking with Markita Briggs. She is the graduate assistant (GA) for the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Village at NC State. She is also currently pursuing her Master’s in Higher Education (Ed) Administration through the Poe College of Education. We were able to sit down and speak to her about her experience as a Black woman working at NC State.
Nubian Message: What brought you to NC State?
Markita Briggs: So I’m originally from Columbus, Ohio, I was born and raised there. I thought going to a different geographic location would be beneficial for me to kind of get a sense of what higher college education looks like in a different area in the United States. I went through the recruitment process for the Higher Ed administration program through [Pack Preview]. And honestly, the faculty for the graduate school [and] for the Higher Ed program and then some of the people that I got to do my interviews with for my different GA positions. It was really the Black women that I encountered during my process … it just made me feel safe in that regard and just seeing other women that look like me prosper in their roles. So that’s kind of what made me come to stay… that comfort that I felt, not only just from the program, and other general faculty and staff that I spoke to but specifically the Black woman that I had encountered during my process.
NM: So you would say that the current Black faculty members/staff members have had an impact on you and your experience?
MB: Definitely, Dr. Gayles, she’s absolutely amazing. She’s very well respected in the field of Higher Education. She’s been great and impactful … one of the things that my previous supervisor did for me before departing from the university [was made] sure that I was connected with Black women on campus … And there [are] Black women that work in that office (College of Sciences), that check on me. I go to lunch with them, they check and see how I’m doing in my GA [position] … So that’s been really, really helpful. Then there’s also another woman that works in the Women’s Center, she and I have become friends…We’re able to talk about everything from our jobs to our personal beliefs and values. So very, very supportive.
NM: What do you feel have been your biggest challenges working as a Black staff member at NC State? Or have you had any challenges?
MB: I wouldn’t say I’ve had challenges… It could be because I just didn’t know how to access these resources [but] I don’t really know if there are currently any specific services for Black grad students that we just don’t create for ourselves. So one of the things that I became a part of when I came here ..is the Black Grad Student Association, BGSA. And I think that that’s nice that that resource is there. I don’t necessarily know if there are any particular resources provided by the University in terms of supporting Black or even other people of color that are graduate students on campus in the graduate college… I do think that there are really progressive and great things NC State does offer in terms of highlighting certain, like certain heritage months, or certain times of year sorts of celebrations they do to recognize all members of our community, but from a graduate level, I think that it is lacking. So I would say that’s possibly been the biggest challenge is trying to find that support through the university. But I think the students have done a good job creating that for themselves.
NM: Do you feel that as a university, that State has done what it needs to do to let people know the resources that it has? Because yes, you can go and do the research yourself. But I feel like it’s also the responsibility of your employer to let you know, what is there for you?
MB: I feel my perspective is a little bit biased just because I’m in Higher Ed. So I have a natural desire to speak certain things out. So I don’t even know if I would be able to answer that … Just because there are certain things that [are] naturally appealing to me because of the field that I’m in. I do think that NC State as a whole does a good job putting things out there for all students … if you read the information that’s there, I think it’s there. I just don’t know if there’s currently anything, particularly for the grad students or grad students of color, if that makes sense.
NM: As an employee have you been able to find resources and support?
MB: For me, just because I’m a grad student, I don’t even know if I’ve technically thought about it that much. Because I’ve had to focus so much on my studies… I know that I have been supported in my role. That’s because I have a supervisor that understands the importance of Higher Ed and having people be represented… My employer has allowed me to do that (create spaces for women of color), which in return has been fruitful for me because I get to pour into younger people that look like me, but they also pour into me at the same time. So I personally do feel supported. I do feel there has been an opportunity for me to let my concerns be known and implement things that I would like to see for people that look like me or similar [to] other populations of color.
NM: Do you feel your presence has been influential on the Black student community at NCSU?
MB: I would hope so. I’m in this field because I’m a woman of faith, I really do believe in God-given purpose and living your life with the intention of helping and blessing others. So one of the things that I love about my field is the fact that I get to work with young adults during the time of their life when they’re developing and becoming the people that they want to be. I think I still have a ways to go to see long-term what my impact will be.
NM: You previously worked as a high school College Advising Manager, how does that experience compare to working at College with students?
MB: One of the reasons why I actually went to make this switch back to the higher ed side in terms of actually being to a college campus is because I think that there is something beautiful about being able to encounter individuals or students when they’re out of their parent or guardians… supervision, they get to be their complete cool and authentic self. So I think that’s one thing that’s similar to high school is [that] you’re in this one hub of an environment in terms of like an educational hub, where you’re trying to find your place. It’s different because you’re at a different age where you’re really about to set yourself up to go out into society and make a difference in whatever field or whatever area you go into, or just in your personal life and your own personal endeavors. It’s beautiful to see young people be who they are without feeling pressure from the ones that they know love them, but may have certain desires or dreams or goals that they don’t want for themselves. So now they have the chance to go do what they want to do and I think that’s beautiful.
NM: What was the most shocking part about working at a Predominately White Institution (PWI) versus your experience of attending a PWI?
MB: I feel like it kind of goes hand in hand. When you are attending PWI you can feel like a small fish in a big pond, or you might feel like you’re an outlier. I was really big on putting myself in spaces where I had [a] community. And then I would honestly say I do the same now, as a student and as a professional. They’re going to be rooms in certain spaces where I might be the only person of color or the only minority or only female. What keeps me balanced is the fact that I have been able to find a community where I feel seen, which is similar to what I did in undergrad. I would definitely say for sure having those safe spaces that I had in undergrad is the same thing I do now to make sure that I feel safe and have a place where I can fit and be my authentic self. And my full authentic self is as a Black woman.
NM: What tips/advice would you give a Black woman who’s interested in going to school and working in academia?
MB: When your capacity is not there, don’t force it. You really cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to be the best version of yourself in order to be the best version for whoever it is that you’re serving. So if you don’t have the capacity, take a mental break and turn your phone off, put it on silent. There’s nothing wrong with you taking a step back and saying that I need time for myself. At the same time, you have to balance by knowing when you have to show up and be present, even when you don’t feel like it because there are people that need you.