The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

10 Questions with Queen Stevenson

Bosley Jarrett

The Vanderbilt Hustler: Queen is a sick name. What’s the story behind that?

Queen Stevenson: It’s sweet but kinda boring and straightforward. When my Dad was a young guy, he really wanted a daughter and so he made a deal with God that went: if you give me a daughter, I promise to name her Queen.

VH: You were the Hustler’s Opinion Editor last year. What did you gain from that experience and what made it challenging?

QS: I enjoyed the experience immensely, I always like to to tell people that the experience of being editor of the opinion section for The Hustler was fruitful, but frustrating. I think that it was challenging from a logistical standpoint because I had to get actual pieces from students who are really excited about writing, and then you email them and there’s no reply. Weekly, I would stress about having enough content for digest or for print. That’s not a problem anymore because there is no print! Just a few months ago, I was constantly thinking about having enough word space, graphics, perspective on an issue. Basically, do I have enough content? Also, I was in many ways representing many communities outside the newsroom and I would have to come into the newsroom and be an advocate for them. It was exhausting, but it really pushed me to be a better leader, a better listener–I learned how to engage better.

VH: You finally got to live in Kissam this year. Why are you so in love with the place?

QS: I love Kissam, there is nothing better than Kissam. Kissam is everything that you could ever want in a Living and Learning Community ever, there’s just so many layers. First, you have the architecture, which makes you feel like you’re in a ski lodge. It’s very intentional, cozy, inviting and warm. Then you have the hospitality staff. Whether it’s the chefs, the cashiers, or the security personnel, they’re just so friendly and they really make you feel like you’re a part of a community. Also, IT IS CLEAN! It is clean and the bathrooms are clean. But most importantly there’s the food. Do you want to know what I just ate?! I had Grandma’s pot roast, which was a tender succulent pot roast with carrots and potatoes with a really savory gravy sauce. Then I had mac and cheese which tasted like someone injected their love into it and well-seasoned fried apples, salad and cornbread. They really serve you a whole feast!  

VH: Last year, it seemed like you were leading everything. Why did you decide to step back from leadership this year?

QS: Back when The Hustler was in print, being the Opinion Editor was a full time job in order make sure everything was ready in time for print. I was vice president of the African Student Union. Entering my junior year I said to myself, “wow, you’re really slacking,” because I only had 2 leadership positions and I knew people with six or seven leadership positions. I started noticing this phenomenon of the email signature and people listing their involvements. I noticed that the people who would flake out on me or leave me hanging for an opinion piece or for ASU were those same kids with 7 leadership positions. Meanwhile, I had my two and I was invested, passionate, and purposeful. I felt like I was giving everything I had and these people were not. I noticed a disconnect between the way Vanderbilt students approach leadership and what leadership actually is. This is actually an idea I’ll be exploring in my TED talk on Nov. 13. My last opinion piece I wrote as editor was about a similar topic. I felt very hurt by a lot of my peers at the end of last year. I felt disrespected, overlooked, neglected. To give so much to these organizations and not get results or the collaboration needed because my peers were doing everything else was very discouraging. It was for these reasons that I decided I was not going to lead anything in my final year of college. It had been wonderful! I see a lot of my friends and peers now that already seem jaded or spent even though it’s only been a couple months. I recognize that I used to look like that. It’s been a huge transition and a change of mindset, but I’m really glad I did it.

VH: You work for the Wisdom Project. How did you end up there and what is your job like?

QS: The Wisdom Project is an international public scholarship project that is a branch of what’s called Voices from our America. This was founded by Dr. Nwankwo, who is basically superwoman because she literally plays a role in every part of campus. She’s director of American studies, associate professor of English, Chancellor’s higher education fellow, and associate provost of strategic initiatives and partnerships. I got into the project by being a library dean’s fellow where you work in digital humanities. Projects ranged from archiving old medical records from the middle east or holocaust documents. My project was to help create a telephone application that would allow people to phone in and give their oral histories or listen to oral histories. The whole purpose of the wisdom project is to collect and curate stories from black elders and collect their best stories on practices of survival or thriving and how they created communities or solved problems. The end goal is to create curricula where the stories we’ve curated serve as primary source material for the culture being studied to fill in the gaps of histories which have been told primarily from the perspective of an oppressor.  The project has held workshops and exhibits at Vanderbilt. After my deans fellowship, Dr. Nwankwo invited me to be a fellow on the Wisdom Project and I’m in a PR coordinator role for them as well. Right now, I am working on logging content for the project, as well as a biography project on how the program started, how it’s changed and where it’s going. It combines many of the things I love, like storytelling, wisdom, vulnerability and survival practices for black americans.  

VH: You organized Harambee last year. What did you think of the performance? Are you worried that Harambe the gorilla is going to affect the event this year?

QS: My thoughts on Harambe as a meme are essentially that it needs to stop. I think that Americans care more about animals that are killed than actual citizens, who are mostly black. This insistence on preserving Harambe’s legacy and history seems like such a waste of people’s energy. It reminds me of the killing of Cecil the Lion last year which occurred right in the midst of the gruesome and graphic pictures of black men being unjustly killed and many other images of police brutality, like the 15-year-old girl in a bikini being thrown to the ground in McKinley, Texas.

I think that Americans care more about animals that are killed than actual citizens, who are mostly black.

Harambee, the incredible cultural showcase that I helped put on last year, was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It was six months of pain and negotiation, collaboration, and having my threshold of what I could do pushed every week. It was a beautiful night in the end. The final product was really what defined what leadership is at Vanderbilt. It’s easy to talk about leadership in platitudes or in abstract terms but the bottom line is that you have to go to meetings, do the work, stay up late, and do the stuff that others were supposed to be doing, even if they still get the credit. People will give you their word and not fulfill it and you have to be prepared to deal with that.

We had a sold out show with standing room only! The chancellor and the provost came. We had students from Fisk or TSU come, which helped bridge the gap between the legitimate African communities which exist at all three schools. One person from Fisk came up to me and said that Harambee made her so proud to be an African on that night. The idea that the performance was supposed to convey was that Africa is the greatest ghost writer of all time. The continent pushed out innovations, mathematical discoveries, music, dance, food, style and so much more culture and yet the authorship is usually stripped from the continent because the west claims to have created it. I wanted the performance to put the authorship into the continent’s hands and really correct the image of the content in the west or at least on the Vanderbilt Campus.

Each year, Rand has an event called S.S. Rand with a cultural theme. In 2014, they had S.S. Africa. The minute I walked in, the first thing I saw was a giant roasted boar. When I walked in further, I saw looping footage of monkeys playing in trees, inflated safari animals and a random guy playing bongos. As an African student I was at a loss of words for what I was seeing. There are thousands of Africans in Davidson county. There are established coalitions and communities that campus dining could have reached out to in order to ensure that they were at least serving something that is actually representative of some culture. Seeing that my freshman year was an impetus for getting involved in ASU.

Harambee, last year, was ambitious in wanting to confront and correct many misconceptions about Africa, and I think it succeeded. It won a Magnolia award for best cultural showcase. I’m very proud of what I did to organize it and it is definitely one of the most important moments in my Vanderbilt career.

VH: What has been your favorite class at Vanderbilt?

QS: Amanda Little is one of the most important and insightful people you will meet at Vanderbilt. She is a visiting journalist who writes for Bloomberg and many other prestigious journalistic organizations. The two classes she teaches are The Art of Blogging and Investigative Journalism. In The Art of Blogging, we created our own blogs, conducted Skype interviews and spoke with some great voices in media. I really got an insight into the minds of my classmates because the blog was centered around what each person cared about. I looked forward to every single class. The second class was The History of Black Women in the United States with professor Tiffany Patterson in the African-American studies department. I truly hated to miss that class. Every class was a relevant and rich discussion of the black woman in America and how it’s been carefully constructed throughout time, usually by white men. I learned a lot about some truly heartbreaking things in history in times of slavery and how lynching is viewed as the primary tool of coercion during the times of slavery and reconstruction even though rape was so insidious and ubiquitous. We talked about today’s events in a historical context, which made it often more heartbreaking, but it was an important class for me to take nonetheless.

VH: Who is your biggest role model?

QS: My ultimate role model is Jesus Christ. He was a radical figure, fed the poor when it was not economically feasible to do so, he was homeless his 33 years, he loved others when it didn’t make sense. He is a person who I follow and is very important to me. An earthly role model for me would be my mother. She is someone who always gives when she doesn’t have anything. I think that today, before we think about giving anything, whether it’s our time, resources, or energy, we so often think about what we are going to get out of it. My mother has always given unthinkingly or automatically and I just think that it is really commendable.

VH: I know you’re really close with your family. Can you tell me about your relationships with them?

QS: I am from Nashville. I live 20 minutes away from here. My dad works at Caterpillar, which is across the street. Both of my parents are from Nigeria. Nigerian culture and family are really important to me and I think that’s the case with many immigrant families. You want to make sure your network is as tight as possible. I just became an aunt last October and that has changed my life! If you were to ask the former editorial board of The Hustler, I’m sure they would tell you I subjected them to many pictures of my niece. Family has become even more important to me as I approach graduation as there are many questions of uncertainty surrounding my life, so having that network to keep me grounded is a very good thing.

VH: You’ve done a lot of social justice activism on campus. How do you feel about Vanderbilt’s emerging emphasis on diversity and inclusion?

QS: Vanderbilt is not the same campus that I became a part of three years ago. That’s obviously a good thing in many ways. There are administrative pushes and efforts for inclusion but it’s going to take a long time. So many people forget that people of color were only integrated in 1966 and that is NOT a long time ago. All these questions like “how can we get a more diverse student body?” or “why is our student body so white?” are really a matter of a campus inheriting a legacy which it established itself. I’m really blessed to say that many of my peers and close friends have carried the torch and have started many pushes and protests for better inclusion and equity on campus.

So many people forget that people of color were only integrated in 1966 and that is NOT a long time ago.

I think the student body is really electric right now, and there’s a lot of potential for change there. Progress is something that Vanderbilt has achieved and is achieving every day. Like any institution, Vanderbilt is going to have its flaws and merits. I wrote a piece called “To be black at Vanderbilt is exhausting” and a lot of people, I found, identified with what I had to say. Students of color, and especially black students are exhausted. This exhaustion is getting noticed by the administration, and they’re certainly working hard to create a Vanderbilt in which, more than diversity and inclusion, there needs to be a focus on bringing equity to campus life, administration and faculty.  

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