Office Hours with Multicultural and Gender Studies Assistant Professor Lateasha Meyers
Lateasha Meyers was an undergraduate student in her first semester at Eastern Washington University, when the professor in her “Sociology of Children” class asked her, seemingly out of the blue, if she was interested in doing research. Meyers was interested. She applied and was accepted into the McNair Scholars Program, which helps prepare first-generation, low-income students of color for the end goal of a PhD—even if it was not how she originally envisioned her path.
“She saw something in me that I had not planned,” Meyers said. “I had wanted to become a pediatrician. Obtaining a PhD was not on my radar at all, but she introduced me to the possibility of another path.”
For Meyers, possibilities led to new goals. She would graduate with a degree in Children’s Studies and Sociology from Eastern Washington University before completing her master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Washington State University. From there, she obtained her PhD in Educational Leadership with a certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Miami University.
Now in her second year in the Department of Multicultural and Gender Studies at Chico State, her research centers on education and Black girlhood and specifically focuses on how Black girls construct their educational worlds. She challenges traditional ways of research by incorporating visual art-based methods—as she did with a group of high school girls in Hamilton, Ohio, in spring 2019.
Meyers’ area of research and scholarship is rich in history and possibility—and is one in which she hopes to broaden through a grant that would allow her access to decades of archival materials.
What appeals to you about studying and teaching leadership?
I think it’s such an under-explored area in our society—how people get into leadership positions. I’m also very interested in how your communities support you in that leadership position. Thinking about that led me to the world of education, as well as connecting with and thinking about educational leaders and how they got to where they are.
I’m really interested in the leadership work of Black girls and Black women, and how they have been at the forefront of a variety of social change issues, particularly in educational spaces. My own journey in education—wanting to have a voice, wanting to have more input, wanting to have more control of my educational spaces and my educational experiences—led me into this area of research and asking, “how do Black women and girls experiences these spaces?”
Meyers Fact #1: Her favorite places on campus are walking by the creek, Selvester’s Café by the Creek, and the east wing of Meriam Library, and her favorite guilty pleasure is watching Korean dramas.
What does frontline leadership look like right now and how has it evolved?
I think there has always been this narrative—and unfortunately it continues—that Black women are like the Black Superwoman, that she can do everything, she can save everybody, and she has to carry it all on her back. There’s this historical expectation, but there’s also this generational expectation that she’s going to do everything. For me, several years ago, that narrative was still believed by some Black women (including myself), whether knowingly or unknowingly. There’s been this generational shift where we realize, as Black girls developing into women, we can’t be in charge of taking on everything, we can’t do this by ourselves and also be at the forefront of social change and not think about the communal aspect. The communal aspect is not something new, it’s been a story within the Black community. So how do we tug on to the legacy of other African Americans who have this leadership within them and ask, “how are they building community? How are they in relationship in community to sustain them, thinking in terms of leadership practices and social change and social justice?” I think there’s been a real evolutionary shift in today’s leadership.
Meyers Fact #2: Among her mentors are African American women leading change in education such as Gloria Ladson-Billings and her grandmother, who passed away when she was young: “She’s been my inspiration for wanting to change things.”
Can you explain how you use visual art-based teaching methods in your classrooms?
I enjoy art, but I’m not formally trained by any means. I love nature, I love photography, I love the aspect of reflection. I began thinking about the different ways in which I can work with youth so it’s not just someone asking them questions and then writing up a story—that’s been done. I thought, “what’s a different way that I can tap into what they’re already using and what’s interesting to them?”
I read about photovoice and it seemed like an exciting way to do research differently. With photovoice, you ask community-specific questions and that community answers through photos. Not just for the sake of asking questions, but for the intention to understand and change inequitable conditions. The girls I was working with in Hamilton, Ohio, loved taking pictures, so it was natural and organic to ask if they were interested in doing that project. Luckily, they said yes. One of the things I was interested in knowing is how they construct their educational worlds. So we collaborated on the questions, they took the photos, and they came up with captions for the photos. We collaborated on an art exhibition with their pictures and narratives, and it was up for a month and a half.
The community got to see what pictures they took and what was important to them. Also, what they said they wanted the community to do about some of the more negative experiences they had and what that looked like for them. We went through this untraditional method of doing research. Some people might even say, “well, that’s not really research,” but it’s legitimate research and having it in this really communal and public space tied back to the question of, “how can the community get to know us, pushing beyond the stereotypical narrative that they hear? How can they get to know us through these pictures?”
I never thought that it would be an option for me to do that for my research. So when an advisor of mine said, “heck, yeah, you can do this,” I thought, “okay, this is what I’ve been wanting to do, I’ll do it.” I think sharing stories and research in this way is so powerful.
Meyers Fact #3: In addition to photography, Meyers is passionate about music, most notably Christian rap and R&B—if she were by herself and could play any song, it would be “Restored” by Lecrae (featuring 1K Phew, Wande and Hulvey).
What has your work with the University’s Honors Program looked like?
My role is primarily teaching and also thinking about the ways in which we can diversify and make the Honors Program more inviting. Historically, honors programs on university campuses have been uninviting and exclusive—an exclusive social club, only some of us are invited and other people are not. I think Chico State is doing a really good job at making that not the case. People may think, “if you invite everyone, what does that do to the integrity? What does that do to the rigor? What does that do to the standards?” If anything, that makes it better. Chico State’s honors program is asking how we can make this more inclusive.
A cool part of the Honors Program is that the classes are a little bit more intensive. Students know that when you’re in the Honors Program, you’re going to have a bit more reading. You’re also going to have the opportunity to go deeper with topics. Last semester, I taught honors art, and my focus was on social justice art, in particular. We delved deep into how a variety of social justice artists, or people who are using art for social justice means, use art. How do they communicate their message through art? Of course, I used visual arts, so we looked at documentary films and focused on photography, what that has looked like, and how people communicate their message.
What kind of research do you have on the horizon?
I’m beginning to look into historical narratives and research practices of Black women and girls. I’m applying for a grant through the Harvard Library to access their archives so I can do that research. Particularly, I’m interested in telling a visual story, so I want to pull from pictures in the archives, but also think about the ways in which Black women and girls have pulled on communal resources and feminist or wellness tactics to be leaders in their community. I want to be pretty contemporary so I’m going back to the 1990s. I will, of course, draw from and be informed by literature from the late-1800’s, but I know that I only can go back so far, because historically there’s so much rich data. There are so many just incredible Black women and girls to draw on.