Diversity Champion: Dr. Amber Bryant

June 14, 2024 - Emily Jodway

Champion Dr. Amber Bryant is an assistant professor in Integrative Studies in Social Science. A Detroit native, she has always held a passion for education and the shared human experience. Throughout most of her academic career, she has worked toward finding ways to make education more accessible for youth from all backgrounds and to reduce barriers preventing students in disadvantaged socioeconomic neighborhoods from receiving a quality education. She is our Diversity Champion for the month of June, as we recognize Juneteenth and the national abolition of slavery. 

Bryant recalls an awakening of sorts that she experienced during her youth, which first sparked questions within her about inequality among her Black peers. Growing up in Detroit, her parents would take her and her siblings to nearby Bloomfield Hills to drive through neighborhoods and look around at the lavish, oversized houses. Their hope was to encourage their children, to show them that anything is possible. At the time, Bryant saw this as inspirational and motivating, but as she grew older, she thought differently about those houses. 

“I started to see the inequalities, and I started to be a little bit more critical about why certain groups, or why African Americans, seem to be highly populated in impoverished areas when luxury and wealth was so close by,” she explained. “So I really started to dig, and it was like a fire in me. I couldn’t stop trying to figure out how deep these issues went and how the cycles were being perpetuated, or how to break those cycles and empower and educate others.”

Likewise, as she entered high school and undergrad, she felt the differences between herself and her fellow classmates. “I started to feel a little more self-conscious when I spoke in class, because I knew I sounded real Black, or I would start noticing that I was the only black person in the classroom,” she said. Her identity, as well as what it meant to be Black in America, started to take center stage in Bryant’s life and education. At Michigan, she was mentored by several faculty members who suggested articles and books to her, to help her better understand these ideas. “They really showed me more of the systemic and historical issues, and they were helping me put myself in the context of history,” she added.”

Another eye-opening experience for Bryant while at Michigan came from her time participating in the Prison Creative Arts Project, a program that brings art workshops and activities to incarcerated individuals. While most of the programs took place inside incarceration facilities, two were tied to Detroit high schools, which Bryant was drawn to. 

“I wanted to go to the high schools, and meet these kids before they end up in prison,” she explained. “I wanted to try to … understand the treatment, but also maybe be part of the prevention. A lot of people think that by the time students are in high school, they already are who they are and it’s a lost cause. But I saw going into the schools as a last chance, versus a lost cause.”

By working directly with students, Bryant witnessed firsthand the disparities in education depending on the school and its location. By struggling in school and living in an impoverished neighborhood or tough family situation, many of these students thought it was inevitable that they would fail or turn to a life of crime, and had no one to blame but themselves. 

“I saw that these students didn’t have a chance, but they internalized their failures; they thought, ‘it’s our fault, we’re bad kids,’” Bryant said. “But hearing from us, realizing what they’re truly up against when it comes to what they have access to, and the inequalities in America … it definitely made me feel like I had to do something.”

Bryant swore that she would never forget those students, and devoted her career to finding ways to improve access to education, which in turn can lead to better health, employment opportunities and overall conditions of living in the future. When an opportunity opened up to teach in MSU’s Interdisciplinary Studies department, she saw it as the perfect combination of her interests in both education and the overall shared human experience.

Bryant teaches courses on the history of education in America as well as the history and culture of Africa. She describes teaching as “an honor and a privilege,” and looks forward to coming into the classroom and teaching students concepts they’ve never learned about before, and taking their education to the next level. She didn’t always feel this way, however, and dealt with imposter syndrome early on. 

“I didn’t feel as valuable [at first] as I’m starting to realize now that I’m at MSU,” she explained. “But my students are telling me how important it is that they see me, that for some of them, I’m the only Black professor they’ve had. “I didn’t realize that just showing up is the important part. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to compete with other professors; just the fact that you’re here is very valuable and rare.”

Bryant’s direct experiences as a Black woman, as well as her passion for education and improving the lives of Black youths, gives special meaning to the celebration of Juneteenth for her. In particular, she is excited to see the growth in the acknowledgement of this day in the cultural mainstream. It’s helping to educate both adults and children, as it is more often being included in education in history classes across the country. 

“It’s such a beautiful thing to give the black community this validation,” Bryant said. “That we aren’t going to just brush off and make it so slavery is just something that happened in the past. We’re going to honor and acknowledge the struggle and we’re going to make sure that everybody knows that we care, we value it, we respect what you are saying, as scholars and as Black folks. 

“It’s such a great feeling to get that from America, knowing how far African Americans have come, and how much further they have to go. I’m proud of us as Americans.”


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