Story by Sabrina Jones :: Photo by Rajah Bose
Spend a few minutes with Kellie Carter Jackson, the newest faculty member in history, one of Gonzaga’s oldest departments, and you will quickly understand how she can bring the past to life for some of the discipline’s harshest critics – college students, that is.
Perhaps it’s her quick smile or her ease with conversing. Or maybe it’s being in the presence of someone who is living – and sharing – her passion. Whatever it is, Jackson is right where she is meant to be. She has the uncanny ability to make the complicated simple and the convoluted easy as pie. And yes, history fun.
Jackson earned her undergraduate degree in print journalism from Howard University and spent the next six years at Columbia University where she earned two master’s degrees in history and philosophy, as well as a doctorate in American history. When her husband, Nathaniel, was transferred to Spokane in 2009 for his job, the couple made the coastal swap from the East to the West, and Jackson’s academic job search began in earnest.
“I contacted different schools in this area to express my interest in working as an adjunct to get some experience,” she said. “Father Maher reached out to me, mentioned the possibility of teaching a class in western civilization at Gonzaga. Before I knew it, I was working.”
Jackson taught two sections of the class in the fall of 2009, finding it “a little daunting” for a couple of reasons: “Western civilization wasn’t my specialty, and this was my first experience having my ‘own’ class.”
One thing she didn’t find daunting was the camaraderie among her colleagues. “Everyone is so willing to share what they know, what they have experienced,” she said. “Being part of the new faculty group was such a great support system. We had potlucks and shared experiences.”
At the end of Jackson’s initial adjunct year, Gonzaga offered her a visiting professorship through which she would teach in her areas of specialization: African American history and world civilization.
“Students can smell fear,” Jackson laughed. “They know when you’re not confident. Having that first year under my belt and teaching what I am most passionate about gave me all the confidence in the world.”
Jackson’s classes are anything but sit and listen. They are filled with group projects, guest speakers, field trips and opportunities to bring history to life as students role-play activists, entertainers, politicians and black church leaders.
“I think every good citizen of America should have a knowledge and appreciation of history,” she said. “After teaching a class on the music of decolonization, I featured music videos from Bob Marley to Fela Kuti. A student of mine was so inspired she burned a CD of music for me filled with politically conscious songs and told me, ‘This is my favorite class ever.’ Another of my students committed to attend at least one cultural event each month. It’s imperative – and rewarding – to make history relevant, to make it real.”