PhD Student Curtis Edmonds Found Community, Cultivated Political Passions on Campus
April 14, 2023
Wherever Curtis Edmonds has been a student—whether as an undergraduate studying political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, a political science master’s student at George Mason University or in his pursuit of a Ph.D. in political science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University—he has been in the minority as a Black student on campus.
After being accepted into Maxwell’s Ph.D. program, Edmonds expected to find himself in a similar scenario, but unlike his previous stints in higher education, Syracuse University offered a great opportunity to discover community: 119 Euclid—a space to celebrate the Black student experience on campus. 119 Euclid opened its doors in 2021 as part of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the University’s overall inclusion and belonging goals.
“It was not uncommon for me to be the only person that looks like me in the classroom, which can make for a very lonely experience. Then when you’re talking about being a Ph.D. student, that too can be a lonely experience. So finding community here at Syracuse University was important to me,” Edmonds says.
The connection between the building, its staff members and the students who turn to 119 Euclid as a space to celebrate their culture was instantaneous for Edmonds.
“It’s this safe space for Black students and really all students who respect the culture of Black students. It’s a place to study. It’s a place to hang out. It’s a place to meet other Black students, specifically other Black graduate students, and that was appealing to me. I immediately fell in love with the place,” Edmonds says.
Last summer, that involvement went from volunteering his time and his expertise to assisting his fellow Black students, especially incoming Black students, with facilitating their transitions to campus, to a paid position as 119 Euclid’s Graduate Scholar-in-Residence, an inaugural position in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Edmonds has thrived in the role, indirectly serving as a mentor to many Black students who call 119 Euclid home. He’s organized successful panel discussions ranging from “Ask a Graduate Student”—where students could find out more about applying to the University’s master’s programs and the College of Law and learn tips for finding community on a predominantly white campus—to the successful “Ask a Faculty Member” discussion and Q&A.
“This was the space I was looking for, and this is the space I needed. I’ve never had anything like this at any of my other colleges. I want to be as involved as I can. I’d do anything to help, in any way possible, because this is such an important space for the students,” Edmonds says.
A Lifelong Affinity for Politics and Learning
Growing up in Portsmouth, Virginia, there were three things Edmonds was always interested in: American history, American politics and education. He fondly remembers watching both the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions with his father, who was a political science major.
Edmonds came from a family of teachers—his mother and both of his grandmothers were middle school teachers, while his uncle and his grandfather earned doctoral degrees, and he quickly became a proponent of lifelong learning and education.
His affinity for a potential career in politics took off in 2008. Then-Sen. Barack Obama was running for president, and Edmonds found himself captivated by the charismatic Obama, who at the time was attempting to become the first Black man to hold the highest elected office in the country.
Among his early political involvement, Edmonds worked for Sen. Mark R. Warner’s local office in Richmond, Virginia, volunteered for campaigns in Iowa, and interned with the Obama Foundation, where he focused on understanding how people learn and become civically engaged. He worked as an organizer mobilizing in communities of color, educating voters who recently had their voting rights restored.
Afterwards, as he was working for Sen. Warner at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Edmonds had a realization: if he wanted to further his career in politics, he needed to get his Ph.D. Which brought him to the Maxwell School.
“Maxwell is a very prestigious school on public policy and political science, and I was happy that Maxwell had the sort of programming I was interested in. I had the practical experience, and I knew how Congress worked, but I was missing that classroom experience, discussing the theories behind the work that goes on in Congress. Now I’m able to apply those theories to my actual experiences and it gives me this holistic and cohesive idea about how I view politics and how I view our government,” Edmonds says.
Initially, Edmonds thought he would research and study congressional committees and the legislative behaviors in Congress, focusing on how members of Congress think and vote and understanding the rationale between someone voting with their political party and someone voting against their party. But he soon turned his attentions to marginalized members of Congress, specifically Black congresswomen, who have historically always been in the minority.
“We have this growing number of Black women in Congress, but they’re rarely studied, and I think it’s an interesting area to research, because not only are they Black, but they’re also women. They’ve been doubly marginalized in Congress. I thought it would be interesting to research these political actors that work in an institution, Congress, that at one point in our history didn’t even consider them to be citizens with the right to vote,” Edmonds says.
When his time in Maxwell is finished, Edmonds envisions a career in academia. Or perhaps an advisor for a member of Congress, preferably a Black woman. Or maybe as a consultant for a Washington, D.C.-based think tank or consulting firm.
“I’m thankful for my time at Syracuse, and for the experiences I had at 119 Euclid. Those are lessons I will carry with me forever,” Edmonds says.
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