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Educational Policy Studies News

Alum Agyepong named assistant professor at New York University

August 02, 2019

UW–Madison alumna Mercy Agyepong accepted a position as an assistant professor of sociology of education at New York University.

Agyepong, who earned her Ph.D. from the School of Education’s Department of Educational Policy Studies this past spring, will begin serving as a faculty member at NYU in September 2019.

Her research examines the ways in which school context impacts perceptions and understandings of “Blackness” and “Africanness” in unique ways, with her dissertation titled, “Blackness and Africanness: Black West African immigrant students’ experiences in two New York City high schools.”

In this multi-sited critical ethnographic project, Agyepong examined the school experiences of Black West African immigrant students at two Bronx, N.Y., public, non-charter high schools during the 2016-17 academic year. This project explored the ways in which teachers’, counselors’, and peers’ perceptions of the identity categories “Black” and “African” shape how Black West African youth are treated and their academic experiences.

Mercy Agyepong
Agyepong found that school context impacts perceptions and understandings of Blackness and Africanness in unique ways. For example, she explains how perceptions about who is and what makes a person Black (i.e. Blackness) differs at both schools and therefore influences the different ways in which Black students (Africans and non-Africans) are treated; which ultimately influences their academic experiences. She says that these findings display the heterogeneity and complexities surrounding the Black racial category and how it impacts different groups of Black students differently.

Findings also show that African students’ Black and African identities both simultaneously act as a source of privilege and struggle, socially and academically, within both schools. Agyepong’s work shows that while African students are perceived as model minorities by teachers, counselors, and peers at both schools, some students’ grade-point averages did not reflect this perception. Still, the perception and discourse of Africans as model minorities was used to denigrate their African American and Latinx counterparts at both schools.

Agyepong’s research contributes to the literature on race, ethnicity, and immigrant students by further illuminating how the increase in immigrant population complicates — yet maintains — dominant racial ideologies and structures in the U.S.

As faculty member, Agyepong will be conducting a follow-up study that examines the lives of the African youth in her dissertation post high school. Additionally, her future research endeavor will look at how African students navigate and understand their “Blackness” and “immigrant-ness” in our current socio-political climate.

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