OEP alum Cassandra Jackson is on fire. A professor at The College of New Jersey, Jackson attended an OEP seminar and, since April, has published five op-eds. Appearing in The Huffington Post, Jackson’s articles tackle topics that span from homophobia to hair, from healthcare to racism.
We prompted Jackson to share the tangible effects of her op-eds, the changes and progress, both personal and public, that her articles have spurred. Her response and rapid writing are inspiring.
After going to an Op-Ed Project seminar in April, I wrote and wrote and wrote- and wasn’t initially published. But the seminar allowed me to see where my ideas connect to a larger conversation. I’m trained as a critical race theorist, but I hadn’t thought about how to translate those skills to public forums. It seems like writing op-eds would be an obvious transition for me, but honestly, before the seminar, I didn’t even know how to explain in lay terms what a critical race theorist does. Later, my colleagues at Princeton and the OpEd Project staff generously let me visit their Public Voices Fellowship workshop where I met Courtney Martin, and she connected me with the Huffington Post.
I’m amazed by the connections I’ve made since my articles were published, especially given the short amount of time that has elapsed. When I published Homophobia in the Black Church Is Patriarchy in Drag, I got an email the next morning from a colleague whom I haven’t seen in years. He had just happened to be reading The Huffington Post, and told me how much he enjoyed my piece and promised to keep me in mind for future speaking engagements.
After I wrote Is Natural Hair the End of Black Beauty Culture?, many people from my college years contacted me. The article got an immense response, with a growing 271 comments on The Huffington Post. This op-ed was picked up and re-posted by various websites and blogs.
I was perusing an online magazine I read a lot called Clutch, and found a post with a lovely introduction to my article about black hair and an excerpt from it. The editor who posted it said that it had succeeded in making her feel nostalgic about the tradition of hair straightening among black women, something about which she never thought she’d feel nostalgic. After seeing the post, I contacted the Clutch staff and introduced myself, and let them know that I’d love to submit op-eds there in the future.
There are scholars and bloggers whom I admire who didn’t know of me prior to my op-eds who tweeted my articles from their personal accounts and posted my writing on their Tumblr pages. I wrote to an NPR online editor who posted an excerpt of my work, and conversed with her about black hair and beauty culture.
I’ve received requests for interviews, and now know that there are people who are reading my articles and looking for experts in my field for programming.
Op-eds are avenues for sharing ideas on a large scale. I find this kind of writing to be a really incredible, addictive experience. After publishing my first piece, I suddenly felt that I was part of a conversation I had once been listening to and reading about; I had gone from being a member of the audience to being a participant, which shook and reaffirmed my identity.
Writing and publishing op-eds is a transformative experience. I never imagined having the privilege of sharing my thoughts in a public forum. It’s only been a few months since I began publishing op-eds, but quite a few people have contacted me to say that they’re thinking about issues differently after reading my writing. That’s a powerful thing. My op-eds are catalysts for conversations, and it’s moving to see these conversations occurring online.
I’m working on a book now, and the writing in that book has definitely improved because of my op-ed writing, which taught me about clarity, language, avoiding jargon, and broadening my audience. Op-ed writing also taught me about the value in using biographical and anecdotal data, which are so often dismissed in academia. The articles people connected to most were not the ones where I cited six studies, but where I talked about my mother’s hair or the loss of my father’s family. Op-ed writing has freed me, enabling me to connect better with others by using personal narrative. I’m a different kind of academic now.
Having a way to instantly connect with others is invaluable. Op-eds have revitalized my writing, and have expanded how I see myself as a writer, thinker, and person.
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