It's All One Big Experiment:
An Interview with Rasheda Likely (Part Two)
By Shereá Denise
As you may recall from part one of my interview with Rasheda Likely, future Dr. Rasheda is a student, an entrepreneur, and (most importantly) an avid UGK fan. For this portion of the interview I wanted to find out more about Rasheda’s after-school program. This program is a brainchild that was conceived as part of Rasheda's doctoral studies at Drexel University.
Lotions & Potions: The After-School Program
ThisWomansWords: I understand that you created a curriculum for an after-school program for your dissertation. Do you think the curriculum demonstrates your love of science to your participants? Do you believe their appreciation for science grows or changes by being part of the program?
Rasheda: I know science is supposed to be fun. Why aren’t we laughing and talking as we discover and explore science? I enjoy playing. The kids know I “nerd out” and, if I have an “explosion” or some type of messy activity, they usually join me. And I hope it demonstrates my love for science! All this work?! Over the past four years - as a graduate student in science education - I have spent countless hours building and implementing hands-on science experiences through in-school and after-school curriculum, coordinating activities for Family STEM Nights, and having STEM activity tables for community events.
Regarding the dissertation, above all else, I hope the girls felt my love for them.
The intentionality of everything about the class was because I loved them before I met them.
I desired to give them a better science experience than I ever had.
An experience that reflected science in a way that mattered to them, by using something like hair care, which also mattered to me as a young Black girl. I wanted to show them that something like hair care does matter enough to promote inquiry, exploration, and discovery in science class. Black hair had never been part of my science experience and I have two science degrees and worked for the government. I have been deep in this thing for many years and I knew a whole lot about other things, but my hair was not part of the inquiry and research like bear fur or bird feathers or white hair were. Enough was enough. Intentionality became so important to me. The coloring sheets looked like my students. Addressing each of them by their names. Playing music they requested. Giving them individual folders. Gifts when the class was over. All of that was on purpose. I do not know if they knew all of the details that went into that experience, but I hope they knew that they were seen, known, and loved. I rarely told them “No” because, if I had it in my power to make something happen, why not?! They get told “No” in plenty of other spaces. Let’s see what “Yes” can look like. I think they appreciated science because they said things like “I didn’t know I could learn science through hair care. I didn’t know my hair WAS science.” They told me their interest and appreciation for science was expanded because of the class. I hope = over time - the system does not snuff out their joy for learning about themselves as part of science or their feelings of being worthy of inquiry.
ThisWomansWords: What do you think is most important for non-Black people to understand about Black girls’ relationship with science?
Rasheda: What is most important to me is to recognize the ways we all, specifically as Americans, are impacted by and engage in colonization and do our best to disrupt, transform, and innovate despite colonization. Decolonization is not a metaphor. (Shout out to Drs. Tuck and Yang!) It is an intentional effort toward liberatory praxis. Everywhere. All the time. What would it look like to consider other forms of teaching, assessment, content that were not rooted in systemic, institutionalized racism, sexism, ableism, and a plethora of phobias? Imagine the possibilities when you are not trying to oppress or marginalize or harm? What would K-12 science classrooms look like when students - as a whole person - are considered intentionally when curriculum is developed? Teachers education programs? Assessment development? And that is just what I can touch in the science classroom. Therefore, I have chosen to focus my research efforts on decolonization of science curriculum and assessment by using content that is relevant to Black girlhood and womanhood. There is much to consider. If every student mattered in the decision-making processes at the district, state, and federal government level, we would not have many of the attendance policies, disciplinary practices, curriculum and textbooks, teacher education programs, and assessment instruments that are committed to trauma and harm to our students. Especially Black girls. (Quick plug for Pushout the book and documentary of the same name by Monique Morris, which highlights the ways Black girls are criminalized in school. Her scholarship is fantastic!)
ThisWomansWords: What does #LotionsAndPotions look like (to you) five years from now?
Rasheda: I honestly do not know where this thing is going to be in five years, but it is very fun to consider the possibilities. Part of the beauty of my curriculum is that it was created for middle schoolers. The content is an introduction to everything and to many different disciplines. So, there are many opportunities to go deeper into many content areas, such as:
Chemistry - What ingredients are we using?
Biology - How can we further explore skin and hair>
Business/Entrepreneurship - Can these products make a profit?
Engineering - What packaging is best for each product?
Biochemistry - How does the product interact with my skin and hair?
Graphic Design - What does the product look like?
Advertising and Marketing - How do I make my product visible and desirable?
Education and Assessment - How can this experiential learning be evaluated?
There is space for everybody. It’s a skeleton, and I love that. What I hope to ensure, though, is that there is no way the Black girl can be removed.
This whole curriculum centers, affirms, and celebrates Black hair on Black girls/women/femmes. And that is an act of resistance on its own. When’s the last time you saw science content that celebrated Black hair through science content? I’ll wait.
There is one book called The Science of Black Hair by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy and that is the only book dedicated solely to the science of Black hair. I want to make more science resources available that highlight Black hair.
I dream that my curriculum could be experienced by stay-at-home moms and third year biochemical engineers. I want a sixth-grade girl in Philly and a twelfth-grade girl in Pensacola to see themselves in the activities, coloring pages, and to keep exploring science through their hair.
Five years from now, I want this thing to have a mind of its own. I want there to be so many branches of it! All over, but still very fun, messy, and informative. I want to still be making safe spaces in STEM with things like Black hair being the content focus.
As Rasheda discusses the future that she sees for #LotionsAndPotions, I am reminded of the space she was in when she began making her own products and how her vision can provide encouragement to so many. In Rasheda’s own words: “I was going through a lot of change. I changed careers (from a laboratory scientist to a science educator), moved from a large southern city to a dense northeast city, I was back in school, I was away from friends and family, and living in a studio. Everything was new and strange and required adjustment. But the processes of making, measuring, using a protocol, testing, researching, and analyzing were all very familiar to me as a Scientist. I turned my life and my experiences into a science project and interrogated the reasons why it had not been a science project before. I’m grateful my advisor was open to hearing my thoughts and questions and continued to push me to fully investigate my “WHY.” Now I have a whole dissertation project focused on the “WHY.”
Though I know we are not all Scientists going through the type of upheaval that Rasheda experienced, I believe that her words still hit close to home for each of us. Too often we get so sidetracked by what is happening around us that we forget that it is all one big experiment. Shout out to Rasheda for reminding us to examine our WHY and to create experiences that are focused on answering that question in a manner that truly speaks to us.
To learn more about Rasheda and/or to order some of her amazing products (the vanilla body butter and the lavender and vanilla room spray are my personal favorites), follow her on Twitter or Instagram: @ShedaBeda.