Meet Our Majors

Meet some of our Black Studies students.

Esther Karpilow ’22
Jazz Henry ’23
Kamea Quetti-Hall ’22

Esther Karpilow ’22

Hometown: Oakland, CA
Major: Black Studies; minor: religious studies; emphasis: psychology

What was your motivation to major in BLST?

Coming to Oxy as a first-year, I was curious about Black Studies but never imagined myself majoring in it. After taking Professor [Erica] Ball’s “Race Women: African American Women's Protest Culture” course my first semester, my perspective on the world around me and on my own identity shifted, and I knew I wanted to continue taking classes in the department.

Can you describe your working relationships with BLST professors? Are there any standout classes you’ve taken?

There is such a wide variety of classes it’s hard to pick favorites! They range from music courses (“Topics in Jazz History” with Prof. Pillich) to science fiction (“Afrofuturism” with Prof. Ford) to critical theory (“Blackness, Gender, and Sexuality” with Prof. Small). All of the professors I’ve come across are uniquely inspiring, kind and passionate. Special shoutout to Professor Ball for being such a dedicated advisor/prof/supervisor/author/chair and for always looking out for her students!

What do you find most compelling about studying BLST?

I really love the interdisciplinary aspect of Black Studies. It has allowed me to explore my different interests and shown me how connected they truly are. Most importantly, the department has given me an opportunity to learn about a variety of subjects through a lens that centers people that look like me.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy?

After Oxy, I plan on applying for masters programs in social work or psychology in order to pursue a career in therapy or mental health counseling. I hope to provide healing services to underserved communities as well as advocate for the de-stigmatization of mental health in Black communities.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in BLST?

You won’t regret it! Initially I was concerned that there wouldn’t be as many career opportunities as a Black Studies major, but the department has given me so many tools that will benefit me in a huge range of fields. Majoring in Black Studies has been one of the best parts of my college experience and has given me the confidence to create real change in my community.


Jazz Henry ’23

Hometown: Lakeland, FL
Major: Urban & Environmental Policy; minors: Black Studies, politics

What was your motivation to join the Black Studies (BLST) department?

After taking “Black Feminist Text” with Professor [Kai] Small my first year, I was exposed to a whole different side of academia. I found myself in a safe environment where I was challenged to rethink what I thought I knew about Blackness, and most importantly develop a deeper understanding and new perspectives on topics around black feminism. This motivated me to explore the department and all it has to offer.

Can you describe your working relationships with BLST professors? Are there any standout classes you’ve taken?

The professors associated with the department are truly amazing and what they have been able to turn this department into is inspiring. With the unique coursework requirements for the department’s major and minor, I am able to branch out and take courses from Black professors in other departments, too. In particular, I enjoyed “Rastafari” with Professor [Elmer] Griffin and “African American History” with Professor [Erica] Ball.

What do you find most compelling about studying BLST?

Looking back at my high school experience, I never had the opportunity to be taught about Black Studies and related topics by Black teachers. As a result, I was not able to truly dive into these topics in the way I would have hoped to. The BLST department has allowed me to do just that, with so many amazing courses and Black professors that push me to delve deeper into topics around Blackness in a way that I couldn’t do elsewhere.

What are your ambitions after Oxy?

I hope to pursue a career in urban planning and housing policy. I have moved many times throughout my life, experiencing urban and suburban communities both domestically and internationally. I’ve seen how unfair housing policies have continuously and disproportionately affected low-income communities of color, and I hope to promote better housing policy in the future and assist in supporting our urban communities. 

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in BLST?

Minoring in Black Studies is one of the best decisions I have made. My experience with the department has shown me how it can challenge and educate you to become a better person and understand topics around race in ways that I never would have imagined. The department gives you access to some of the most intelligent and gifted professors ever, and the ability to have such open access to learn closely from them is more valuable than you know. Even if you do not pursue a major or minor with Black Studies, I’d encourage every student to support the department and take at least one class to see how beneficial it is.


Kamea Quetti-Hall ’22

Hometown: Pittsfield, MA
Major: economics; minor: Black Studies

What was your motivation to join the Black Studies (BLST) department?

As a senior in high school, I was deciding between attending Occidental College or Howard University. Having an education rooted deeply in my people’s history and culture was something very important to me so when I eventually attended Oxy, I knew the Black Studies department would allow me to further that education even though I was enrolled at a Predominantly White Institution.

Can you describe your working relationships with BLST professors?

The BLST professors are some of the most encouraging and empowering individuals I’ve had the pleasure of learning from. Their care for both their area of study as well as their students is a balance that these professors have nailed. I highly recommend taking any course with Professor [Erica] Ball because she is an amazing educator, mentor and person. 

What do you find most compelling about studying BLST?

Personally, I really enjoy being in classes where I am not the only Black student (which is common in the classes for my major). Coming from a diverse high school, my BLST courses have been very fulfilling in the sense that I am able to learn and study alongside my peers and professors that look like me.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

I hope to join the Peace Corps because I have a passion for travel and forming connections across cultures. I also would like to build my own nonprofit organization focused on helping immigrants and first-generation Americans who have been impacted by deportation. Not only has Oxy shown me that these are valid possibilities for my future, but it has also given me the educational background and opportunities to pursue these dreams with more confidence.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in BLST?

If you are considering majoring or minoring in BLST… DO IT! The department is so supportive and really listens to its students. Deciding to minor in BLST was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my time at Oxy.

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