As conversations of social justice, diversity and inclusion continue, the Aggie community remains vocal. One such advocate for change and educational dialogue is faculty member Rebecca Hankins, Ph.D.
Hankins serves in a variety of roles within A&M. Not only is she a professor within the College of Liberal Arts, but she also works at the Cushing Memorial Library.
“I’m a professor as of 2019. I am in the library… [specifically] in special collections. I am an archivist, a curator and a librarian,” Hankins said. “I’ve taught classes in Africana studies and religious studies and women and gender studies.”
In addition to her professional titles, Hankins is well-respected as a peer. Her colleague Francesca Marini, Ph.D, who works as the programming and outreach librarian at Cushing, said she has immensely enjoyed working with Hankins.
“I am lucky to work with Professor Hankins, who is a very dynamic colleague committed to social justice and to improving our profession,” Marini said. “She is also a very generous and caring colleague, always proposing and supporting new ideas, helping everybody and supporting students and young professionals.”
Hankins said she recently hosted a talk with scholars from across the country regarding the university’s reconciliation with its troubled history of race relations.
“A number of other schools … have started to look at their heritage and what that says about their institutions. It’s bringing up some really difficult discussions,” Hankins said. “It’s something that I’ve been writing about and talking about from the archival point of view and how sometimes the archives have enshrined some of this stuff without understanding this history.”
Among the general conversation on how to make academia more inclusive, Hankins said it is critical that A&M reflects on its own history.
“Especially for A&M, from founding to present day, it owes a debt to African Americans,” Hankins said. “It was an African American legislator who was part of the group that pushed for Texas A&M to be built into this land grant institute. A&M history is very much intertwined with Black history.”
Hankins said she also shared her recent work at Cushing during the talk, as she has been building new collections relating to organizations that support the Confederacy and how they continue to influence modern education.
“At Cushing, I’ve been trying to build some of that material. We have a lot of that [Ku Klux Klan] material, and I’ve bought a lot of United Daughters of the Confederacy reports,” Hankins said. “It’s interesting to read how they went to the state legislature and made sure that they would support them changing the textbooks and the way students are taught. It’s fascinating to me that people can learn to organize by the things they did.”
With initiatives such as the renaming of bus route 36 and the push to erect a statue of Matthew Gaines, Hankins said students and staff alike should keep an open mind and listen to one another.
“I think some people think I’m too willing to have these conversations, but I think that’s the only way to educate people [and] for us not to go into our corners thinking that this person is not going to change whatever I say,” Hankins said. “If people want to deny the history or argue with it, that’s fine, I’m all for that, too. I really love the students, [and] I find it so important to have students be curious, and that’s so much of what my career has been.”
Overall, Hankins said she has tried to set an example for the way academics can partner with social justice initiatives to improve the social climate when it comes to racially driven issues. Marini said she greatly admires Hankins’ positivity and openness to conversation.
“One of Professor Hankins’ many qualities is her ability to raise awareness by introducing new points of view and engaging in productive dialogue,” Marini said. “I have grown professionally and personally because of her support. She is a true advocate for diversity, equity and inclusivity and is making a difference every day, creating new alliances.”