Class of 2020: Char Adams on How a Desire to Study Race and Women’s Issues Led Her to the M.A. Program

Char Adams (Photo courtesy of Adams)

Char Adams (M.A. ’20, Women’s and Gender Studies) was already a working journalist when she came to The Graduate Center to explore her interest in race and women’s issues. Three years later, she has just turned in her very last paper — a feminist oral history of her mother’s life in Philadelphia from the ’70s to the ’90s — and is preparing to celebrate a particularly meaningful achievement: already the first of her mother’s daughters to complete her B.A., Adams is now the first of the seven siblings to earn a master’s. 

In the last few years, her work has appeared in OprahMag.com, Teen Vogue, and Vice, among many other publications, and for the last six months, she has worked as the digital editor of SUM, reporting on research and creative projects throughout CUNY. Adams recently spoke to The Graduate Center about her path to the M.A. program, how pursuing her degree has helped her career, and the many ways that her student experience has broadened her perspective:

The Graduate Center: What led you to the master’s program in Women’s and Gender Studies?

Adams: I grew up in Philly, and I earned my bachelor’s in journalism from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I knew that I wanted be a journalist. I was working for a few newspapers in the area, and then I decided to move to New York with two of my friends from school. It was a very wide-eyed thing: Let’s go there and work hard and be real-life journalists! I sold my car, and came here completely broke. I found a job at a small publication, worked with an editor who became a mentor for me, and after he left to work at People magazine, he hired me away.

I was 23. At around the same time, I developed a great passion for women’s issues. But I hadn’t gone to school for that. So I found myself reading book after book: a lot of Angela Davis and bell hooks and Patricia Hill Collins. This was about a year after Mike Brown was killed, and then Eric Gardner. So I found myself thinking deeply about women’s issues and their connection with race.  

I started to freelance for Bustle, and that was where I was first able to write about race, gender, and class, and how they intersect. But I felt like there was more to learn, and I wanted to write deeply about those issues. And I thought that if I wanted my journalism career to focus on that, I should go to school, because there’s only so much self-teaching that I can do. 

I started to look into a few schools. I wanted to go to a school that was in New York so that I could continue working. And I wanted a school that I could afford. So I looked at The Graduate Center, and it seemed a great fit because it was very diverse and everything I wanted to study was available. The Graduate Center ended up being the only school I applied to. 

GC: Have you found that earning your M.A. degree has helped in your career?

Adams: When I pitch stories, it’s definitely helped that editors can see that I’ve studied and gone to school for the topics that I write about. It’s added value to me as a journalist: It makes me trustworthy, and more credible. And it doesn’t hurt I have a degree from a school with one of the most diverse student populations in the country. 

GC: You mentioned your interest in women’s issues and issues related to race. How did you become interested in class?

Adams: One of the most important things that I’ve learned at The Graduate Center is that class is shaped by race, and race is shaped by class. It’s impossible to separate one from the other.

I was raised by a single mom, and she had a total of seven kids. I didn’t know to articulate this as a kid, but now it’s so clear just how much race and class influenced my family’s mobility. Even now, I even think about that a lot. Black children born to parents in the lowest income bracket have just a 2.5 percent chance of ever leaving poverty

I am the first girl of all of my mom’s kids to go to college. And I am the only girl in my immediate family to finish college. My mom went to college at Penn State for just a few months. To say that I earned my bachelor’s and my master’s after growing up in the circumstances I did — I know that this is the exception. To learn about class really helped me to see that. It gave me an analysis of my experiences. And I would not have had that if had not gone to The Graduate Center.

GC: How do you feel about graduating now, during a pandemic? Was it hard for you and your family to learn that there wouldn’t be a traditional graduation?

Adams: I am actually so sad. I was looking forward to having my friends and my family at the ceremony and sharing that moment with them. It’s hard to get six siblings together, all in one place — the whole entire crew. I was so excited for that to happen at my graduation, but now it’s not happening.

I know how much this meant to my mom as well. She is my biggest fan. She’s so proud of me. 

GC: Do you have any advice to students who are considering applying to graduate school, and to this M.A. program in particular?

Adams: I would definitely tell them to not take out loans. It’s hard, but I would advise people to pay for school as they go. I feel like The Graduate Center is one of the few places where you can pay for school, without taking loans.

This program will open your eyes to so many ideas that you hadn’t thought about. I came to The Graduate Center to learn more about women’s issues and social justice, and I left a prison abolitionist. What I’m trying to say is: Be ready to be challenged. To have your way of thinking expanded and transformed. 

Submitted on: MAY 21, 2020

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