Cassandra Osei

Headshot of Cassandra Osei

Student Spotlight | April 2015

Major: I’m in my fifth and final year at KU, and double major in History and Latin American & Caribbean Studies.

Describe your work in a few sentences that we can all understand: My current research focuses on the University of California affirmative action admission controversy of the eighties and nineties. I argue that through the construction of a multiethnic coalition arguing for merit and colorblind admissions, anti-affirmative action proponents feasibly repackaged anti-black stereotypes, dating from the Reconstruction era, into their rhetoric without much notice from Americans.

Q: Who mentors your project?

A: My mentor is Dr. Clarence Lang, Associate Professor of African & African American Studies and American Studies. Dr. Kim Warren, Associate Professor of History, advised my first Undergraduate Research Award project, and I extended it with Dr. Lang into another project for the McNair Scholars Program’s Summer Research Internship. My current project was initiated in summer 2014, and advised by Dr. Sundiata ChaJua, Associate Professor of African & African American Studies and History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. ChaJua also advised Dr. Lang’s dissertation at UIUC, so it was cool to see a kind of “continuity” during my research projects.


Q: What surprised you about doing research?

A: What initially surprised me about doing research is how far your research can take you. By the time I finished my research on black feminist activism and black feminist scholarship, I was able to make transnational links to Brazilian black feminism, and I conducted another research project when I studied abroad in Brazil. By starting one research project, you begin with one central question, but as you move along with your research, more questions unravel. In short, once you start, you can’t stop.


Q: What do you like most about your research?

A: My research is personal and political. For me, the draw of studying history is that I’m able to have a more comprehensive understanding of my place in society and our current political moment. I am the child of Ghanaian immigrants, a first-generation college student, and a Black woman, and as a child I felt left out in media and most cultural narratives. The intersections of my identities were typically obscured from the history I was taught K-12, and grew up with a kind of shame I didn’t begin to articulate until, as a fifth grader, I was assigned to do a research project on Ida B. Wells. I view that research project as an intervention, because through the work I conducted at the public library, I had access to history books and journal articles telling a different narrative that empowered me rather than shamed me.

As a researcher, not only do I now have the ability to see myself in history, but I also have tangible proof. What I love about history is that it isn’t really past, but is living: the past always reverberates into the present. Despite the claims of some that we live in a “post-racial” world, the way we talk and discuss racism demonstrates that we clearly are not “post-racial” or “colorblind.” My research demonstrates that language, even when repackaged, can hold racist sentiments and have negative consequences if assumptions and biases are not routinely interrogated. 


Q: What advice would you give to a friend wanting to get involved in research?

A: I think what prevents many undergraduates from doing research is the assumption that they need to work in a lab, be affiliated with the Honors Program, or have lots of credentials to even start thinking about doing research. This is not true. Despite already having the obligation to do research as a McNair Scholar, the program demystified the initiation process by informing us that the only necessity to begin was to think of a research idea and talk to a faculty mentor about it. I already had my idea in mind, and I e-mailed Dr. Warren about it, and that’s how it came to fruition. When I saw Dr. Lang sit on a panel for a presentation, I went up to him afterwards and asked him to be mentor for my summer research project; he said yes. I think doing research becomes easier once you realize that faculty don’t bite: they really want to help you be successful and enjoy working with students. My advice is to just do it: even if you don’t have a fully formed idea, talk about it to a faculty mentor and it will eventually become a research project. Don’t be afraid of your potential and future success.

Q: How do you spend your time when you’re not working on your research?

A: If I’m not busy with research or coursework obligations, I’m probably playing video games, watching cartoons, enjoying history or fashion blogs, or wishing I was back in Brazil.