There is much to be said about any Tougaloo College graduate who lives
up to the school’s historic legacy of greatness, who aspires to impact
community change, and who succeeds in her or his desired profession.
There is much to be said about six Tougaloo College alumnae, Shani
Collins, Shahara’Tova Dente, Shunale Hodges, Kedra James, Kemeshia
Randle, and LaToya Thompson, who are master’s and doctoral students at
the University of Alabama (UA), located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Utilizing the skills they learned as Tougaloo students, these six young
alumnae are succeeding academically in their graduate programs, breaking
barriers as African-American women, and proving that today’s Tougaloo
College graduates are prepared to compete with students from across the
country and the world.
Fate united the Tougaloo alumnae at the University of Alabama, as they
hail from various parts of the state of Mississippi. The common bonds of
mutual respect, friendship, sororal and religious affiliation, and the
quest for academic and professional success also unite their paths. In
August of 2010, Shani Collins ’03 of Greenwood , Shunale Hodges ’10 of
Louisville, and LaToya Thompson ’10 of Bassfield met and bonded as
classmates in the Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) program, as group
members for two class projects, and as members of Delta Sigma Theta
For Shani, Shunale and LaToya the “Tougaloo Experience” was marked by a
close sense of family and familiarity. These three ladies agree that at
a larger university, the sense of closeness can be lost. Nevertheless,
they were drawn to the University of Alabama for various reasons.
Looking to relocate from Atlanta, GA, Shani quickly discovered that UA,
with its extensive library collection, graduate teaching
assistantships/fellowships, friendly faculty, and convenient location to
Mississippi was the ideal place to earn a doctorate degree. Having
graduated from Tougaloo in May 2010, Shunale was attracted to UA after
attending a Graduate School Preview day where she was well-received by
the university’s warm faculty. LaToya felt UA’s strong reputation as a
reputable learning institution would benefit her long-term career
objectives; equally, the short commute to Mississippi was enticing to
Shunale and LaToya are recipients of the McNair Graduate Fellowship, and
Shani, also a fourth year social work doctoral student, is the recipient
of the Southern Regional Education Board Doctoral Scholars Fellowship.
Having financial support at the master’s and doctoral level is
important, as it eliminates the need to worry about the high costs of
tuition and student fees. From their Tougaloo college experience, these
women learned valuable lessons about being focused on goals, and honing
their critical writing and presentation skills from their favorite
professors Drs. Jerry Ward, Shaila Khan, Madhu Singh, and Siddig Fageir.
“As an undergraduate, Dr. Ward told me to always represent myself
academically and professionally in such a way that would let others know
that Tougaloo College had educated me well. I still carry that lesson
with me today,” Shani stated.
Their success as graduate students at UA proves that these women have
applied the advice given by their favorite Tougaloo professors to their
academic and professional endeavors. “Tougaloo taught me how to find a
way, or make one,” Shunale said. Upon graduating with their M.S.W.
degrees in 2012, Shunale and LaToya intend to work toward doctorate
degrees in social work, as they aspire to become college professors.
Similarly, upon graduation in 2012 with a master’s and doctorate degree
in social work, Shani will seek a tenure-track research and teaching
position at a university, and enter the professoriate.
While Shani, Shunale, and LaToya bonded in class, Kedra James ’05 of
Itta Bena, Shahara’Tova Dente ’06 of Crystal Springs, and Kemeshia
Randle ’07 of Cruger also bonded as fourth and second year doctoral
students in the English department at UA. Like Shunale and LaToya,
Shahara’Tova and Kemeshia are recipients of the Ronald E. McNair
Graduate Fellowship. To add, Kedra is the recipient of a graduate
teaching assistantship. In addition to sharing a close friendship, greek
unity strengthens the bond among these women as Kedra and Kemeshia are
members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and Shahara’Tova is a
member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. When asked about the
experience of transitioning from a Historically Black College and
University (HBCU) to a majority institution, Kedra thought the
transition was smooth, and felt prepared to pursue studies with a
variety of students on a larger campus. Because of the university’s
commitment to research, teaching, and service, Kedra applied to UA.
Kemeshia believes that having friends at UA who can relate to the rigors
of the doctoral student experience has made the transition easier for
her. She was driven to attend UA because of the funding support for
graduate students, and the pleasing environment. Likewise, Shahara’Tova
has found her UA experience to be shaped in a positive way by many of
the relationships she established while a student at Tougaloo. She was
motivated to attend UA because of the friendly faculty, the challenging
classes, and of course, Alabama football; Shahara’Tova feels at home at
Reflecting on their Tougaloo experience, they proudly share that Drs.
Candice Love Jackson and Rochelle Glenn were among their favorite
professors as they were down-to-earth, firm instructors who encouraged
them to succeed as undergraduates. Kedra, Shahara’Tova and Kemeshia will
follow in their favorite Tougaloo professors’ footsteps by becoming
college professors. Kedra anticipates graduating in 2012; whereas,
Kemeshia and Shahara’Tova will graduate in 2014. Upon earning their
doctorate degrees in English, they will each pursue tenure-track
positions as professors at teaching and research institutions across the
These six young alumnae are making strides and blazing trails at the
University of Alabama, paving the way for other Tougaloo alumni to
follow in their footsteps. It is important to note that the University
of Alabama is infamously known as the school where Governor George
Wallace made his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” to block the 1963
enrollment of two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James
Hood. Much has changed for African-Americans within this country since
then, but it is only because of the courageous efforts of countless
trailblazers like Malone and Hood that six African-American women from
Mississippi are now able to earn master’s and doctoral degrees at the
University of Alabama.
Indeed, there is much to be said about the six alumnae who hail from the
hallowed grounds of Tougaloo, and now walk among champions at the
University of Alabama. Earning terminal degrees will yield innumerable
opportunities for these women in the future, and they hope that their
lives will serve as an inspiration to others in pursuit of higher
education. Inspired by Tougaloo’s rich legacy of academic excellence,
Shani Collins, Shahara’Tova Dente, Shunale Hodges, Kedra James, Kemeshia
Randle, and LaToya Thompson are on a clear path toward greatness, and
the foundation set by a solid Tougaloo College education will never be
diminished in their lives.
To show their commitment to preserving the Tougaloo legacy for others,
these six young alumnae have pledged to make individual contributions to
the College’s Annual Fund. These Tougaloo eagles are an inspiration to
others. They have spread their wings, and each and every day, with every
new opportunity they undertake, they continue to soar higher and higher.
Co Authors: Shani K. Collins, Shahara’Tova Dente, Shunale Hodges, Kedra
James, Kemeshia Randle, and LaToya Thompson