Jamal Brooks-Hawkins

Scholar recognizes the importance of time and community when building connections

Please introduce yourself, where are you from?

My name is Jamal Brooks-Hawkins; I was born in Oceanside, California and raised in St. Louis, Missouri.

Where did you go to school before ASU? What was your major and minor?

I attended DePaul University in Chicago for my undergraduate degree in theatre. I briefly went into sociology for a Master of Science at Virginia Commonwealth University. However, I did not complete that degree because you should not go from theatre to science or art to science without a clear understanding of what you are doing. So, I moved to Phoenix in 2005, worked in nonprofit and call centers, then went to school after working in nonprofits, HIV, sexual and mental health. I went back to get my master's degree in social work at Arizona State University downtown in 2017, then started pursuing a PhD in gender studies in 2019.

What’s something you learned during your professional or academic journey that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Time: time and community. Time is precious and inconsequential all at the same time. Take the time you need but also don't waste time. Protecting the time that I have to complete something is crucial but it is also important to take time to be amongst the community and do things that are not necessarily connected to your main focus or goals.

What types of problems do you work on and why do you think they're important?

My work focuses on Black, sexual and gender minorities in the African diaspora. More specifically, sexual, mental and emotional health; my work looks at sexual violence in both gender and sexual minority communities.

Sexual violence is an umbrella term. Oftentimes, people don't associate some “types of people” with victimization. You'll hear people say, “Oh, you were a victim of sexual violence?” and that’s it. Did anybody ever ask about the healing process? It is usually, “Something bad happened to you but you need to get over it and get to work.”

Also, Black mainstream media says even if you don't have HIV, you're still at high risk to get it. As far as sexual health, the ability to have conversations with your partner(s) doesn't always fit a clinical model. Because it might look like an in depth conversation or it might look like asking if they’re clean, how they know they’re clean and the last time they got tested. That is a cultural exchange that often goes unrecognized as a conversation about sexual health. My research focuses on looking at social intersections that classify people as multi-marginalized and finding unconventional ways of providing support.

Why do you think these problems exist?

At the School of Social Transformation, things we're trained to look for are the impacts of colonial reality, slavery and capitalism. I see those things a lot in the work that I do.

What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your work/research?

My research looks to make a Black, queer, feminist and humanist intervention into things like public health discourse and social work practice. My methods live in both social science and humanistic inquiryThe reason that I do humanistic inquiry is to better understand representation, popular culture and visualization. For example, social media is both reality and not – same thing with reality tv. Then when it comes to social science, I do ethnographic work. I interview people and do observational interviews. My work looks at how the digital and the physical worlds impact each other. I interview people to see how they live their lives, what they think about a myriad of things, then analyze how that impacts the way they see themselves in the world.

How did you even get involved in this type of work and what inspired you?

I always knew I wanted to help people. I had a mentor who was my Big Brother at Big Brothers, Big Sisters. He was a big deal in social work and then taught at Washington University in St. Louis. At eight years old, I met this person who was key to me being a college professor; he had two PhDs. Him and my mother set me on a particular path. When I got involved in a community-based organization, I became invested in improving lives. When I connected with Dr. Marlon Bailey, I decided that this is what I want to do. He encouraged me to apply to ASU.

Are there any organizations or individuals outside of ASU that you network with?

Yes, I sit on the board at Ebony House, Inc., and they focus on mental health and substance use. There is typically a Black community there but everyone is welcome. I'm connected to Phoenix Network, a Black man's social group. It is a space where there isn't a great deal of pressure and it's very much needed. 

There are other community-based organizations that I support with my time because they do really important work, especially Sonoran Prevention Works and One-In-Ten.

Are there any events, initiatives or funding opportunities at the Graduate College that you’re excited about?

I think it's really exciting how the Graduate College is recognizing societal realities right now. We just found out that there's an increase in RA/TA stipends, so that's exciting. They're really trying to find more ways to support graduate students, whether in mental health or materially.

The different engagements I've had with GPSA and the Grad College have been about learning how ASU and an organization works with a department to impact the overall lives of graduate students. One of the things that I'm most excited for in the next couple of years, is to see a stronger bridge between digital immersion and on-campus students. The Graduate College is working really hard to ensure things like that are at the forefront.

Please tell us about your experience with PFx!

PFx courses gave me a bit more depth into what I want to do. When in a class, I love it when I expand on what I already know. One time, one of the deans read an offer letter and broke that down. We got on the subject of benefits and 401k. A younger student asked what a 401k was; at my age, it opened my eyes to the fact that some PhDs are 25 years old and they are my colleagues, but we don’t have the same outlook or life experience.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in your field or higher education?

Find something that you love or really want to pursue. Before you dive into a PhD, write yourself a note telling yourself why you want to this, then take it to a current graduating professor or a newly-minted PhD and ask to explain the field to you.


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Edited by Marjani Hawkins