Gatepost Interview: LaToya Tavernier, Sociology Professor

(Photo by Shanleigh Reardon)

What is your professional and educational background?

I got a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University. Then, I got my master’s degree in sociology from Queens College at the City University of New York (CUNY). I got my Ph.D. in sociology with a concentration in Africana studies from the graduate center at the CUNY. I started teaching while I was in graduate school and I really liked it – I didn’t expect not to – but really early, I first taught at City College in New York City. I’ve also taught at Pace University and then I started working here in 2013 and I’ve been here ever since.

What do you like best about working at FSU?

I would definitely say the students. That is one thing that has not really changed, even though I wasn’t quite sure at first when I got here if I was going to like it. Because I had never taught, one, at a school in Massachusetts, even though I’m from here, and two, the student population was very different than what I taught in New York City. It was just different teaching in a predominantly white school, which it was at the time. After I got over the first semester and really got to know who students are, I’ve liked it ever since. I really respect that there’s so many hard-working students here who are definitely working more hours than I do to pay their way through school.

What has been a memorable moment for you here?

It was my social deviance class and we happened to be talking about the stigma of mental illness. One student mentioned one of his best friends from high school was suffering with, I think, bipolar disorder, and he was saying how hard it was for him to transition from high school to college because he was trying to figure out his meds and stuff. It just opened up the floodgates in my classroom – and this is a class of maybe 25-30 students – and one by one students were admitting to having issues with mental health and mental illness either through anxiety or depression. It was just so eye-opening for me. One, I cried because there was one student who actually started to break down and started crying, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, please don’t let me cry at work,’ and then the floodgates just opened. She started crying – people were just so supportive and we just had a really honest conversation about the stresses and issues students deal with outside of being students. … I think, from that class, I’ve realized how important it is to just check in with my students and tell them, “If you need a mental health day, I get it.” Sometimes you just can’t be here because there are other things going on. … I feel like after that, people were more active in class because it was like a new little community. So that was the most memorable moment I’ve had as an educator, just realizing the power of creating safe spaces.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Getting out of graduate school with my degree. That is for me, personally and professionally, my greatest accomplishment because I was not sure that I was going to make it out. Since I did go through school without a break, and I really was not quite sure if I was going to be able to finish everything and be healthy – mentally and physically – it took a lot of a toll on me just trying to accomplish that because I was working here, too, when I was finishing. So, teaching and finishing was a huge accomplishment. I literally went and defended my thesis and got in the car – because I went to school in New York – and drove home, woke up early the next day and taught an 8:30 class.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

I’ve lived in different places in the United States and outside in my lifetime. I don’t really talk as much at this age about my cultural background. My parents are originally from a small island in the Caribbean called Dominica. That’s where I was going back and forth when I was a little child until I was about kindergarten age. A lot of people – even people in my own family – don’t know that I used to live down there with my grandparents because I was there from age two to age five, but my first memories are from down there.

What is your advice for students?

Yes, you’re here for school. It’s definitely your goal to get an education. But do not forget that you are a human being, also. Your school work is important, but it’s not the most important thing. I had to have someone explain that to me when I was in college and in graduate school. It’s funny because it’s something that sounds like common sense, but we get so focused on working or getting your education or being in school that we forget that you’re a person that needs certain things. … Don’t do things because you feel like you have to. … Put yourself first. Make sure that’s good, then start working on your priorities and responsibilities.

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