In the Courtyard: Alumni Spotlight on Teah Hairston

Southern Studies graduates go on to do a wide variety of things, and Teah Hairston is no exception. Hairston’s primary role is as a research data specialist at the Board of State and Community Corrections in Sacramento, California, but that is just the beginning of her involvement in the community. As a research data specialist, she evaluates grant programs intended to help reduce incarceration and recidivism.

She is also the vice president of Safe Black Space, whose mission has been to “mobilize a growing collective of local practitioners, community members and activists, faith leaders, educators and others of African ancestry.” According to its website, Safe Black Space “provides culturally specific strategies and resources to help Black people heal from historical and current wounds, both individually and collectively.”

Additionally, Hairston is the vice president of Sacramento Area Congregations Together(ACT), whose mission is to “empower ordinary people to identify and change the conditions that create economic and racial injustice,” and she is program coordinator of Be Love Holistic Wellness, a program for Black women who have experienced pregnancy loss, early infant death, and infertility.

Her time at the Center has a large influence on her work at all of these places. “Myexperiences in Southern Studies influenced me to delve deeper into understanding the origins of Black pain, Black struggle, Black excellence, and Black resilience,” Hairston said. “Learning about the Deep South and the heavy influence Black people made on culture, capital, and the progress of this nation, in general—all while being mentally and physically killed, tortured, enslaved, dehumanized, mistreated, traumatized, etc., truly inspired me to explore our resilience and how we were able to survive and still be great! That eventually led me into the exploration of healing, which is how I got involved with Safe Black Space and why I created Be Love Holistic.”

While at the University of Mississippi, Hairston worked on a master’s thesis titled “Black Male Incarceration and the Preservation of Debilitating Habits of Judgment: An Examination of Mississippi” and earned her MA in Southern Studies in 2013. She used her research to discover how mass incarceration and other historical methods of racialized social control in the Southhave preserved and reinforced habits of judgment that adversely affect the social mobility of Black males in Mississippi. She located and analyzed recurring themes of habitual judgment patterns justifying age-old systems of social control and how those patterns have influenced the current trend of Black male incarceration at disproportionate rates.

She earned her BA from San Jose State University in psychology and African Americanstudies. After earning her Southern Studies MA, she taught at the University of Missouri, where she earned a second master’s degree and a doctorate. Although she does not teach anymore, she does facilitate workshops on Black mental health, Black maternal health, racial stress and trauma, and self-care for Black people, most of which are geared toward Black women.

“Southern Studies is such a great program because it is interdisciplinary,” Hairston said.

“There are so many directions one can go in academic inquiry just beginning with the South. I would encourage anyone considering the program to just start digging, and I bet studying the South will take them on a journey around the world!”

Written by Rebecca Lauck Cleary. A version of this article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of the Southern RegisterAre you a Southern Studies alum who would like to be featured In the Courtyard? Let us know!