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Diamanté Jamison, '16

By UO Student Lili Wagner

“I’m a first generation black student so my understanding of college is different than a lot of other students. I have to think about different things,” Diamanté Jamison says. Jamison, a senior at the University of Oregon who has worked three jobs throughout his undergraduate experience, can expect to see some of this awareness and work pay off in June when he walks across a stage in Matthew Knight Arena to accept a piece of paper that will formally make him the first student in his family to earn an undergraduate degree.

But Jamison isn’t content with just that. “My plan after I graduate is to continue educating myself. I’m interested in dual degree programs. I want to get a JD and potentially a PhD to open more opportunities for myself.”

It is this dedication to education that has defined Jamison’s career at the University of Oregon, both in his academic achievements and extracurricular efforts.

“I work off campus, I have a work study job, and I mentor students at a local high school,” Jamison says.

The mentoring program he works with, Pipeline to Higher Learning, works to counter “pipeline to prison” policies, educational practices that push at-risk children into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, to close the achievement gap for minority and low-income students and increase diversity in academia.

Meanwhile, Jamison advocates for black students on campus through his role with the Black Student Task Force.

“The Black Student Task Force works to hold the institution accountable to the needs of black students. It’s a position as a liaison between the black student population and administration,” he explains.

In November, the Black Student Task Force, in solidarity with black students at the UO, published an open list of demands to the university administration. These 12 demands are intended to create and continually foster a healthy and positive campus climate for black students. These demands included requests to change the names of buildings on campus whose namesakes are affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan, integrate Introduction to Ethnic Studies (ES 101) as a universal graduation requirement, and increase efforts to hire black faculty members.

In addition to balancing the course loads of two majors (in the disciplines of history and ethnic studies), three jobs, and a commitment to the Black Student Task Force, Jamison was named a McNair Scholar in 2015. The McNair Scholars Program prepares high achieving first-generation undergraduate students for graduate work by providing opportunities for intensive research. Along with 14 other students at the UO who are pursuing research in fields as diverse as biochemistry and history, Jamison recently presented his project, “Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.: The Vanishing Point of Two Black Streams of Consciousness,” at a research symposium.

“I was familiar with both leaders and I knew there was more to them than the portrayals that are being fed to the public. There was a conversation that wasn’t being had, an unfinished conversation. As you can see from my title, there’s a point in their final years where their political thought converges,” Jamison explains. His research seeks to dismantle the popular narrative of the two leaders as antagonistic through careful analysis of the rhetoric of both men in their later years.

Jamison suggests that the narratives have been simplified. For instance, he says, Martin Luther King said that his dream had turned into a nightmare because it was “old optimism” and “a little superficial” and needed to be mitigated with what he called “solid realism.” “What is that saying about his political thought and what we have been told to remember from it?” Jamison says.

He continues, “Malcom X is often just used as a point of comparison for Martin Luther King. His contributions need to be better explored. Later in his life after breaking with the Nation of Islam, he went on to form [Muslim Mosque Inc.] and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He saw the American political system as an opportunity for blacks to gain their rights as he expressed in his ‘ballot or bullet’ speech. More importantly, Malcolm X had introduced a sense of pride in African American heritage that still resonates today.”

He places his work in the context of a burgeoning effort to intervene in scholarly discourse.

“The narrative needs to be changed,” he says. “The division happened after their lives. The reality is that to pick one of them is to pick both of them.”

“I plan to get this published as a part of an effort to get that information out there, which is especially important in this moment,” Jamison says. He contends that the implications of this research are especially relevant to current political discourse.

Jamison seems to embody the university’s motto: Mens agitat molem, often translated as, “Mind moves the mass.” He works to apply his education to foster discussion and influence change, a noble effort he’ll continue through his doctorate of philosophy research and law school.