Like many of her peers at U-M, Ashley Hayes came to the University in hopes of finding her life’s passion. Unlike some of her peers, she actually found it.
Hayes is from Southfield, Michigan and started her journey at the university undecided. After getting denied from the Organizational studies program, she chose to major with the Department of Afroamerican and African studies (DAAS) since the majority of her courses up to that point were in DAAS anyway.
“I just declared an area that I wanted to expand my knowledge of, because it’s one thing to be a Black person and another thing to be learning about Blackness in a different way or in a diasporic sense,” she said in an interview. “I’ve always wanted to learn more about the African american experience in being able to articulate the experience, not to other people but to understand what it meant to be Black for myself in a way that looked beyond my own experiences.”
She soon conjoined this major with a minor in education for empowerment in the School of Education, hoping that the two would work together to help her better understand her own experiences in education as well as the American education system as a whole. After deciding her major and minor, Hayes took full advantage of what DAAS had to offer and fully immersed herself in the community.
Hayes completed her senior capstone and took on the role of joining the DAAS as an undergraduate student serving with DAAS at 50 committee but not, she insisted, without the help of DAAS’s staff and faculty.
With her senior capstone, Hayes gained the mentorship of DAAS professor Dr. Stephen Ward.
“We meet and talk on a regular basis, he’s just a wonderful professor who has definitely helped me to see more of myself and the work that I do and brought a new perspective to what it meant to teach and to love what you do and to be there for the people that you’re here to serve.”
With her role as a research assistant on DAAS at 50 committee, Hayes recounted her excitement with the opportunity to talk to various DAAS alumni.
“So far I’ve worked on three oral history interviews with Dr. Julius Scott, Devon Keen, and Andre Brown Jr. and Ja'Nei Talley… my role is basically to transcribe their oral histories to make sure that the words are accurately reflected in the transcription as posted with their video and it’s organized well enough for anyone who wants to read as they watch and listen,” she continued. “It’s such an honor and a privilege for me to be in a room with leaders and administrators in DAAS and to be able to represent students… It’s been exciting to hear people’s stories and to see where they lie in the legacy of DAAS, and how I’m positioned in that legacy too.”
The people, Hayes said, are what makes DAAS the safe and stimulating community that it is today. She remembers attending a DAAS open house for courses that solidified the fact that in her undergraduate experience, DAAS was where she was meant to be. And this passion and comfort is something that Hayes wishes all Black students could experience.
“Something I appreciated with the department is being able to connect with professors in a way that felt comfortable and that felt like home… I really wish more Black students nowadays connected with DAAS in a way that would be a safe haven and a community that’s a hub for connecting to other Black spaces on campus,” Hayes added. “Witnessing (DAAS professors’) love for their area of study ignites my fire and love for DAAS as well.”
In describing her love of DAAS courses, Hayes acknowledged a common hesitancy that some students have about DAAS courses as well.
“Just yesterday I saw a student in a GroupMe ask ‘are there any happy DAAS classes because most of the ones i’m seeing on the course guide are saddening or depressing, and I don’t know if I wanna take any of those classes right now,’” she said. “I shared with her that African American classes can definitely be difficult to experience — our stories and our histories aren’t necessarily always happy moments, but it’s necessary to understand the full picture and to always come to class with an open mind to learn things from a new perspective because even though there’s so much we can be sad and depressed about, there’s also so many things that we can be happy and proud of and show that we’ve been victorious over so many things... While we are not the same people as we were 400 years ago, we are still here and to have more knowledge and access to technology, to me, is a beautiful thing.”
As her passion for DAAS continued to grow over the years, so did her certainty on a career. Hayes aspires to someday become the president of a university — she hopes the University of Michigan — and she’ll be taking the next steps toward her dream at Indiana University.
“I’m going to be attending graduate school at Indiana University - Bloomington where I’ll be pursuing a doctorate in African American and African diaspora studies. DAAS definitely shaped my experience so much so that I want to continue learning about it at a higher level,” Hayes said. “I’m very excited for that opportunity, I talked to professors at DAAS about it, Dr. Ward of course, Dr. Matthew Countryman, and Dr. Earl Lewis. I’m so thankful for the relationships and the lessons and the moments that they took… to challenge me to keep going through my time at Michigan, because there were definitely times where I wanted to leave college, and I just felt like it wasn’t for me or that it wasn’t going to work out anymore, and to now be going to a doctoral program to further study the things that matter so much to me, it’s such a privilege that I’m thankful to be able to have.”
Coming into college, students are often given the same piece of advice from former students: “Get as involved as possible.” Hayes is living proof that when you take this advice to heart, you not only unlock a world of possibilities and opportunities for your future, but you also make meaningful connections with people who can guide you to fulfilling your dreams.
“I’m thankful for Dr. Countryman for giving me the opportunity to be a research assistant with DAAS, I’m thankful for the people that helped me like Mr. Matthew Washington who helped me tremendously not just in DAAS but for getting through my college career, in for DAAS just for existing, Ms. Elizabeth James, and everyone in the office that was instrumental for giving me the experience that I had and to be able to say that DAAS was my home for undergrad”