empowHER: Learning from Professor Katrina Sims

When going away for college, most students don’t ever expect to see professors outside of classrooms and office hours. However, first-year Hofstra University students can expect to see Professor Katrina Sims strolling through the dorm hallways. 

Professor Sims is a Faculty in Residence at Hofstra, on top of teaching classes and working on her own research project. 

Sims received her undergraduate degree in Religion and Philosophy at FAMU in Tallahassee, Florida, as well as her Master's. Sims then moved on to the University of Mississippi, where she received her Ph.D. in History. 

Professor Sims explains her course schedule as “a bit of a mixed bag.”

Sims began with teaching History Fundamentals and Investigating History until she “started to delve further into my passions which are African-American history and healthcare.”

According to the professor, she’s currently teaching “Why History Matters: Healthcare in the U.S., Women’s Health Reproduction.”

Excited about a new classroom concept, Sims added “I am also teaching this new class that I am absolutely in love with. Harlem 1919, which is a historical game. It’s learning about the question of leadership during the Harlem, what we now know as the renaissance, through competition. The students take on roles and they compete. So, it’s a really fun way of teaching African-American history.” 

Katrina Sims Posing With Students, Photo Courtesy of Katria Sims

Outside of the classroom, Professor Sims can be seen interacting with first-year students in the dormitories. She was given the official title of Faculty in Residence which she explains as being able “to provide our students who live on campus with some real hands-on, tangible access to our faculty.”

She further explained that “many of our first-year students are also first-gen students. Many of them are away from home for the first time, and so coming in contact with faculty can just be very daunting, a bit overwhelming. Having a Faculty in Residence is just a way that Hofstra University has tried to remove some of the barriers around faculty and students.” 

On the importance of having this position at the University, Sims discussed how “studies show that if students do not feel connected to faculty within the first year they are less likely to remain in the institution, and they’re less likely to be successful in their matriculation. We want everyone to graduate and want to boast that. So, Hofstra is really making sure that our students and our residents feel connected. It’s really just beginning to pull down some of those barriers, some of those psychological and real physical barriers that exist between our students.”

As for her own college experience, Sims says that she tells her students that "I would not have been successful in my undergraduate degree had it not been for my professors being in my face, whether that was challenging me to do more to speak up in class, to participate in research projects, to just get involved.”

Sims believes that “the Faculty in Residence program does the same thing right in their face… I know that I would not have been successful without it, and so for me, it was just like a no brainer in terms of what I see my role being in the institution. Yes a faculty member, but also just helping to shepherd and guide some of our First-Year Students through the process.”

Part of the Faculty in Residence program includes Sims dorming at Hofstra. Originally, she thought, “I was going to be a little overwhelmed, that it would be super busy- but it is energizing because everyone is just sort of moving around, being social, working in the lobby, in the lounge. I know of like it, I kind of feel like I’m a freshman all over again. I’m up late studying, well for me it’s grading papers or writing. So it is oddly energizing. I found it to be comforting and relaxing in a way that I just did not anticipate.”

Katrina Sims Posing With W. Houston Dougharty, Photo Courtesy of Katrina Sims

In this position, Sims attempts to influence the students “covertly… There’s so much newness coming at the students, whether it’s the subject matter, or the way that they’re learning- because learning at the collegiate level is completely different, trying to build new friendships, trying to find their place, there’s so much newness." 

Professor Sims has been trying to “be less ‘I’m here to help you, tell me what you need,’ and more of ‘hello, how are you?’ Then just seeing me, knowing that I’m around has been really good at the beginning of the process of building relationships.” 

Sims does not see herself as an additional RA or RD. “The Resident Director handles everything within the walls. I’m trying to pull them out of the wall by making it as comforting and as relaxing and non-threatening or overwhelming as possible. So, I try to break it down in really solid bite sizes that are palatable.”

Professor Sims opened up about her current research project, which is about “this really small, little hospital in the Mississippi Delta. I’m looking at black women’s healthcare activism broadly, so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time at the Schomburg Center, which is a fantastic resource.” 

She further explained her research by stating that “right now, it’s very much healthcare, looking at women’s healthcare activism, how individuals are moving to address their very specific human needs around issues of accessing healthcare resources.” 

Photo Courtesy of Katrina Sims

Professor Sims hopes her research is impactful by “giving a voice to the women who have been largely just ignored in the healthcare conversation, telling their stories. Many of these women I was able to interview, some of them have since passed, and I’m hoping that I’m just able to give a voice to the voiceless and it creates a space for them to really be included in a meaningful way.”

The original idea for Sims’ research was not the research she’s currently doing. Instead, Sims explains that “I was planning originally to write about the lynching of specifically black women and I thought, 'Okay, there have been several really good books the past year. Do I really want to try to take this on and compete with these fantastic books?' I was doing a drive through the Mississippi Delta with an advisor at the time, and we stopped in Mound Bayou. My undergraduate advisor, Dr. David Jackson, affectionately called Dr. J, had written this book that I remember reading of the Tuskegee machine, focusing on Charles Banks and economic upliftment in Mound Bayou.”  

Thrilled to “finally get to see the place that I’d heard so much about as an undergrad,” Sims explained that she “saw this abandoned building and it had a sign across the front. It said Taborian Hospital. I thought, everything I know about Mound Bayou, I had never heard of this hospital.” 

Immediately, she was hooked on learning more. “Just as the spark was lit, I was so interested. I started talking to people around the area and that’s when I realized there’s a story here. I was able to meet the family, and they had all these documents they let me sort of explore. They gave me free rein.” 

Sims was not originally clear of what she wanted her research to be, and she shared how her advisors told her “you’ll get a clearer picture with each day, with each document, of what you should really hone in on. I thought it would take years, I don’t have that amount of time, but it really is true. The moment you really just delve into your topic, it becomes so clear where those little gems are, and you really just have to follow them.” 

Thinking on her advisors' advice, “that’s when I realized how these women are present in this space in a way that no one else who’s done any real writing about the hospital has really acknowledged. They are present, and they’re active, and they’re moving in such a way that makes the mere existence of this facility and the maintenance of the facility possible.”

To bring her own passions into the classroom, the professor makes “it a requirement every single course that all of my students, in some way, engage in research. It’s so important. It can be overwhelming if you’re not familiar with the process, so I’m trying to remove some of that anxiety, some of that hesitancy to research by integrating it into the course structure in really small ways.”

Katrina Sims Posed with a Student, Photo Courtesy of Katrina Sims

Opening up about her own experiences with time management, Sims recollected about how she “struggled with the time management beast in grad school, and the one thing that I have learned is it’s really important for me to write and research in the way I feel comfortable. Some people have the ‘you should write 30 minutes a day, or you should write research for three hour blocks of time,’ but for me, I get the most meaningful writing done on my couch, with my poof, between the hours of usually 5 am and 9, or between the hours of midnight and 3.”

When encouraging her own students to become activists for the things they’re passionate about Sims explains that “the first thing I would say, and I say this often: set aside judgments. I think sometimes we come in with our own ideas about what’s wrong or right. Then, you get in a conversation or you become involved in an activist agenda or an advocacy group. Then they become a little disillusioned by the bureaucracy, or by the approach, or by the opinions or views that are not as liberal or progressive as theirs, and that can, for many, dampen their fires or spirits.”

Professor Sims concluded by saying “try to set aside personal expectations or judgments about how everyone is existing in that space, and then once they’re able to do that, I think they’re really able to find allies in that space and collaborate with people who have shared visions without necessarily just abandoning that space because their voices are needed. Part of the reason why that space is not as productive as they think it should be is because they remove their voices, and their voices need to be there.” 

An inspiring and influential woman in and out of the classroom, Professor Katrina Sims leads her students every day in a way that allows them to flourish and blossom as young professionals.