Interview: Miss Spelman College 2019-20, Tangela Mitchell

Miss Spelman College 2019-20, Tangela Mitchell, is someone I first came to know during my time in high school. We both went to Cumberland International Early College High School in Fayetteville, NC — whom she’s a native of. Over the years, I became acquainted with her through classes, my brief stint in Speech and Debate (not as strong a speaker as she is — she’s amazing!), and events that occurred outside of school. Ever since then, she’s made a huge imprint on me. I think what I admired most about her was her tenacity and that no matter what, she was utterly and unapologetically herself. I don’t think I’ve known anybody else who’s soul and heart burns as brightly as hers does. Tangela is excellence personified in every way; she’s intelligent, strong, kind, talented, etc. Basically any positive adjective you can think of, she’s that. I actually remember asking her to take my place and do my graduation speech. I felt, and I still do to this day, that she would have given the most uplifting and genuine speech to our graduating class. Tangela speaks with such thoughtfulness and care. Words carry so much weight and she knows how to navigate through them to create speeches, poetry, etc. that resonate, touch, and empower you. And so, when I finally had the platform to conduct an interview with her, I jumped at the opportunity. We discussed topics like her experiences at Spelman, her time studying abroad, her influences, her writing, and everything in-between. I hope that you all enjoy this interview as much as I did and get to see why I admire her so much.

 

EH: How did you feel when you received your acceptance letter from Spelman? And what inspired you to want to go to Spelman College?

TM: Receiving my acceptance letter to Spelman felt like the culmination of years of hard work, prayer, anxiousness, and determination. I got my letter on December 26th, 2015, so it was very much so the best Christmas present ever. For two years, I had this razor-sharp focus on getting into Spelman, and when it actually happened, I was amazed at my own capacity to reach my goals. It was a very affirming moment for me.

 

EH: You recently became Miss Spelman College 2019-2020 (I already congratulated you personally, but congratulations again!). What are the responsibilities that come along with the role? Do you feel a strong sense of responsibility on campus and in your community? If so, in what ways?

Update: Tangela also just won the title of Miss HBCU! Congrats!

TM: Miss Spelman acts as an ambassador of the College. For the broader community, my job is to uphold and enhance the image of the College. This is done through appearances, speaking engagements, and other official College activities. For the Spelman community, my job is to carry out my platform through the enactment of initiatives, events, and demonstrations. I am to be a pillar of encouragement, inspiration, sisterhood, and service for my fellow Spelmanites.

EH: During your Miss Spelman College campaign, you mentioned your movement called the #ThePursuitofWholeness. Could you explain #ThePursuitofWholeness to the HerCampus community? And do you currently see your movement shifting perspectives and mindsets on the Spelman College campus?

TM: The Pursuit of Wholeness is about shifting Spelman’s campus culture. Here at Spelman, you have all of these goal-oriented, driven women, pursuing success in all the different ways they define it (academic excellence, job opportunities, internships, organizations, etc.) But too many times, in their pursuit of success, Spelman inexplicitly tells us there is a certain look and story and image that must come with that success. Through the Pursuit of Wholeness, I push against that and say: not only can you accept your whole self and story and still be successful, but accepting your whole self is the very key to meaningful success. This platform is about expanding the definition of what it means to be a Spelmanite, restoring it to its full, eclectic, and diverse splendor. It’s about celebrating the totality of who we are, refusing to box in our narratives, and letting our power empower others to do the same. That’s how you shift cultures.

EH: What does it mean to you to be a Spelmanite?

TM: To be a Spelmanite is to be a change agent. It is to be free-thinking and tolerable and unapologetic and engaged. It is to be concerned with the wellbeing of the marginalized. It is to be courageous. It is to be powerful and to know it. It is to demand space for oneself and others who have been denied it. It is to be excellent. It is to be explorative and curious. It is to be community-minded and driven.

 

EH: What are you majoring in at college? And what do you plan on doing with your degree?

TM: Political Science, with a double minor in Spanish and Creative Writing. Upon graduation, I want to work abroad for a year with a human rights organization, then return to the States to pursue my MFA in Poetry. In addition to being a poet, I ultimately want to work in politics, but I’m still carving out how I want that path to look.

 

EH: How did your experiences in Speech and Debate benefit you in college and within your major? 

TM: Man, how hasn’t Speech and Debate benefited me in college? Being comfortable speaking in front of a crowd has worked to an advantage in all aspects of my college life; presentations, interviews, pageants, etc. Particularly within my major, competing in the Original Oratory category all throughout high school taught me how to research. When you write 10-minute persuasive speeches for fun, you learn how to organize your argument and thoughts in a cohesive, interesting, and meaningful way. I also developed a value for credible sources and empirical evidence very early on. Those skills have translated to my essays and research in college.

 

EH: How was your experience studying abroad in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay? Did you experience any culture shock?

TM: It is so hard to sum up my study abroad experiences in just a few words, but I would say that studying abroad was transformative. In every way. My world view, my sense of self, my understanding of my own autonomy, my value of international community and relations- all were transformed in my time abroad. It was truly a life changing experience (that’s not just something they say on the pamphlets; study abroad really does change your life!).

 And girl, heck yes I experienced culture shock. Everyday there was some new wave of shock. Spending a semester based largely out of Argentina confronted me with a lot of issues directly linked to my race and gender. Simply put: ain’t too many black folks walking around Buenos Aires, and even less rocking afros and pink trench coats. I was constantly stared at, asked to take pictures (sometimes not even asked), and confronted with sexual advances from men. That all took some getting used to. Pair that with drinking tea all throughout the day, eating milanesa every other night, pure lecture style classes (Spelman would never!), and a 30 minute commute to school every morning, and you’ll find it fair to say that South America was as much an adjustment as it was an adventure. I’d do it all over again, though.

Photo credit: @issac.now (photo on left)

 

EH: What advice can you give to those considering taking a semester or summer abroad?

TM: Go for it! I think the biggest hindrance to people taking that plunge is fear. People think that because they are scared, they are not ready, and that when they are ready, they won’t be scared. That is so not true. I landed in Argentina thinking to myself, “What have I gotten myself into? A whole semester, really?” I could not wrap my head around my own decision. I had no point of reference for the decision I had just made, so I just had to live it out. I couldn’t wait for fear to move before I did, because the truth of the matter is, it won’t. You’ll have to move through the fear if you ever want to accomplish anything.         

Also, I would advise anyone going abroad to be flexible to the reality of your host country. You may spend the months leading up to your departure reading all you can about your host country (which you should do, as it will make your experience all the more enriching upon arrival),  but leave room for human connection and narrative sharing to inform you about that country, too. Engage with people in your host country on a substantial level. Ask them about themselves and their stories. I learned so much about South America and the DR through people just telling me about their lives. I got to see how the policies and historical events I learned about had affected the lives and viewpoints of the people of that country. That is the indispensable value of study abroad; it allows for human connection that underpins one’s coursework. Use it!

 

EH: You interned at Universal Pictures in Los, Angeles last summer. What did you learn from your experience? And what did your internship entail?

TM: In LA, I was a Global Brand Marketing Intern for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. My internship required me to work with movie trailers, approve reviews from movie critics for Universal’s use, detail the weekly sales of our films, update credits, etc.

One of the main things I learned is that I do not want to market films for a living. Like, at all. And that’s okay. I also learned that I can do pretty much anything I set my mind to. With no experience in film or marketing, I was still effective at my job and learned quickly. Additionally, I learned to just go with the flow, because while I don’t want to work in marketing, LA and Universal were still awesome to me and I’m grateful for the experience.

 

During your time in L.A., you appeared on a segment of The Late Late Show with James Corden. Just wanted to say you absolutely rocked that fit and appearance on the show. That's all.

Thank you so much, girl!

Tangela on The Late Late Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQQIZ_qNqsA

EH: Often there are guest speakers that come and speak to Spelman students on campus. Who were some of your favorite guest speakers? And what insights or advice did you learn from them?

TM: A common guest of the College is activist and scholar Ms. Angela Davis. She had a talk here on campus spring of my freshman year, and in true Angela fashion, she dropped gems the whole time, but I most potently remember her recounting of a story of her and some of her black women activist sisters protesting for the freedom of black men in the streets in the 70’s. There they stood, all women, with signs and chants that rang out “Free the Black man!”, and, so married to the black liberation movement, it never occurred to them to think about their own freedom, or why it wasn’t a mainstay on the black liberation agenda in the first place. Until it did. It was this negligence, both from black liberation movements and white feminist spaces, that led black women to birth a movement of their own, one where black women - our freedom, our stories, our bodies and our work- would be prioritized and celebrated. We, as a world, would benefit so much if we engaged more with black feminist scholarship. Everything from intersectionality, sustainability, the racist nature of capitalism, identity erasure, environmental racism, etc.; everything our generation is claiming to care about now, black feminists have grappled with in their writing for decades. Black feminism scholarship is the basis for the new wave, intersectional feminism that we are (finally) seeing in the mainstream. Ms. Davis’ talk reminded me of that legacy.

 

EH: What have you learned from your Spelman sisters as well as alumni that attended Spelman College?  

TM: My sisters remind me every day that what is understood, doesn’t have to be explained. When you are excellent, when you are amazing at what you do, your work speaks for you. There is a level of dignified modesty in not having to toot your own horn (but being more than ready to if someone tries to question you). Spelman alumnae teach to demand more for and from myself. The women of Spelman College are distinct; black women who will look to whoever and say “this is not enough for me. I deserve more.” That is so dope to me.

 

EH: What is the most instrumental thing that you have learned from a class and/or professor on campus?

TM: My Women’s Studies professor, Dr. Kristen Abatsis McHenry, explained to our class one day that privilege is a system of advantage and disadvantage and my life has never been the same. I couldn’t understand why people were so angered by the mention of privilege, why it was so impossible for some people to believe there are structural realities that place them at an advantage based on their identity. And it’s because people only view privilege as a system of advantage, when it is also one of disadvantage. Privilege is relative. You are considered privileged based on someone else’s hinderance. What is not a roadblock for you, is for someone else, and that is what puts you at an advantage. The simple fact that something doesn’t stop you makes it help you. Dr. McHenry explaining that so eloquently has helped me in my discussions regarding privilege with others and I am so grateful for that.

 

EH: What is it like to have inter-institutional relationships with Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College? And how have these relationships enriched your college experience?

TM: When done well, inter-institutional relationships with CAU and Morehouse can feel like you go to three schools, or at least have a space of belonging at three different schools. I can’t imagine how my college experience would have been without my Morehouse brothers and my Clark family; it definitely would have suffered. From study sessions to adventures in the city to summer internships, my time in college has been interwoven with students from all three institutions, and that level of community and camaraderie is truly a blessing.

   

 

EH: What issues are important to you? (Whether it be cultural, racial, economic, ecological, etc.)

TM: I’m really concerned with classism and the way it truly defines the trajectory of people’s lives. And what makes classism so violent, especially in the U.S., is our firm grasp on meritocracy as an American value. We really still believe that one’s socioeconomic status is tied to how hard one works. As if single mamas in the hood ain’t working hard. As if immigrant families ain’t working hard. As if women and men all over the country, who struggle to pay their bills, refuse to take sick days because they can’t afford it, are drowning in their own debt, are living paycheck to paycheck, ain’t working hard. What a privilege to be properly compensated for the work you do. Classism is just so rampant across racial, gender, and cultural lines, it is the foundation for many of the unchallenged beliefs that shape the way we view others, and I don’t think we talk about it enough.

EH: You never seem to have any bad days. But really, do you have bad days? If so, how do you overcome them and remain positive?

TM: Girl, yes! I have bad days. I have exhausted days, I have pissed off days, I have sad days, all of that. I think what helps me is that I have created a distinction in my brain between what I feel and the truth. My feelings, especially ones as fickle as sadness, anger, irritation, annoyance…are not who I am or what my life is. I am sad right now. My life is not sad. I am exhausted right now. My life is not exhaustion. Ya know? This way, I can process my emotions, let them run their course, without them defining me in an unhealthy way. I can get through that bad day and go on with my life.

 

EH: What authors have shaped your writing? And are there any of your own writings that you could sample and share with the HerCampus community?

TM: Oh my goodness, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Alice Walker, and Gwendolyn Brooks are masters. I have their poems hanging up on my walls. I’m like a 90’s fan girl, but instead of NSYNC posters, there’s poems sprawled across my dorm room. Their use of language is just immaculate. Pure excellence. And their voices are so strong in their work. I aim to be that way.

And yeah, man. I just wrote this one poem for class yesterday. I’d like to share it with y’all: 

 

love letter to the gauche.

 

to the wrinkled, the rowdy

 

the redundant and ridiculous

 

the dirty and disheveled

 

the spacey and sporadic.

 

you are both weird and worthy

 

no more barbarian than the rest of us.

 

enwrap yourself in all that ostracizes you

 

in stuttering shawls and fidgeting dresses

 

that which breeds side-eye and snicker.

 

it is this garment of inimitable fabric

 

that will free you and keep you that way.

 

force under foot all the names once pinned to you

 

until the weight of truth shatters them.

 

wear thick soled shoes

 

as to not waste blood nor tear

 

on that which does not

 

matter.

 

EH: What are your go-to karaoke songs?

TM: Overjoyed by Stevie Wonder, How Am I Supposed to Live Without You by Michael Bolton, and If I Ain’t Got You by Alicia Keys.

 

EH: When did your love for Whitney Houston begin? And how has she influenced you?

TM: I grew up listening to Whitney Houston’s music, so I have been a fan for as long as I can remember. Whitney taught me the importance of authenticity; as poised and elegant as she was, her spirit was always pure and grounded. That has always stood out to me.

 

EH: Your style is sick (and I mean that in the best possible way). What and/or who influences your style?

TM: Awe thank you so much! There isn’t a person or thing that I ever specifically looked to for pointers on fashion, but I was definitely subconsciously influenced by the black 80’s and 90’s sitcoms I would watch as a kid and teenager. I’m talking A Different World, The Cosby Show, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Living Single. These shows (which I still love) left a very vintage, Afrocentric mark on my fashion sense.

 

 

 

EH: What are your favorite Instagram handles to follow? And why?

TM: @artsyandblack and @lipseymichael. @artsyandblack posts a lot of high resolution, archival shots of black pop culture history and I’m a geek for stuff like that. Black fashion, music, advertisements, photography collections, all of it. @lipseymichael is the page of artist and epigrammatist, stoicmike. I really vibe with his work. It’s thought-provoking and clever and a little existentialist which I really dig.

 

EH: Are there any artists, musical or otherwise, that you would recommend to the HerCampus community?

TM: Musical artists: JMSN, Nao, and Allen Stone (his self-titled album is amazing).

 

EH: Why was it important for you to attend an HBCU? And how has Spelman changed your life?

TM: Wow, such good questions. Well, Historically Black Colleges and Universities are one of the relatively few institutions created for the development and success of black folks. These schools have changed the trajectories of the lives of millions of black people; they wanted us and defended us and protected us when no other institution did. We have created and nursed a vibrant culture at these schools, we have garnered social capital and networks at the schools, we have socially mobilized and brought others with us through these schools. I considered it an honor to be a part of that legacy. Also, representation matters and it does something to your psyche to be surrounded by black folks being and doing their best and getting rewarded for it.

And Spelman? Whew, chile. You know the crazy part? I could sit here and tell you all the amazing ways Spelman has changed my life; how I’ve made lifelong friends, how I’ve become a part of a phenomenal sisterhood, how I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone, how I’ve made true connections with my professors, how I’ve grown as a leader. But the thing about it is, I probably have yet to tap into half of the ways Spelman has changed my life. An alumna once said that Spelman is a gift you don’t really appreciate until you’re outside of its gates. I truly believe I will live my life unraveling the depth of the imprint Spelman has left on my existence and my heart. She will continue to bring people into my life, continue to put me in spaces I wouldn’t otherwise occupy, continue to teach me lessons I’d never think to learn. That’s just how she is. The gift that keeps on giving.

 

Tangela’s Interview with NBC News Think: Importance of HBCUs

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/video/america-s-hbcus-are-in-danger-if-we-lose-them-we-lose-the-american-ideal-of-education-69470277716

 

Instagram: @intangible.tangie