Commencement Profile: ECSF Alumna Darnisa Amante

The following article appears in the Summer 2006 issue of Brandeis University Magazine.

Darnisa Amante insists she's not superstitious. But, she says, "For me, everything that is meant to be comes in threes." That includes her forays into experiential learning, one of the elements she savors most about her Brandeis experience. One: A summer teaching history and cartooning to largely black low-income middle-schoolers in San Francisco. Two: a summer in South Africa on a Brandeis Ethics Center Student Fellowship. Three: a summer spent in Senegal on a study-abroad program.

Together, those experiences translated into a master's thesis and a drive to transform the lives of African-American children.

Amante, a native of Brooklyn, New York, graduated with a bachelor's/master's in anthropology and a bachelor's in history with a minor in French, placing on the Dean's List for five semesters. She loved her classes and life on campus too much to travel abroad during the academic year, she says, so instead she spent her summers on the go. On an Ethics and Coexistence Student Fellowship through the university's International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, she spent ten weeks in 2004 at an art studio in Johannesburg, South Africa, documenting how art processes serve as a medium for engaging social change. She spent weekends interning at a paper company that promotes economic development in poor, ex-urban areas.

At the studio, called Artist Proof, she noticed the bulk of artists were men who were struggling to pursue their passion yet maintain a masculine image in a society that expects men to be primary breadwinners. "The men opened up to me because they felt different in their society and saw me as different too because I'm not South African, so I think that they felt their feelings were safe with me," says Amante.

So she performed a second study, exploring men's conceptions of what it means to be a black artist in South Africa. The gender study evolved into her master's thesis. She also returned to Africa the following summer on a study-abroad program in Senegal.

"Anthropology is the study of the other," says Amante, "but to me being in Africa taught me so much about me, about being an African American versus an African." She hopes to translate her experiences and that understanding into fostering a better sense of identity and promoting leadership skills among black American youth through nonprofit work.

Politically active on campus, she served as a Roosevelt fellow, mentoring first-year students in their academic and personal acclimation to Brandeis. She helped found the campus improvisational comedy group and is a student representative to the Board of Trustees.

She also pushed for greater diversity at Brandeis and beyond. Through the Board of Trustees, she championed expanding the university's nondiscrimination policy to include transgendered students and adjusted the budget for the student activity fee so that a greater diversity of student organizations receives more funding. She was a Mosaic Ambassador for Diversity, facilitating discussions on race, class, and gender on campus, and directed political affairs for the Brandeis Black Student Organization.

Lastly, as a Posse Leadership Scholar — recipient of a full-tuition scholarship for exceptional student leaders from from urban public high schools — she meets regularly with other Posse students to discuss everything from minorities on campus to their common goal of giving back.

Amante is now working on her next set of three — a trio of goals that will make her career fall into place. She's searching for a nonprofit job that would allow her to work with African-American kids. In the fall, she'll apply for a Fulbright scholarship to return to Johannesburg for a follow-up study at Artist Proof. And, in time, she'll seek a doctorate in anthropology and enter academia.