Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) students will soon see Dr. Melanye Price – an alumna and newly named endowed professor – on campus when she returns to the historically Black university this spring.
Appointed by PVAMU president Dr. Ruth Simmons, Price will serve as Endowed Professor of Political Science and principal investigator for the university’s Mellon Foundation African American Studies Initiative. Price’s appointment marks a defining moment in her career as she returns to the institution that not only sparked her scholastic calling, but is on the verge of redefining what it means to teach African American Studies.
“I was formed into a scholar at Prairie View. My world was expanded there,” Price told Diverse in an interview. “The opportunity to do that for kids who come directly from the same communities as I came from, who graduated from the same high school I came from, who are so familiar to me … I feel like I’m keeping the legacy of the faculty who were there when I was there. It’s a huge responsibility, but I think it will be so rewarding.”
Price, a 1995 graduate of Prairie View, admits that she did not know if returning to serve at her alma mater would be possible. When the opportunity presented itself, “I knew I had to” take it, she said.
As principal investigator for the university-wide project titled “Enhancing the Humanities at PVAMU through an African-American Studies Program Initiative,” Price will bring influential thinkers, strategists, department chairs and alumni to campus to discuss what the university already has to offer and where the university can expand to become a “viable” program and model for others, she said.
The scholar will work with other officials to examine the university’s curriculum; elevate courses that highlight scholarship on the African Diaspora and African-American history and politics; figure out ways to get more students to enroll in existing courses; and notably, design courses for students to examine African-American connections to the sciences.
With this initiative, PVAMU leaders want students to leave knowing that “Black people’s fingerprints are on everything,” Price said.
Price comes to Prairie View from Rutgers University-New Brunswick, where she was associate professor of Africana Studies and political science. Her appointment follows Dr. Fred A. Bonner II, another former Rutgers faculty member, who was lured to the Texas school in 2014. Both appointments highlight a growing phenomenon of HBCU’s recruiting faculty from predominantly White institutions.
Price is a leading scholar, author and commentator on Black politics, public opinion, social movements and political rhetoric and psychology. She is the author of Dreaming Blackness: Black Nationalism and African American Public Opinion and The Race Whisperer: Barack Obama and the Political Uses of Race.
Her new project, “Mountaintop Removal: Martin Luther King, Trump and the Racial Mountain,” examines Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Mountaintop Speech” as a frame to understand the rise of President Trump and the 2016 presidential election, according to an announcement on Price’s appointment.
Prior to Rutgers, Price taught at Wesleyan University and was an inaugural professor in the university’s College in Prison Program at Cheshire Correctional Facility. She received her bachelor’s degree in geography from PVAMU and her master’s and Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University with a specialization in American politics.
The significance of Price’s return to Prairie View is all the more special because her two younger cousins currently attend the institution, the Houston native said, adding that she looks forward to seeing, watching and encouraging them throughout their day. In addition to her cousins, Price’s niece, nephew, nephew’s wife and twin sister have also attended the HBCU.
“This school is in our family,” she said. “We’re trying to keep people in the family going there.”
Going forward, Price hopes to instill in her students a confidence in their abilities as graduates from Prairie View A&M. Such investment is the same she said she received as an undergraduate who was lucky to be mentored by Dr. Jewel Prestage, the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in political science.
Prestage “never met a kid who couldn’t do it. She didn’t have a ‘weed out’ process. She made community for us,” Price said. “I want to be that for other kids.”
“I want our students to know that there will be many people who have not heard of us” or will count them out because they are from an HBCU, Price continued. “I have walked and taught and done research with people from the most important institutions in this country, and I was not the weak link on the team. I want other kids to experience that.”
Price’s administrative duties will begin this spring and her teaching duties will start in the fall.
“This is special because these kids are me,” she said. “I’m going home to a school that is so important to me and I’m going home to a family that is so important to me.”
Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.