Photo courtesy of USM Photo Bank

By: Kate Rogers, Staff Writer

Professor Leroy Rowe has been teaching African American history at USM since 2012. Not only does he bring important course topics to the table, but he is an active faculty member at USM, contributing greatly to USM’s journey towards reaching its full potential.

Originally from Jamaica, Rowe came to Brooklyn, New York at 17. He wasn’t there for long. “My mother didn’t like the idea of growing a young black male in Brooklyn,” he said, “so she moved.” He finished high school in Plainfield, New Jersey, and then got into Lincoln University in Missouri on a track scholarship. He finished his undergraduate degree there and went on to get his master’s and Ph.D. in history at the University of Missouri.

During his undergrad, Rowe said he was interested in Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, wanting to write a book on Hamilton’s childhood in the West Indies. That never happened and instead he became immersed in African American history, deciding to make that his main focus.

When he began applying for jobs, he and his wife decided they wanted to be back East where they had family. He landed in Maine because the job at USM would allow him to teach what he wanted and develop courses in his expertise. Since being at USM, many things have reinforced his decision to come to Portland.

Rowe praised his department, noting its supportiveness and its professors’  ability to work together well. The best thing though, he said, was his experience in the classroom.

“What I’ve enjoyed particularly most about here is that I get students in my classroom…who have never been engaged with the subject matters before, who have never taken African American history, but are motivated by what they see in the news, what they see in the papers, what they hear on social media…and want to know more…There is a lack of knowledge but a willingness to learn,” Rowe said. He said that he is motivated by this attitude from his students.

He is also encouraged by the fact that he sees students come back and take more of his classes. “You’re doing something well when you continue to have the same students come back and when you see your evaluation where students are pointing out that they have been enlightened,” he said. This is one of the main things Rowe tries to do in his classroom. Instead of trying to pass things on to students, he said, “I give students the pathway to be enlightened. I try my best to create conditions and to present materials where students can understand how and why we are where we are today.”

Alongside teaching, Rowe has served as the co-chair of the intercultural diversity council, and on the advisory board for the African American Collection of Maine at the Sampson Center. He was one of the two faculty members who proposed this year’s theme for convocation, race and participatory democracy.

On the subject of convocation and USM’s efforts to be more inclusive and diverse, he said that he does not think USM is where it needs to or should be. However, the university has an administration that is paying attention and being more responsive. Much of the credit also needs to be given, as he said, to “a dynamic student body who have been pretty engaged, who have called faculty members, staff, administrators and fellow students out on a lot of issues on which they have failed.”

Rowe credited convocation as a something that “can lead to greater understanding, and for us to be more patient with each other and to be willing to listen to one another, and to actually speak truths to one another in a way that is free, and also we can grow together.” He believes that if USM can do these things, the university will eventually end up in the right place.

Recently, USM has started a race and ethnics minor, and Rowe is hoping to help grow that into a major. If it becomes a major, and with the support of the history department, he believes that USM will be able to hire more people who teach courses similar to what he teaches and that USM will continue to become more diverse, not only in the student body but in the faculty as well.

“Having faculty of color is one of the ways in which this institution will continue to grow and be more attractive to a diverse student body,” Rowe said.

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