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Undergraduates return to become the first Black alumni to teach at UW-Platteville in 10 years

Sakara Wages and Jeremy Payne

Two Black instructors at UW-Platteville are the first Black alumni to return in teaching positions in 10 years, the school confirmed.

Sakara Wages and Jeremy Payne both started their roles this year at UW-Platteville, making them the first two Black instructor alumni to teach in 10 years, Paul Erickson, director of communications at UW-Platteville, said. Both teach ethnic studies courses and, in addition to that, Payne teaches courses in race, gender and ethnicity in the U.S. 

Though this is Payne’s first year as an adjunct professor, he worked a similar role last year teaching race, gender and ethnicity in the U.S. the previous year. 

“It’s extremely surreal,” he said. “Even though I’m starting my second year go around and doing this thing it’s surreal in that when I think back to some of my earlier formative life experiences, it was a challenge to transition through college, to graduate and then to not only do it once but to do it twice and also now work on a third degree. It’s surreal. It’s truly a full circle to be in this position.”

Jeremy Payne

Payne is a two-time alumnus at UW-Platteville with an undergraduate degree in the health and wellness area and a master’s in education. Payne also started a Ph.D. program in education for social justice at the University of San Diego, but had to take a break from it and will return in the fall of 2021. 

Additionally, Payne works for the Urban League of Greater Madison as a secondary activity director and dual program coordinator. All while working from Mineral Point, Wisconsin.

“Because of COVID, I’ve been able to continue my Urban League work with the school districts virtually,” he said.

Wages graduated from UW-Platteville in 2017 and is currently a fourth-year Ph.D. student at UW-Madison. Wages’ studies are in social work, and in addition to lecturing at UW-Platteville, she is a teaching assistant at UW-Madison.

For Wages, coming back to UW-Platteville made sense for a number of reasons. 

“First off, when I started this journey, my dream was myopically to come back and be a tenured professor at UW-Platteville because I really enjoyed the environment. I enjoyed my time here. And my family is here. My mom is here, dad’s here, so I was like, ‘Platteville is going to be home,’” she said. Wages is originally from Chicago and over the years, her family slowly moved to Platteville.

“The second reason is I knew that during my Ph.D. it would be beneficial for me to come out with the degree and have had experience teaching my own courses,” she said. “So when I was offered the position, before graduating, I took it so I could get the experience.”

Payne returned to UW-Platteville to bring new perspectives.

“It was a no brainer to get back to Platteville, to get into these classrooms and bring a different flavor,” he said. “I wanna just really pour all of my spirit and my energy, and for all that has been poured into me, share that across our campus. That has always been my aspiration — to support the campus in different ways, not only through the classroom, but I’m [also] an advisor for our Black Student Union. And I am an independent community organizer, black community network.”

Sakara Wages

Payne and Wages, who have known each other for some time, were meeting when they discovered they were the first Black alumni to teach at UW-Platteville in 10 years.

“We were having conversations about how surreal it is to slow down and reflect on our personal journeys, to see how we were to get to this point,” Payne said. “UW-Platteville is a fairly small college and I started my journey with Platteville back in 2009. I’ve been around for the most part on-and-off ever since through 2020. We were thinking through all of our professors of color, and particularly Black professors, and we, through our collective knowledge, couldn’t think of anyone. We’re like, ‘Wow, how cool is that?’ We [were] undergraduate students who went on to earn their masters, work in different capacities and return back to serve as instructors for UW-Platteville and oddly enough, around the same time.”

It’s important for Payne to teach at Platteville because he can showcase a living example of positive outcomes for the campus.

“I take great pride in being a living example of the positive outcomes we hope for our campus community,” he said. “To be able to have resources and individuals across campus for support, to be able to go on to get these degrees, to get all of this knowledge and wisdom, and then bring it full circle. Getting on campus and serving in this capacity is a huge responsibility.”

In addition to that, Wages gets to be an example for her younger brother, Jordan, who is a senior at Platteville.

“To have the opportunity to be in the same space with him, while he is in college, and have the possibility to teach him in a visual capacity is just a dream come true,” she said.

Ultimately, Wages is proud of what she and Payne have achieved.

“I’m just really proud of us,” she said. “I’m proud of this work. I’m proud of this community.”