Ernesta Cole is a Masters in International and Regional Studies student with an African Studies specialization. Cole participated in this year’s Rackham King Talks on January 26th and shared her indigenous language research on Sierra Leone. The theme for the 2023 MLK Symposium was: “The (R)evolution of MLK: From Segregation to Elevation.” The African Studies Center (ASC) staff interviewed Cole to ask about her experience participating in the event.

How was the experience of being a part of the 2023 Rackham King Talks?

It was amazing! I loved the entire process and looking back, I can’t believe it was three months long. It felt so much shorter at the time. The entire team was very supportive and fun to be around. Paul Artale and the two mentors, Chloe Luyet and Aya Waller-Bey, were so incredibly helpful throughout the process. It was also a joy getting to know the other speakers and learning about their interests and research areas. The ways I learned to interpret and communicate my own research developed; giving a speech is very different than writing a thesis. Without the King Talks and the opportunity to meet the people I met through it, I would not be as confident in public speaking as I am now.

In which ways does your topic, “Indigenous Languages in Sierra Leone,” align with this year's theme of “The (R)evolution of MLK: From Segregation to Elevation?” What would you like to share as the main takeaways from your KingTalk?

I would say that the main way my topic aligns with this year's theme is centered around diversifying what we currently think is standard in academics. My topic was focused on how language plays a role in this but on a wider scale. I believe we should constantly be reanalyzing what is being pushed as canon and who and what is being left out. This process would routinely reconfigure education systems and student learning within the structures. Dr. King said that “Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society.” For a learning system to be more than just efficient, for it to be robust and holistic, diversity is essential.

Is your talk related to your research being done through your MIRS program?

Yes, it is! My talk shared a little bit about the data collection I started in the summer of 2022 through MIRS. The research is also the content of my thesis that has been supported through the MIRS program, as well as through other courses in other departments, especially in the Anthropology/Linguistic Anthropology departments.

Do you have any plans on implementing any of your research on social and linguistic effects once you graduate?

Yes, definitely! I will be continuing this research through PhD, specifically collecting data from Sierra Leonean students since the current survey was collected from Sierra Leonean professors, authors, and academic administrators. Another one of my long-term goals is to publish textbooks in Sierra Leonean languages so that students in the future would no longer have to compare their self-worth with standards that did not have them in mind.