Kathy Roberts Forde is an associate professor, and former chair of Journalism here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This semester, she’s teaching "African American Freedom Struggle in the Press" and "Longform Narrative", both classes in the Journalism department.
Roberts Forde originally hails from the South — she was born in Morristown, Tennessee. One of four children, her family moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where the “excellent” school system set her on the college track.
After getting her undergrad degree at Sewanee University: The University of the South, in Tennessee, Roberts Forde moved on to teach middle and high school for ten years. It was during these years that she decided to do her master’s degree in English, and eventually her PhD, in order to have a college teaching career. Roberts Forde and her family eventually decided to move further up north, in order to give their daughter a more progressive education.
“We found UMass Amherst, they were looking for a chair of the department, we knew about Amherst as a great college town, and we have family in Boston — and it all just happened, and we’re all grateful,” Roberts Forde says.
Teaching and interacting with students is something that she genuinely enjoys; something that’s apparent to any student taking part in her classes. Said students, specifically, are what make her career at UMass Amherst so gratifying.
“It’s always about the students. It helps that we have these really nice facilities, and the resources to teach our students. But I think even if we were in an old building and we didn’t have those things, I think we would still do a really good job at teaching our students, because the faculty are strong, and the students come here generally very well prepared for college education, but also hungry,” Roberts Forde says.
“They teach me as much as I teach them and…it makes life rich,” she adds.
Among her personal heroes, Roberts Forde lists women and people of color “who have shown courage in standing up to the social and political systems that are unjust and unfair.” Among those people, she lists David Walker (who wrote the Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World), Ida B. Wells (a renowned black journalist who reported on lynchings in the South, and documented the racial injustice there), and “women trailblazer” Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
Perhaps inspired by these and many more people, Roberts Forde strives to tackle questions of the role of journalism in democracy, and the public good.
“I’m really passionate about thinking about how journalism can serve the public good, and democratic goods, and trying to understand how that can be. How does journalism help? How does it hurt across history, but in our own time? What does a good democracy look like? What is the public good in the first place? I’m just obsessed with those kinds of questions, and so that raises a lot of issues about thinking through what’s the public good, thinking about issues of all kinds of justice,” Roberts Forde says.
Both her teaching and her research have reflected this passion. Roberts Forde is currently working on a book about journalism and Jim Crow, which touches upon issues regarding how “white newspaper editors and publishers in the South built white supremacy”.
Roberts Forde is also highly motivated by her students; whose success is just as important to her as her own.
“I think I’m motivated by student learning and student success, like seeing students, and working with students in whatever it is they care about and want to do, and when they succeed it just makes me feel really, really good. I feel at least as good about their success as I feel about my own success,” she says.