I sat down to interview senior Epiphany Adams, future MSW psychologist in social work. She spoke on her legacy here at the University that has led to her bright future as a practicing therapist. Where yet, she doesn’t know, but she will be continuing her degree at the University of Buffalo after commencement. Looking back, she has much to share from her past four years. 

Quotes have been edited lightly for clarity and adherence to CT style. As a disclaimer, there are references to suicide within this interview.

What are three words that best describe you?

Passionate, vibrant, and blunt.

What is your major?

Psychology.

Why?

I saw the way my mom — in high school —  suffered in silence, and then it made me hyper aware of how a lot of Black and Hispanic people suffer in silence. The stigmas around mental health, stigmas that the society places, but that we also place on ourselves, and also just like having my own experience of trying to commit suicide, and being in a psychiatric ward, seeing how fucked up the psychiatric ward is, and all of that together made me want to be a therapist. 

Adams has formerly struggled with mental health, which has not only disproportionately affected her own family, but also her community. As a Harlem resident raised and born, she saw the negative effects that uprooted children and families in mental hospitals across New York City.  

I was like, “I have to be a therapist because one, I don’t want to see any more Black and Hispanic children in psych wards […] I don’t want to see anybody suffering in silence anymore […] Black men are the number one people to commit suicide, especially violently, so I don’t want to see that anymore. I want to make a change, starting with being a therapist, eventually going into policy, if possible, but if I can help one patient, I know I can help a thousand other people. So, that’s why I wanted to do psychology.

What clubs or organizations are you a part of? 

That’s a very interesting question, because as of now, I’m not a part of any clubs anymore. So I would say officially, I am still a Student Alumni Ambassador, and I’m a tour guide, but we call that the Meridian Society, formerly, as of April 8, 4:00 p.m. I was President of the Minority Student Advisory Board (MSAB), but yeah, I was always and forever a general member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

Could you go into that a little more?

I actually came into [the University] with STEM in mind. I did a lot of STEM [and] a lot of Black people in STEM advocacy in high school. I already knew I was an advocate, I just didn’t know where, because for one reason, I also did not originally start with psychology was because my AP Calc teacher told me I was too emotional, and that I should do something else, something more STEM-related, which is why I ended up doing STEM. It clearly ended up not fitting the design because I ended up doing psychology anyways. 

She was “too emotional.” Her favorite teacher, taken from her best subject, told her words that would redirect her studies from psychology, to sciences, then back to psychology. Despite the fact she excels in most, if not all areas of science, Adams took to psych. Those words, however haunting, were necessary for her to continue on her path. 

I came in and joined [NSBE] as a first year representative, as a continued advocacy for Black people in STEM, and later, I ended up being an academic excellence chair for Black engineers, advocating more for academic excellence in STEM, which not forced me, but encouraged me to become a Calculus tutor later on, and I’m still a Calculus tutor and I’m still a TA for Calculus, so there is that. But ironically, being an advocate for engineering didn’t fit me. Like, I knew I wanted to advocate, but I didn’t know how or what it would be. 

I wanted to advocate generally, so I ended up finding the Minority Student Advisory Board, and became secretary. Fun fact: when I was supposed to become vice president for NSBE, and I realized a lot of what MSAB did was advocating for the general problems for underrepresented minorities on the University of Rochester campus, and that fueled me. I was invited to do protests, I was invited to speak up — not a lot though — and to speak at protests, talk to deans, being able to talk to the provost, to the president, like all of those experiences made me realize I’m not only a strong advocate, but I’m a great speaker. And in those positions I also became a resident advisor, a TA, and a tutor. And in those experiences as well, besides from being part of the MSAB and NSBE, I always found people coming to me. 

Ironically, I was told a lot that I’m very blunt, I’m intimidating, but a lot of people also proved that wrong because I found people coming to me [not just] for tutoring and academics, but for personal stuff, and I realized “No, regardless of my emotional attachment […] I could get really good at this.”

And, you can handle it. 

Being able to have those mini experiences, plus the advocacy from MSAB, really made me decide I’m going to be a therapist full on, which switched my whole major to Psychology. So, I was able to accomplish a lot being a secretary and then, evidently, being a president for two years for the MSAB-like, increasing student scholarships for the minorities, helping with the housing situation — can’t reveal a lot about it — but I’ve been helping with that, taking out hidden fees from our financial aid, so luckily like, they increased the tuition, y’all will see a decrease in what you have to pay for now, because of those hidden fees. 

Adding more people of color into UCC was a big initiative of mine, so being able to see a lot of my accomplishments, and being able to see that, and providing more money and more support for underrepresented minorities of this campus, I was able to accomplish that all by myself, actually. I was at all those meetings, I was talking to everyone and I never code switched throughout it all, I was my authentic self throughout it all, and it worked. It truly worked. 

And, I almost forgot the most important one of all time. The most important one of all time, which is literally the reason why I go to the University of Rochester, is being a Douglass Leadership House (DLH) Leader. Honestly, like, that’s the reason why I came to the University of Rochester, was because I was hosted by [alum] Talia English, who went to my high school. […] If it was not for the DLH, I would not be in any of these positions I have. I would not have been exposed to the impact I could make. 

I oftentimes find myself forgetting that I am a Douglass Leader because it’s just naturally in me, and I expect people to kind of know it, because a lot of the initiative on campus is because of DLH and MSAB, and BSU. If not for the DLH, I do not think I would be as grown as I am. Even my mentors, even my friends: DLH members. My mentor is the first secretary of the DLH, man. So being a Douglass Leader has humbled me in many ways, but it’s also lifted me up in many ways. if it was not for the Douglass Leadership House, if it didn’t exist, I would not be as great as I am. I love that house, I would die for that house, I would do anything for that house. So that is the most important part. I love MSAB, but MSAB and DLH are tied. Like I love them, they’re my babies. Now I’m considered the aunty of, like the Mama of DLH, and now I’m going to become the Grandma, the alum, of the DLH. I’m going to say I lived in the DLH, and I ended in the DLH. I came, went to the DLH, and [ended] in the DLH.

There are two weeks left. What do you plan to do with your remaining time? 

There’s a song called Finale (Can’t Wait to See What You Do) by AJR […] the first line into the song is something about coming outside, because I’ve already been on the inside enough. 

I felt like I was so involved in like everything and my responsibilities, whether fumbling, and stumbling, and fucking up sometimes, I didn’t hang out with my friends that often. But I’m thankful to have been in these positions having them help me grow and know what friends I want. So, I think in these last two weeks, I’m going to just hang out with my friends. Hang out with my friends, chill out, and I’m really glad I transitioned out of being MSAB President early. 

Miraculously, Adams has taken the courtesy to offer so much of her generous contributions to the school, that she has not given herself time off. From being MSAB President, to being a DLH Leader, she has officially decided to retire from her former responsibilities, and spend the rest of her last year with friends and family in the Douglass Leadership House. 

I transitioned out April 8, literally April 8, 4 p.m. I transitioned out and it worked to my benefit, because I don’t have to worry about saving the school anymore. I left it in good hands. I left it in somebody’s hands, and I trust them […] I’m just going to spend this time being in the present, because I feel like I was stuck in the future, that I didn’t have the chance to be in the present; But now that I do, I’m just going to have fun with my friends. Indulge in watching videos again. I can come outside, and enjoy the fresh air.”

Editor’s Note (4/25/23): The degree Adams is pursuing post-grad has been changed to an MSW rather than an MD.



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