Thoughts on Theses: Jay Lassiter

Jay Lassiter ’23 is a senior double majoring in Black Studies and Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought. His thesis explores the ramifications of oppression within movements, with a specific focus on the Black Panther Party, which he has a familial connection to.

Q: What is your thesis about?

A: My thesis is about the effect of repression on individuals within a movement, and I am focusing on the Black Panther Party. My mother’s parents were both in the Black Panther Party, so I’m writing about how their lives were affected and how the people around them were affected by FBI repression.

Q: Why did you decide to write your thesis on this topic?

A: I wanted to do something that I’d be interested in. There are a lot of topics I would be interested in at first, that I would get bored with over a long period of time. I figured if I was writing about my own family it would be hard to get bored by that. One big upside has been that I get to talk a lot to my family. I’m also majoring in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought (LJST), so this is a good mix between what I’m learning. I’ve been able to ask a bunch of the Black Studies professors, such as Professor Loggins, Professor Bradley, Professor Vaughn, Professor Cobham-Sander, to help me write. I’ve been able to use some of the research tools, and even research classes, to help develop my thesis. I’m taking Law’s Classifications with Professor Brangan this semester where we had to write a research paper, which I’m able to use for my thesis, so finding a topic that’s been able to balance both my majors has been helpful.

Q: What has been the hardest part of writing your thesis so far?

A: The amount of reading I have to do in order to get anything written has been difficult. I would say I have to read 400 pages for every page I write. So it’s just an infinite amount of reading, and I’m not the fastest reader, so it’s been really time consuming. Also, literary reviews are difficult because I need to map out the geography of my topic and where to place my work alongside other pieces in the field. I took a class last fall, Research Black Studies, with Professor Cobham-Sander, and she was very helpful in starting this process, but it definitely takes a long time.

Q: What has the timeline for this project looked like?

A: Like I mentioned, I was in Research Black Studies last semester and that gave me a loose introduction for my thesis. My thesis right now is going to be three chapters, and I have the introduction done from that class. I’m about halfway through my first chapter and my goal is to have a completed first and second chapter by the end of the semester. And then hopefully, I’d be able to finish a third chapter and begin editing in the beginning of next semester. That will leave until April to finish editing.

Q: What was your favorite or most rewarding part of writing your thesis?

A: Some of the discussions I’ve had by interviewing my family members brought up things that I don’t usually talk to my family about. Some of it’s really sad and heavy; a lot of my topic I would say is very heavy generally, but getting to discuss some of these things with my family has been really interesting. For example, yesterday I interviewed my aunt who is a genealogist. Right now I’m writing about the history of Black men in the military and she was able to detail my whole family’s history in the military going back to the American Revolution. That was incredibly interesting, and just getting to learn more about my own family has been really interesting.

Q: Do you have any advice for students who are looking to start their thesis?

A: Getting to read as much as you can, as early as you can, was helpful for me. Developing a good relationship with your advisor has also been helpful. I feel like I’ve been lucky because, like I mentioned, I’ve had Professor Vaughn as my advisor, and he’s worked closely with me throughout my time at Amherst … I’m taking his thesis writing class right now, so I work a lot with him. And then I have two advisors beyond that in the Black Studies department, Professor Loggins and Professor Bradley, and they’ve both been extremely helpful. So definitely developing relationships with your advisors, and then also relying on your classmates for help. Abadai Zoboi is also writing a thesis in Black Studies, and I’ve worked a lot with her. Also my teammate Ben Byman is writing a Political Science thesis and even though our topics are dissimilar, just having someone who I can sit down and work with was also really helpful.