Columbia native Toniqua Mikell will make history — or as she puts it, “herstory” — Saturday at the University of South Carolina’s 2019 spring commencement. She is the first black person to earn a doctorate in criminology and criminal justice from the university.
“Being a first of anything is really bittersweet,” Mikell says. “On the one hand, that’s another smashed ceiling. But at the same time, it’s a reiteration that we still have spaces where black women have been excluded.”
Mikell earned a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from South Carolina in 2014. Before that, she double-majored in political science and sociology with a concentration in criminology at Winthrop University where she completed her bachelor’s degree in 2012.
After graduation, Mikell will head to New England where she secured a teaching position as an assistant professor in the Crime and Justice Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. She’ll teach a course called Media and Female Sex Offenders, which is based on her dissertation Reading Between the Lines: An Intersectional Media Analysis of Female Sex Offenders in Florida Newspapers.
In addition to teaching at the college level, Mikell plans to continue her research along the lines of her dissertation and delve into other areas that focus on a larger theme.
“I’ll definitely keep researching in that area,” she says. “My main project right now is a manuscript from my dissertation that I’m hoping to have published this fall. Then, some other research projects draw from my larger agenda in black feminist criminology, queer criminology and prisoner reentry.”
Mikell sees teaching and research as a way she can help advance social justice for marginalized communities by being a representative for students who look like her.
“I’m glad to be in a position to be the face of representation I wish I’d had throughout my education,” she says. “I can look in the mirror, be proud of myself and say, ‘That’s herstory that I made.’”