Dr. Cynthia Robinson, chair of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Black Studies Department and an associate professor in the School of Communication, was honored as the 2017 President’s Award recipient by the Omaha chapter of the NAACP.
Robinson accepted the award in December at the Freedom Fund Banquet, which raises funds and recognizes those whose work supports the mission and vision of the NAACP. The banquet theme recognized those who were “steadfast and immovable.”
Robinson, a UNO alumna and educator, mother of four and breast cancer survivor, recently shared with the Gateway how the theme applies to her. Here’s what she had to say…
UNO ALUMNA AND EDUCATOR
Robinson has been part of the University of Nebraska for 27 years.
“I came here in ’91, and I never left, really,” she said.
Robinson’s career began as a UNO undergraduate student and Goodrich Scholarship recipient. She majored in black studies and broadcasting. After graduating in 1995, she went on to pursue a master’s degree while working as a graduate teaching assistant in the Goodrich Program. She received her Ph.D. from UNL in communication studies.
STEADFAST AND IMMOVABLE
The NAACP banquet theme “steadfast and immovable” applies to Robinson’s time as a UNO student because she continued to pursue a bachelor’s in black studies though others discouraged her.
“When I look at that I came to UNO to major in black studies, and I was told not to major in black studies, I wouldn’t let anything turn me around,” Robinson said. “I was determined. That’s the steadfast and immovable part for me.”
Robinson said the phrase also applies to her time as a doctoral student.
“Getting my doctorate in communication studies was a big challenge,” Robinson said. “I kept going, kept going and just wouldn’t let anything stop me. Now, I’m the chair of black studies because I know the importance of it.”
THE THREE M’s
During Robinson’s award acceptance speech, she said she talked about the three “m’s:” Make it, master it and matter.
“I made it,” Robinson said. “I graduated; I figured out how to get through the academy. I’ve mastered it. I’ve gotten tenured; I’ve created courses, and now I can matter as far as being chair of the department.”
Janet Ashley, staff assistant in the Black Studies Department, said Robinson’s contributions to the department have been “phenomenal.”
“Dr. Robinson brings a breath of fresh air to this department,” Ashley said. “[Take] the knowledge she brings of Omaha and UNO and line that up with her being a communications and black studies professor. It makes a really good combination of giving this department what it needs to move forward.”
MOTHER OF FOUR
Robinson was a first-generation student and a single parent while attending college.
“I had an older sister who went for a year or so, but she never finished,” Robinson said. “Being poor and the first in your family to go, there were certain things I didn’t know, and family members couldn’t tell me.”
Robinson, who starting taking classes at UNO when she was 18 but then dropped out and returned as an older student at 27, said she thought the most challenging thing “was keeping up with young people.”
At first, Robinson said she doubted her ability to successfully earn her degree.
“The biggest thing was not knowing if I could truly do it,” Robinson said. “I was terrified of truly failing.”
Now, she said she “knows it can be done.”
“Sometimes you don’t really know what you can do until you do it,” Robinson said. “I never would’ve thought I could get my doctorate. It was very difficult, and I got through it.”
Robinson’s daughter, Chanele Smith, said she was in seventh grade when Robinson went back to school.
“I remember her being super busy and dedicated and talking about how many credit hours she was taking,” Smith said. “I didn’t understand what that meant until I was in college and knew what it meant to take 26 credit hours, 27. That’s crazy.”
Smith said her mother worked hard and was “always dedicated” to her classwork.
“She would spend late nights in the library or at home just studying,” Smith said. “I don’t think I really appreciated how hard that was, how hard she was working until I left home. I’m super proud of her.”
BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR
Robinson finished chemotherapy in 2016 and is now in remission.
“I have to have scans every three months and every six months and it is terrifying,” Robinson said.
Robinson’s mother died from breast cancer. She said watching her mother go through chemo made her not want to receive the treatment when she was diagnosed.
“To me, chemo made her lose half of her body weight,” Robinson said. “She shriveled away to nothing and she died. That’s what I thought chemo was going to do to me.”
Robinson was talked into doing chemo. She said she drew on her experience as a student to get through the treatments.
“I thought, ‘how did you get straight A’s?’ You went to class every time,” Robinson said. “You want to beat this? Don’t miss any doctor appointments. Don’t miss any chemo appointments.”
Robinson wonders what would’ve happened if she hadn’t done chemo.
“I used to say I would go to my grave before I do chemo,” Robinson said. “What if I wouldn’t have done it? My son got married last June. I would’ve missed that wedding. I would’ve missed my grandkids. We wouldn’t have gotten the bachelor’s of science in black studies.”
Robinson said she has learned “faith over fear” from her battle with cancer.
“I think actually, life prepared me for this,” Robinson said. “I’m a fighter.”