The Truth About Professors (Who Go Far Beyond)

By Brandon M. Bradley

My college career began in the fall of 2017 at one of the most widely known and respected Historically Black College/Universities (HBCUs) in the world— Morehouse College. At Morehouse, I was excited to have Black instructors. It was the first time in my then eighteen years that I’d had more than one Black instructor in a single given year or semester. However, after only two semesters in Atlanta, Georgia, I decided it was best for my future to transfer to the University of Central Florida and move back home.

A decision of this magnitude was risky. The voices around me concluded that I must have been home sick and couldn’t handle being nearly 500 miles away from my immediate family. The voice inside me knew that I was simply unhappy, and Morehouse College, unfortunately, hadn’t offered me the college experience I’d expected or hoped for. Ultimately, this encounter became a lesson in silencing the voices around me and learning to listen to my own.

Still, transferring to UCF was scary for a variety of reasons, but particularly because as a Black writer, I feared that my goals, skills, and subject matter couldn’t be nurtured here the way they may have been at an HBCU by Black faculty. While in some regards, this may still hold true, there are three UCF professors whose support has not only disproved my preconceptions, but also encouraged by dedication to craft and committing my life to the discipline we call creative writing. Their instruction has been simply invaluable.

Professor Judith Roney

Like any other creative writing student, before I was able to enroll in a creative writing workshop, I was required to take a few introductory courses. I was new to the English major, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I took the first available course I saw and found myself in the online world of Professor Judith Roney—a professor whom I’m sure will be a mentor for life. After taking these introductory courses with Professor Roney, I followed her to her fiction workshop—and then to her magazine writing course. In Professor Roney’s classes, I learned that nothing beats talent—and hard work. Professor Roney helped me realize that a writing life wasn’t just saying I wanted to write stories and books, or even just writing stories and books.

Her courses urged me to pair hard work with experimentation in a way that felt new and exciting. Prior, I never thought I’d find an interest in writing speculative fiction but doing so in Professor Roney’s workshop gave birth to my first published short story, “River.” She helped me see that a writing life requires commitment—commitment to practicing your writing and working hard to nurture your talent. She was actually the first professor to ever express to me I had writing talent, and with gentle reminders to always remain humble, her courses have allowed me to see what talent can turn into when it’s paralleled with hard work.

Dr. Cecilia Milanés

After my first semester with Professor Roney, I enrolled in my first creative writing workshop, which just so happened to be a nonfiction workshop. Prior to this course, I wasn’t reading much nonfiction—and I certainly wasn’t interested in writing it. It always seemed that there was nothing from my life or experiences worth writing about. Like many students, I searched for my professors online to see what the world had to say about them. Anonymous professor ratings could never have prepared me for the excellence of Dr. Cecilia Milanés. In Dr. Milanés’ nonfiction workshop, I learned, “el papel aguanta todo.” This translates roughly to “the paper holds everything.”

Nonfiction became a safe haven for me. Dr. Milanés encouraged me to explore topics like the toxic masculinity that holds many Black men hostage. I wrote a personal essay here that forced me to unmask and confront the toxic masculinity of both my past and present. Her instruction reminded me that my words were certainly worth sharing, but whatever I needed the express—the paper could hold it all. I later followed her to her advanced fiction workshop, where she pushed me even further in exploring experimental narratives centered around the lives of Black people in a modern America. Here, I was able to write stories that highlighted themes of the disproportionate mass incarceration of Black men, the colorism experienced by Black women, and even misogynoir.

Professor Laurie Uttich

After Dr. Milanés opened my eyes to the world of nonfiction, I enrolled in Professor Laurie Uttich’s advanced nonfiction workshop. I never would have thought that Professor Uttich would become one of my biggest advisors and supporters. Professor Uttich’s workshop taught me that it’s safe for me to feel and that I can use writing to explore those feelings. In her advanced nonfiction workshop, I learned about braided essays and wrote what is still to this day my most vulnerable, but powerful work of nonfiction. In this piece, I explored my personal journey to understanding and loving my Blackness. It dissects the pains of rejection I experienced in adolescence and even analyzes my departure from Morehouse College. In learning that I can use writing to explore my feelings, I found my writing truly healing me for the first time in my life.

Professor Uttich seemed to see a light in me and introduced me to UCF’s The Cypress Dome Editorship—an experience that I’ll always remember as one of the best moments of my college career. Being an editor for The Cypress Dome has offered me a literary home and family  that only strengthened my writing and editorial skills. Like with Dr. Milanés and Professor Roney, I then followed Professor Uttich to her poetry workshop because she nurtures my artistic voice in a way that gives me security as a young writer.

While their classroom instruction is truly invaluable, the work these three creative writing professors have done in my life extends far beyond the walls of a creative writing workshop. Last fall, when I decided I wanted to apply to Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing programs all over the country, they were the three women I sought out for advice (and recommendation letters, too, if they were willing). I was moved by the unwavering support they offered. I desired their advice because it was their instruction and support that made me believe I could take my writing to the next level—and the way they’ve stood behind me in this process tells me they believe it too.

The truth about professors who go above and beyond is that their influence transcends the walls of a classroom in a way that changes lives—not simply careers.

Professor Roney has a gift of offering encouraging words in a way that reminds me to continue working hard. Every time I checked in with her—even up to this very day—she’s offered nothing but the sincerest of advice. Her words are words that I keep in daily rotation and hold close to my mind and heart. She continually urged me to push myself and to keep writing. When I first shared with her my graduate school goals, she reminded me of this: “Push, push, push, and trim, trim, trim.” Though I’m pushing and trimming myself, I’m grateful to have had her along the way to push and trim me as well.

Dr. Milanés spent hours upon hours working back and forth with me through Zoom calls and emails, helping me perfect my portfolio and statement of purpose. She had other classes and other students, but she still made time for me. When she didn’t hear from me, I could count on her checking in to see what my progress was. When I expressed my gratitude for her assistance, her response was nonchalant, but sincere, “Your success is my success.” I was completely floored by how invested she was in seeing me succeed.

Professor Uttich has been unwavering in support—especially in her expressions of how much she believes in me. She has a special way of checking in that allows for open and honest conversation, and her response is always warm. In moments when I’ve struggled to see the value in myself, and particularly my writing, Professor Uttich offered a humble encouragement that any school would be lucky to have me. When she’s introduced me to several of her colleagues, she always described me as nothing short of the best. If nothing more, I’m grateful for the way Professor Uttich believes in what I sometimes can’t see.

Their assistance in this application process, and especially in the semesters that precede it, is a large part of why in the fall, I’ll be continuing my education as a Creative Writing MFA candidate at UCF. The truth about professors who go above and beyond is that their influence transcends the walls of a classroom in a way that changes lives—not simply careers. Sure, other schools have amazing creative writing professors and amazing professors in many different degree programs, but professors like Judith Roney, Cecilia Milanés, and Laurie Uttich remind me that even in the sacrifice I made in transferring back to my hometown, I ended up exactly where I needed to be.

Leaving an HBCU wasn’t an easy decision, especially in having to trade it for a Predominately White Institution. But the truth about my three professors who’ve gone above and beyond for me is that they help me see why it was all a part of the greater work of my creator. I needed to be here, in their classrooms, receiving their instruction, and growing from their wisdom. I’ll forever be indebted to them for their influence—academic and far beyond.