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Ja'nae Jackson
Ja'nae Jackson ’22 at Yale, outside Rosenkranz Hall, home to the university’s political science department
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Ja’nae Jackson ’22 advises Horned Frogs to “bet on yourself.”  

The Fort Worth native shares her story from New Haven, Connecticut, where she is currently working as a research assistant and part-time student in a pre-doctoral political science program at Yale University. 

“I was actually really terrified about my ability to do well in college,” Jackson said.  

The former TCU Community Scholar remembers the surprise and enormous flood of emotion when she walked into a resource room at South Hills High School in 2018 to see Timeka Gordon amid a shower of purple balloons, offering her a four-year, full-ride scholarship to TCU. That moment has also stayed with Gordon. 

“I remember meeting Ja’nae like it was yesterday. I was struck by her aura of quiet confidence,” recalls Gordon, director of Student Identity and Engagement, who heads the Community Scholars program at TCU.  “She has a fierceness and resilience about her; reserved, but with a special energy — taking it all in and setting goals for herself. Her lived experience has made her wise beyond her years. I just knew I wanted to be part of her journey.” 

Mentors Bring Discovery 

From the very beginning, Jackson had an interest in political science as a major, and she settled on sociology and comparative race and ethnic studies as a double minor. 

“For me, I found the political science department really welcoming. I met with Dr. Eric Cox, who I considered a mentor even before I started college,” Jackson said. “I was so excited when, on my first day of class freshman year, I met Dr. JoAnne Green, my advisor and also a mentor.” Cox and Green are both political science professors.  

Jackson credits her TCU experience with shaping her academic skills and giving her the confidence to aim high.  

“I was so excited to learn about poli sci and government and political inequality — and the faculty continued to be supportive throughout my entire time there,” Jackson said.   

A Life-Changing Summer 

As Jackson’s junior year thesis advisor, Green encouraged Jackson to apply to the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute (RBSI), an experience that further changed Jackson’s academic trajectory when she was one of just 20 students chosen from across the nation. 

The RBSI is a five-week intensive program at Duke University introducing undergraduates to the world of doctoral study in political science. The program is named in honor of Ralph Bunche, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in political science. A former president of the American Political Science Association, Bunche won the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize, the first person of color to do so. 

The first week Jackson met with her RBSI program mentor, she felt certain she would pursue graduate school.  

“Up to that time, I had never realized there was academic research on issues that had affected me growing up – racial inequality, police violence, gentrification – things that had negatively impacted me as a child and teenager were being studied by academics, and rigorously,” she said. 

Jackson applied to Ph.D. programs for the fall and was accepted to four out of five. In deciding what path to take, Jackson learned of a pre-doctoral fellowship in political science under Alison Harris at Yale — a program somewhat groundbreaking for the political science field that would give Jackson more time to prepare for her doctoral path. Jackson’s joy was compounded by the opportunity to study with a prominent female Black political scientist.  

“Representation is so important,” she said. 

Jackson said she “hit the jackpot” with her association with Harris, who took an interest in further lifting up Jackson’s confidence and helped to create a seamless transition from TCU to Yale. Because the fellowship was new territory for everyone, Jackson knew she wouldn’t experience the stress and structural inequality she powered through as an undergrad, transitioning from an under-resourced public high school to college. The fellowship would also allow her to determine if academia was really for her.  

 A year and a half later, she is more determined than ever that she is on the right path. 

Still Connected to TCU 

Jackson enjoys the beauty of New Haven but “sometimes misses the food and sense of home” and finds herself Googling her old neighborhood. She stays in frequent contact with her TCU mentors, including political science professor Michael Strausz, who remembers how Jackson distinguished herself from other students in her time at TCU. 

“Sometimes my best students fall into the trap of viewing their education as a kind of game,” Strausz said. “If they play by the rules, they will earn good grades, which will open doors to them in life. Of course, Ja’nae also has earned top grades. However, she clearly thinks of education as much more than a game where the winners get the best grades. She is always reading and wanting to talk about her reading. She wants to understand how the world works and use that understanding to remedy injustices that she observes. She has a brilliant mind, is a great writer and has a tremendous amount of potential as an academic.” 

Green calls Jackson “a rare gem— brilliant, hard-working, and humble. 

Jackson earned departmental honors in political science for her senior thesis, which was selected for The Boller Review, published by the John V. Roach Honors College. She was also awarded TCU’s Jim Henley Service to Sociology award for organizing a book drive for children with incarcerated loved ones.  

“In more than 30 years as an instructor, I have never met a student who works harder to master material, nor one who is more committed to self-improvement than Ms. Jackson,” said Green. “Working with her has been one of the greatest joys of my career.” 

Cox agrees. 

“At times as educators, we are blessed with students who push us to think about topics in new ways or open our eyes to new avenues of research. Ja’nae is one of those students — one of the two or three best students I have ever taught. She makes connections between theory and practice that few students can. I sincerely believe that she will change lives as a professor.” 

Opportunities ahead 

At age 24, the future looks bright for Jackson. She has been accepted to doctoral programs in political science at Yale, Harvard, UCLA, Emory, Duke, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and UC Berkeley.  

“I never wavered in wanting to study poli sci. So much of what I have experienced in my life was connected to political science. I want to do what other scholars have done: expand on the common perceptions of what is ‘political,’” Jackson said.For me, academic research should be a tool for building a bridge between theory and action, between the resources available and those who most need them. Graduate work is the next step in my journey toward improving the everyday lives of those on society’s margins.” 

When asked what she would say to her 18-year-old self, applying to TCU, she responded:  

“Bet on yourself. I had no idea I would go to college and excel there — and continue to do hard things. I didn’t really enjoy school growing up or do well in school until the second semester of my freshman year of high school. I didn’t grow a love for reading until college,” Jackson said. “Every opportunity showed me I was more capable than I thought I was. I just went for it, and it went well.”  

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