Yesterday, Professor Clyde Woods passed away. Shock doesn’t begin to describe my feelings. They’re something more like disbelief and emptiness. While I’m not going to wax poetic about his contributions to academe (others can do that much better than I can, trust me), I do need to reflect on him as a person in my life.
I met Dr. Woods while earning my undergrad in African American Studies at the University of Maryland. I took two of the best classes of my college career with him, “Hip-Hop & The Blues” and “Washington & Prince George’s [County] History, Culture & Policy.” I always appreciated the way he pushed us to make sense of the world around us, examining everything from a new lens. He gave us the leeway to do things that fell outside of the expected boxes, something that other professors balked at. I’ll never forget our trip to Riversdale Mansion, which indulged my obsession with antebellum architecture and forced us to go beyond the walls of our classroom, beyond the steps of campus, and really see the community.
I remember when I finally decided on a topic for my senior thesis and realized he’d be the only appropriate advisor for my research and writing process. I was SO intimidated. I was terrified he’d tell me my topic was trash and don’t come back until I had something compelling to present to him. Nothing could have been further from the truth. When I met with him, he told me my topic had promise and agreed (thank goodness!). From them on, Dr. Woods pushed me, supported me, and kept me grounded. He did so even after he left the university in early 2006 to join the Dept. of Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara. I was heartbroken and terrified that he was leaving before my research was complete, but I knew that he’d always be a phone call or email away to offer his guidance, which he was.
What was more compelling about Dr. Woods was that it was evident that he loved what he did, aside from the academic work. Whenever you dropped into the department office, his door was open. It wasn’t uncommon to see students just pop in to have a conversation with him. He was a person who helped so many people I know make sense of what we saw around us and help us take action in the ways that we saw fit. More than that, he paid attention – he knew his students. I’ll never forget being in his “Hip-Hop & The Blues” class and he casually slipped in that I had a show on the campus radio station … I hadn’t told him. But I appreciated that because it showed that he wasn’t just another academic here to get his tenure, students be damned. Further proof in my mind that he cared about us was that he flew back to Maryland for commencement. If that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.
All of this is to say that the world will really be missing out in the wake of his death. He was an amazing scholar, which goes without saying, but he was even better as a mentor. Rest in peace, Dr. Woods.