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Hard Work Continues for Cheyney University's Dr. Virgilette Gaffin After Semester Ends

April 23, 2014

You can find her in the classroom now, teaching English and African American Studies courses at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.  When summer rolls around, though, expect to find Dr. Virgilette Nzingha Gaffin, where she has been every summer for the last few years-- on an archaeological dig in Egypt, where she volunteers her time as a recorder of hieroglyphics, working in the desert where temperatures by noon are 120-135 degrees.

"There’s nothing better than working on a dig, holding something that was created around 750 BC," Gaffin explains. "It is beyond words.  It blows my mind.”

Dr. Gaffin has been to Egypt nearly 20 times.  Her first trip in 1986 took her to the Pyramids and Sphinx. She became obsessed with Egypt a few years earlier after seeing the King Tut Exhibit in Philadelphia. "That started an addiction," she admits, "and I've been going ever since."  Her first venture to Egypt was as a tourist but, eventually, they became working trips. In 2006, she formed Nzingha & Associates and takes groups of 8-10 travelers at a time to Egypt & Kenya for Safari.

The longtime educator retired from A T & T in 1998 where she spent the last several years of her career in International Sales.  She worked full-time, even in managerial positions, while putting herself through undergraduate and graduate school at Rutgers University (Camden, NJ) where she earned a BA and MA in English. Her thirst for knowledge led her to Temple University where she earned her MA and doctorate in African Studies.

"Temple had the first Ph.D. program in African American Studies in the world," she proudly proclaims. In fact, the University just celebrated the program's 25th anniversary and Dr. Gaffin spoke at the affair. It has long been her desire to resurrect the African American Studies program at Cheyney, which is where she came to teach after leaving the business world.

"I wanted to teach at a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities)," she said, "so I applied to Cheyney," and didn't apply anywhere else.

“I’m doing what I want to do, where I want to do it," she says matter-of-factly.  

Never one to sit on her laurels, Dr. Gaffin keeps busy.  She is Cheyney University's Representative for the Frederick Douglass Institute, a collaborative effort of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to promote multiculturalism. The Institute derives its name from the example and legacy of Frederick Douglass who was committed to education and social equality--important criteria which the Institute provides in its programming.  In addition, PASSHE's former Chancellor, Dr. John C. Cavanaugh, appointed Gaffin to the PASSHE International Education Council (PIEC) which strategizes regarding international education.

Dr. Gaffin also keeps busy writing, speaking and presenting her research. For example, each October she presents at the Annual Cheikh Anta Diop International Conference in Philadelphia.  Last month, she had the distinct honor of joining renowned poet Sonia Sanchez and writer Nzadi Keita at the African American Museum in Philadelphia for a panel discussion on Invented Lives, African American Women’s Narrative. Their conversation explored the written lives of African American women. Just this month Dr. Gaffin had the pleasure of introducing activist Angela Davis at a Cheyney University fundraiser for the Keystone Honors Academy.

One of her proudest moments as a professor came last year when she accompanied a student, current senior and Keystone Honors Academy (KHA) Scholar Angelitta Anderson, to the National Council of Black Studies (NCBS) conference in Indiana where Gaffin and Anderson each presented their research. Anderson's paper, Research Essay of the Harlem Renaissance, was well received. "NCBS is the leading organization of Black Studies professionals in the world," Gaffin explains. "For nearly 40 years its members have been at the forefront of enhancing the development of Africana/Black Studies as a respected academic discipline. Their guiding philosophy is that education should engender both academic excellence and social responsibility."

Dr. Gaffin has presented at the NCBS conference for over 15 years.  "Watching one of my students present her work was pretty exciting."  So exciting, this year, Gaffin took two more students to the NCBS Conference which was held in Miami, FL.  Amir Abner, a Political Science major, submitted his paper, How the Media Influences the Perception of the Black Athlete, and Branden Ellis, a Biology major and Keystone scholar, submitted his research, Bridging the Gap Between Traditional African Religions and Black Christianity, and both were accepted to present their papers.  Their papers, as well as Anderson's, were originally assignments from either an African American Lit or African American Experience class with Gaffin.  In addition, while at the conference, "Amir and Brandon had the opportunity to meet and speak with Drs. Molefi Asante and Maulana Karenga, authors of texts used in our classes," Gaffin excitedly said.

"I want to thank both the Cheyney Foundation and the Keystone Academy for giving Cheyney students the opportunity to see what academics at work looks like off campus," she acknowledged.  "Amir, Brandon and I will cherish the memories!"

Dr. Gaffin's presentation at the NCBS conference, Egypt: Contributions of and Corrections to The Study of 25th Dynasty Kemet, detailed her last two summers' experience working at the excavation site in South Asasif, Egypt (near the Valley of the Kings). According to Gaffin, Nubian Egyptians are the excavators while she and others work to interpret hieroglyphics that are found. They've come across the 25th Dynasty of black pharaohs, she reports, including black noblemen who are buried there. "Historically, culturally and academically it's a significant dig," Gaffin insists, "and it's important that black people know about it because it's just extraordinary."

More of Dr. Gaffin's experiences and research can be found in her professional writings including:
In 2011 The Analysis of the Nubian Dilemma - Through the Works of Idris Ali, Haggag Oddol & Tayeb Salih (Nubian novelists); In 2011 Going to the Source; An Introduction to Nubian Literature; In 2008 Nubians: Who Are They and Why They Matter; In 2007 The Literacy Treasure in Ancient Kemetic Traditions-The Missing Dimensions.