Honors student Tamara Kuykendall graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2020 with a degree in educational studies and a desire to help student athletes navigate life after the applause.
“I want to help them see past their athletic ability, and to open their eyes to the numerous opportunities that are ahead of them after their athletic careers come to a close,” she said.
Kuykendall, now a first-year graduate student at the U of A, plans to pursue a career as an athletic academic advisor for a college or university after earning a master’s in higher education.
Four years ago, as a freshman, Kuykendall walked on to the U of A Women’s Track and Field team. Growing up in Little Rock, she had always dreamed of running for the Razorbacks.
While a student athlete, Kuykendall was a three-time member of the U of A Champions List and a two-time member of the Athletic Director’s List. In 2019, she was also an NCAA bronze medalist for the 4×100-meter relay team, which broke the university’s record. Kuykendall ranks eighth in the 100 meters on the U of A’s all-time list.
Kuykendall was also president of the student-athlete advisory committee as an undergraduate. She advocated for cultivating the whole athlete, not just the competitive sides. She appreciated that perspective among the athletes in her program and felt their support. She didn’t always feel that support from other parts of campus.
“If it wasn’t for my Razorback athletic community and the Honors Path Program, I would have transferred to another institution,” she said.
Kuykendall’s experience inspired this Honors thesis: All Eyez On Me: The Socialization Experiences of African Americans at Predominately White Institutions.
“Throughout college, I didn’t always feel racially and socially comfortable on campus,” she said. “Being an African-American student at a predominately white institution is a very eye-opening experience, and I felt that I needed to expand upon this research in this field. My story needed to be heard.”
Kuykendall used her academic platform to share her experiences as well as the current research about social issues experienced by Black students. She said most scholarly work on the topic revolves around academics.
In her thesis, she wrote: “As strong scholars, Black students feel they must rise to the occasion in terms of over-achieving in the classroom to make up for the lack of respect the racial group receives towards academic excellence. This pressure influence can serve as a motivator to Black students or it can function as another cultural stressor in the college experience.”
Kuykendall argued that researchers should continue investigating the socialization experiences of African Americans at predominately white institutions as a way to resolve a variety of societal issues.
She feels lucky to have found a sense of community in athletics.
“As a collegiate track athlete, I was able to establish meaningful relationships with my teammates — most of the team consisted of African American men and women —athletes from different sports, and the faculty and staff within the athletic department,” she wrote. “I felt comfortable venting about my problems with the Black athletic administrators at my institution.
“I spent countless hours sitting in their offices during my free time. The staff created comfortable environments where I felt accepted, seen, and heard,” she said.
Kuykendall believes studying social interactions like hers will help predominately white higher education institutions better understand how to create welcoming cultural spaces for Black college students.
She plans to be a soft place for students to land in a future role as an athletic academic advisor.
“I want to serve collegiate student-athletes to ensure they are maximizing their experience,” she said.
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