While most Queens College students see the Benjamin Rosenthal Library on campus as a hub for studying, it’s actually a community and place of work for Professor Simone L. Yearwood, Queens College’s Deputy Chief Librarian. Yearwood recently took the time to sit down with The Knight News to talk in depth about her life journey. From her recent re-election as Chair of the Academic Senate, to her strong efforts to integrate the library with the studenT body, to teaching courses for the Graduate School of Library Sciences, Yearwood does it all.
Yearwood was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and was the first in her family to graduate high school. She was raised in a household where her mother made many sacrifices to ensure her kids were comfortable and well. “I tend to realize that as I got older, that my mom worked two jobs while we were on welfare to make sure we got what we needed,” said Yearwood, adding, “Growing up as a little black girl from Brooklyn, we were on welfare, relied on food stamps, and lived in the projects, but I never knew that was a blight (i.e a disadvantage).”
She recalls her aunt saying at one point when she was young, “you know you…you’re gonna be somebody.” At the time, Yearwood had no idea what that brief sentiment meant. She was a young African American girl in a neighborhood with a population of socioeconomically low citizens. It was only until years later she recognized that it meant she was on a path to success, which Yearwood notes was uncommon for her situation.
Yearwood began working with Queens College Rosenthal library in 1997 as support staff. A year later, she took advantage of the CUNY tuition waiver and enrolled in QC’s ACE program, which is intended for adults over the age of 25 looking to obtain a collegiate education. At the time she was enrolled, Yearwood was balancing being a wife and a mother of two young children. Looking back on her undergraduate days, Yearwood notes, “I was that student who was prepared. I did my readings, my assignments were on time and I was engaged in the instruction.”
She also went on to discuss how pursuing an education while having a family was her choice. “I chose to take classes, to pursue a degree, with a family. My oldest son was 12 [years old], so my youngest son had to be about 7 [years old]…and I knew that they were my first and primary responsibility.” Yearwood explained that her cumulative experience of being a mother and a student allowed her to improve her time management and organizational skills.
She pursued two masters degrees throughout the early 2000s in Library Sciences and Urban Affairs. When asked why Library Sciences, Yearwood replied, “My very first job was in 1979, at the Brooklyn Public Library. I worked in the summers…and now all these years later, to come back, having ended up being a librarian is cool for me.” She explained her favorite part of the job, which is research services. “I really enjoy it, sitting down with a student and helping them find their way through a research article.”
As for the current day, apart from her Library duties, Yearwood is actively involved in the Queens College community. She was recently re-elected to be the Chair of the QC Academic Senate, following her initial election in 2019. Yearwood is the first person of color (POC) to have held the role since the Senate’s founding nearly 50 years ago. When asked to comment on the matter, she said, “Whereas Queens College should congratulate itself on the diversity of the student body, it needs to take a look at the [lack of] diversity in the faculty body, and figure out what it could do to address it.”
Yearwood went on to explain how, in her profession as a librarian, it’s largely dominated by white women. She recalled a student from one of her courses who addressed the lack of diversity in library sciences. “I had a student say to me, this past Spring that in the Graduate School of Library Sciences at QC, I was her first African American instructor.” Adding, “at the end of the semester, she sent me a message that she was glad she got the opportunity to take a class with me because it gave her hope and that she wished the program had more diversity in it.”
On the note of diversity, Yearwood’s message is, “If you really want to make a difference when it comes to diversity, you need to listen to what I have to say when I tell you what I’m experiencing. Listen to hear, not to respond.” She elaborated further, explaining that typically when people listen to others, they’re already formulating a response in their mind, and in that process they’re neglecting the entirety of what the other person is trying to say.
She then addressed the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. Yearwood stated, “I am the mother of black men. My fear is if my children will come home safely,” adding that “these concerns are not the same as my white colleagues and peers. Their sons are not going to be stopped because they’re deemed out of place. My son is and has been. Let’s not try to compare apples to oranges.”
As the interview neared its end, Yearwood’s message to the readers is, “You only have one opportunity to live this life you’ve been given. You really need to think about it, live your best life and make no apologies, and it’s never too late to learn.”
The Knight News thanks Professor Simone L. Yearwood for allowing our staff the opportunity to interview her.