Black History Month recognizes the achievements of Black Americans and their contributions and more to the economic, political and social tapestry of the United States. To honor this special month, CSU would like to recognize some of the achievements of a few of our Black faculty members who have excelled in their communities and within their respective fields.
Columbia Southern University professor Dr. Antoinette Vicks has spent 15 years working in forensic death investigations and medical legal death investigations, a career that could be difficult for many people.
“I work at the medical examiner’s office in collaboration with law enforcement agencies, so it’s my job to respond to all death scenes and conduct investigations,” she said. “I feel like this is what God has called me to do.”
With so much at stake, Dr. Vicks says it’s important to separate emotion from the job because at the end of the day, it’s a job that must be done, and someone has to do it.
“I look at it as science. If I took it home, I would not be able to continue to do my job,” she said. “I look at it as I do what I need to do to bring some peace and resolution to the families. They are the most important thing to me while I am working a case and I just try to make that process seamless as possible for them.”
Although her job as a forensic investigator is filled with tough moments, it’s the rewarding ones that keep her spirits high.
“I’ve had families call me months after just to thank me for helping them make it through one of the roughest times of their lives because that is exactly what it is,” she said. “People will apologize for being upset and I tell them this is my job; I do this every day and hopefully this is the last time you will ever have to do this. I let them know it’s not expected to be ok, and you have the right to have those emotions. I let them know they can call me 24 hours a day, seven days a week if they have questions so I can be there for them through this time. When they do reach out to me and thank me for making the process easier, that makes me feel like I have done what God has intended for me to do. That is my purpose, to help them get through this process.”
In addition to helping others on the job, Dr. Vicks shares her knowledge in the classroom as a professor at Columbia Southern University.
“Being in my field, we get invited to come out to schools and talk to students and that led me to be intrigued on the teaching aspect of things,” she said. “So, I finished my Ph.D. and went full steam ahead trying to find teaching gigs and I absolutely love it. I was not the traditional student, and I had instructors that were very instrumental in ensuring that I didn’t take it personally if the grades weren’t what I was expecting, but just made me want to try harder and gain a better understanding of what the expectations were. So, I wanted to be that for others.”
“Education and knowledge is power. I tell students all the time, today you are one day closer to succeeding and getting to your goals than you were yesterday,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you are taking one class or if you have had to retake a class, every day you continue to make the choice to keep going is just one day closer to where you want to be. To me that is the most rewarding when they take that encouragement and make it to the end and let me know.”
Dr. Vicks says her overall goal in her profession as a teacher, forensic investigator and in life is to make sure no one feels like they are alone.
“Out of all the degrees I have, I never attended a graduation because I didn’t have anyone there to come and support me. So, I don’t want anyone to feel like they are alone and that I am in their corner,” she said. “I had a really rough childhood, and I didn’t have anyone to motivate and push me. It was not something that was given to me at home. It was strangers that helped me see that there were different things available to me. This has always been one of the things that has grounded me. When I go and give speeches at schools I share my personal history because I don’t want people to think because I have a Ph.D. and I work here that everything was great for me growing up. I want them to know I could be just like them. I made that decision on my own to seek something more, and I just have to be that for someone else. I don’t want anyone to think or feel like they are alone.”
Looking to the future, Dr. Vicks is on a mission to educate others on the realities of her job in forensic investigation. Her hope is that by sharing her experiences, her students will be interested in this career path.
“For me, it’s important as a criminal justice professional to get information about my career out there and hopefully attract other individuals into a career path they never even considered because they didn’t know about it. It absolutely would be wonderful to get that acknowledgement out there and have death investigation be on the for front of students minds when they are starting these careers and starting school and thinking about career opportunities.”