Bert Ashe talks to students in a classroom

Examining the realities of self-identity

Professor Bert Ashe is teaching students how to step outside of their own comfort zones and seek the significance within the things they encounter every day. And he starts with an honest and nuanced exploration of his own identity.

An accomplished scholar of black literature and culture, Ashe turned his decision to grow and wear dreadlocks into a memoir about hair, race, and self-image. Whether examining his personal experience or analyzing the impact of aspects of African-American culture on society, Ashe’s inherent curiosity inspires students to take their own intellectual journeys beyond the surface level of complex subjects.

Ashe prompts students to engage with topics that may have even more meaning after they leave the confines of the Richmond campus. For instance, in the class “Black Literary Leadership,” students explore the locally and nationally contentious issue of Civil War monuments through the lenses of classic and contemporary African-American literature.

He designs his classes to help students form a critical context for the many scenes that occur in their lives, showing them how to not overlook the inherent lessons in what’s around them. He is gratified when he sees that instruction stick with students, hoping that inquisitive instinct will guide them through their ongoing adult lives — and in their own understanding of themselves.


Dr. Bertram Ashe is a professor of English and American Studies in the School of Arts & Sciences whose research focuses on post-civil rights movement African-American literature and culture. He is the author of From Within the Frame: Storytelling in African-American Fiction and most recently, Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles.

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