Every Baldwin Scholar is told the story of an undergraduate student who wrote her professors a thank you note at the end of every semester. Even if the class was not her favorite, she could discern and appreciate how the material influenced her intellectual growth. It is no coincidence that every professor in her major department at Duke knew her name. In an environment replete with entitlement or hastily written e-mails, Candis Watts’ authentic gratitude stood out.
Meaningful relationships are clearly important to Candis, and she has wise advice for first-year students. “You'll heard this often, ‘We should get together!’ But, when you say, ‘We should do lunch/coffee/tea’ to a person who you really do want to get to know, follow that statement up right away with a proposed date and time. This could be a fellow student, a community leader, or a professor. Reach out to people you want to learn from and engage with, and show them that you mean it by extending your time to them. It's the most precious thing that each of us has. The worst they can say is no.”
She places high value on the wisdom of her peers. “We tend to underestimate the insights of the people sitting next to us or those who are similarly situated, but I never do. In turn, I have many role models and mentors, and most of them my peers. My role models tend to relish in learning deeply about a few things, so they become a wealth of knowledge and information. They provide a different perspective to a shared experience. The people who I call mentors are those who help me make sense of the seemingly nonsensical. For me, role models are those who I view as braver than me, those who go off script and learn how to gauge their quality of life by their own standards.”
A practice of reflection keeps her grounded. “I have cultivated a habit of being empathic to others. I believe that ‘Bad things happen to good people.’ That is to say, I'm well aware that everything bad that happens to other people is not always their fault nor do they always deserve the bad things that come their way. That's life. However, a choice that I've made is to apply this to myself and to truly consider myself a decent person. Self-reflection is key, and sometimes you do 'deserve' a particular outcome, But, it is also the case that sometimes bad things happen to good people, including myself.”
Candis graduated from Duke with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and worked in retail at Abercrombie at their corporate office in Ohio before returning to Duke to earn her Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Political Science.
She was a post-doctoral fellow at Texas A&M, served on the faculty at Williams College and UNC Chapel Hill, and is currently an Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Penn State.
A public intellectual, Candis’ expertise highlights race and ethnicity's role in shaping the American political landscape. Her research illuminates the ways in which demographic dynamics influence U.S. citizens' and denizens' understanding of their own identity, political attitudes, and policy preferences.
In addition to writing many other insightful publications, Candis is the co-author of Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter.