Packer raises the bar in history department

Professor Tiffany Packer is back where it all began for her — FAMU. Photo courtesy Packer

Tiffany G.B. Packer is a renaissance woman if ever there was one. She’s a full-time mother, researcher, award-winning historian and a professor at Florida A&M University.

Packer was raised in a small town along the Gulf Coast called Leakesville, Miss., where she was surrounded by a community filled with love, guidance and reassurance. 

She is a proud graduate of FAMU. When she arrived on “the Hill,” she was an occupational therapy major, which she says at the time seemed like a promising career choice. But her passion was always rooted in history. 

“When I reflect on my youth, I always had passion for historical things,” Packer said.

The spark of change came when Packer enrolled in a history class with Professor David Jackson Jr, and she left every class “on fire.”

“I said, ‘Well, you know what?  I want to do what he’s doing,’” Packer said. “I wanted to be the one taking on the task of carrying the mantle.” 

Packer received her bachelor’s degree in African American studies from FAMU. She earned her master’s in history from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She later went on to attend the University of North Carolina-Greensboro where she received her Ph.D. in history.

She was the first Black woman and the youngest to do so in her department. But she did not receive the recognition she hoped for. 

“It really was a challenge on my self-confidence, but I really just had to persevere,” she said.

Packer went through a lot of changes while working toward her doctorate but, nonetheless, she continued to push toward the finish line. 

“I felt accomplished and enabled,” Packer said. “But it reminded me that there’s still so much work to do. In the 21st century we try to think were so beyond what happened in history but we’re not. I was like, ‘How am I still making Black history in 2012?’” 

Packer thinks of her students as intellectual beings — researchers and historians. She forces her students to be critical thinkers, to think of the world and the impact that history plays on their lives. As she says, “Inspiring students to apply their knowledge to these streets.” 

Every year for her Black America 20th century class, she asks her students to build an exhibit focused on victims of police brutality. Instead of the victims becoming a statistic in the media or a research study, Packer focuses on humanizing the individuals by describing who they were as human beings. 

Tiffany Green, a third-year philosophy and religion major, says she believes Packer’s passion for teaching is what makes her a great professor. 

 “Every time she comes to class, she is genuinely excited to be there, teaching her students which makes everyone want to be engaged and participate,” Green said. “That is so important and necessary, especially with COVID-19’s impact of student engagement in online school.”

Kimberly Brown Pellum, an assistant professor of history, says Packer is one of a kind. 

“There are individuals who teach with compassion and expertise and as a form of activism,” Pellum said. “Dr. Packer embodies all of that. She really encapsulates the notion of excellence as an educator and her work as a field researcher.” 

Pellum says Packer is a standard that students look for in the ways they are taught. Her colleagues in FAMU’s Department of  History enjoy the person that she is, Pellum said. 

“She’s one of those faculty members that no one has an issue with. She rallies behind us and establishes a warm rapport with her colleagues and others with whom she works,” Pellum said.