As I begin to reflect upon my Doctorate journey (and I wonder if I really have the time since I’m writing Chapter 4 as we speak), I have two key memories that remind me of why I started this process:
1. Telling my Granny the last time I saw her that I would graduate (she passed away two weeks after I was accepted into my program from breast cancer)
2. Meeting my grad cohort and truly feeling welcomed in an academic space for the first time in my life
My motivation to start my Doctorate program was so I could advance in my career and add to a growing volume of literature on serving men of color during their collegiate careers. I wanted to have my work be of value to the field and for someone to take what I’ve done and expand it. Also, I wanted to finally feel like I had a place in academia.
My previous two degree programs were incredibly non-diverse and less than welcoming. In both my undergraduate and graduate careers, I was one of very few men of color in my classes. I experienced constant questioning by my colleagues about my abilities, and the ever present anxiety that I wouldn’t be taken seriously and never feel accepted. I had seven years of post K-12 education and felt horrible. Yes, I had the education, but I didn’t have the emotional knowledge that I could make a difference.
While looking for a program, I was looking for somewhere that was both practitioner-focused and had a cohort of people from different backgrounds and life experiences. I found a program that saw my research topic and work experiences and wanted me to thrive during and after the program.
After being accepted to my program, I flew out for my first cohort weekend in Seattle. I was nervous to meet my colleagues. I had flashbacks to my Master’s program, hoping I wouldn’t feel like I didn’t belong. However, when I met my classmates and heard their stories, I felt very comfortable being around fellow practitioners. I finally felt accepted. My classmates all had one goal in mind: to take their research and apply it to their daily work.
The more they talked about their work and hopes to graduate, I felt a connection to their stories. Some of the deepest chats I had in a long time came in the form of lunch conversations. Starbucks trips shed more light on how my colleagues wanted to become better scholar practitioners. In addition, I could finally talk about my work with students of color and get constructive feedback on my research.
I distinctly remember a group project with myself, a systems engineer, and a copy editor, about applying leadership research to Black men. While my group members acknowledged they knew very little about multicultural student development, they asked tons of processing questions to get me to think about how to apply the research to my daily practice. They provided a fresh outsiders perspective and did so with great respect for the work we all did. It was incredibly refreshing to talk about my work and without it being judged or characterized as unimportant. I loved providing my perspective to their research and the conversations we would have were full of hope and potential. I left every class more engaged to continue my research and look for ways to integrate it into my work.
As I’m finishing my program and see my cohort members defend and graduate, I’m thankful for the insight and challenge they’ve given me throughout the process. It’s good to chat with them on Facebook and hear how their dissertation process is going. I can’t wait to defend and get that hood. I know I will finally feel like I’m in a welcoming community of scholar practitioners.
This post is part of our #SADocsofColor series for March. The journey towards obtaining a doctorate degree is long and arduous. This series highlights the stories of those on that journey that identify as men and women of color; stories which aren’t always told and stories that are important.