We get intellectual nourishment in many spaces, but in the group we get personal and intellectual nourishment. Which is a very, very rare combination.
– Sharon Harley, Associate Professor of African American Studies, University of Maryland, College Park
As a child, Saturdays usually meant one of two things: cleaning the house from top to bottom or my mom’s book club. The sounds of Motown would blast from the living room to signal to my siblings and I that it was time to get to work wiping away the busyness of the week. It also meant that I would get to join my mom in her monthly ritual: book club. Granted, I never read the books or engaged in the discussion, I was just there to witness.
I had the privilege of witnessing how to create and maintain a healthy, safe, and affirming community for Black women.
I recognize the privilege in my upbringing. My mother is a college professor and all of my “Aunts” were a diverse group of Black women who were professors, lawyers, and doctors. On Saturdays I heard them talk about their experiences being the “lonely only”, the only Black women in their departments. I heard them talk about juggling the demands of family life with their professional goals. I also watched them celebrate each other in the most beautiful ways. They showed up for each other in ways that only Sisters can.
It was not until I began my own journey as a doctoral student that I realized the value of those Saturdays.
Two years ago I resigned from my position in student affairs to pursue a doctorate in higher education and student affairs. While I was often surrounded by Black women with graduate and professional degrees, I was also aware that it wasn’t the norm. I knew that the journey would be difficult and lonely if I was not intentional about creating my own community of Black women like my mom’s book club.
The creation of #SisterPhD is nothing new.
Black women have long relied on ‘Sister Circles’ to make meaning of the hostility we face in academia. In the groundbreaking book, Sister Circle: Black Women and Work (2002), we see that Black women have long placed a value on gathering to do intellectual and heart work together. I can only imagine what Sadie T.M. Alexander, Zora Neale Hurston, Anna Julia Cooper, and Mary Mcleod Bethune might have experienced as “lonely onlies” in academic spaces.
Pursuing a doctoral degree is work.
It’s difficult cognitive and emotional work that we often do not give ourselves enough space and grace to acknowledge. #SisterPhD is a Sister Circle of five Black women where we acknowledge the difficulty of this type of work and celebrate each success.
We live in a world that routinely dehumanizes Black women and devalues our scholarship. I am fiercely protective of #SisterPhD as it is one space that is unapologetically celebratory. We cheer each other on. We talk about microagressions and misogyny. Further, we talk about our research and possible dissertation topics. We talk about romantic relationships and travel. We talk about it all as only Sisters can.
My sisters and I often get asked by women in or considering a doctorate how to create a group like #SisterPhD. Here are some things to consider:
Difference is important.
#SisterPhD is diverse in many ways including: age, marital and parental status, religious upbringing, educational experiences, geographic location, and professional goals. We learn so much from and about one another because of this diversity. So, creating a group that honors difference among Black women is important.
I’m not sure a sister circle can exist without celebration. I often tell people that when one of my Sisters wins, we all win. It’s that simple. We are not running the same race, even though we see who is in the other lanes.
Make time for your sister circle.
Any doctoral student will tell you there are not enough hours in the day. However, you have to be committed to making time for your Sisters. It can be as simple as sending a text or a card to let your Sister know she’s not alone. Whatever it is, you have to have some regular way of checking in.
Whatever route you take in creating your community or sister circle, I hope you remember that you are not alone. There a Black women around the world speaking encouragement in your ear.
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. We need to hear these narratives now more than ever. For more info, see Jamal Myrick’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in the series!