Succeeding by Any Means Necessary Black graduate students at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) usually are classified into four categories — teaching assistant, research assistant, graduate assistant and (Black) student quota. And each group has its own unique set of problems. For example, Black graduate students, unlike their White counterparts, find themselves under pressure to succeed early in their academic endeavors.
But for Black graduate students, self-isolation probably is the most serious problem. This isolation often is a result of negative academic experiences that cause stagnated progress and diminished enthusiasm. There are a number of strategies that could be implemented to bring Black graduate students closer together and thus alleviate isolation.
At the individual level, it is important that Black students become more supportive of each other and of Black faculty. Understanding the milieu within which Black faculty operate and according them a form of reciprocal support will help Black graduate students maintain momentum and sustain a course of academic excellence that channels them into productive careers. Mutual support between Black graduate students and Black faculty members is a strategic goal for survival. This will help students learn how to navigate the minefields of an often cold, unwelcoming battleground that in many cases is our academic community.
It has been said that Black graduate students at PWIs often display a certain lack of scholarly respect for Black faculty members. Many students, conditioned perhaps by the attitudes of their White cohorts, often disparage the terminal qualifications of Black faculty, do not accord them the same respect they pay to Whites, and often reinforce negative stereotypes with slothful academic performances that lack rigor. Rather than using Black faculty as a resource to expedite their academic growth, Black graduate students are often persuaded to prematurely engage in research projects that do little for their careers, but do much to produce frustration and reinforce a lack of self-worth when their weak scholarship is rejected for publication.
The presence of Black faculty members at PWIs should serve as moral, academic and visual motivation for Black graduate students. Opportunities for nurturing can be facilitated through engaging Black faculty who share a similar research focus and learning from the experiences of Black faculty who have spent time at PWIs.
On any predominantly White campus, Black faculty are expected to, and are unofficially required to, oversee the well-being of Black graduate students, thus releasing non-Black faculty from concomitant responsibility. Black faculty, therefore, face many more time constraints, as well as the often unrealistic expectations of Black students who do not understand the pressure placed on Black faculty.
For the near future, Black graduate students will continue to constitute a minority at PWIs. If the problems that accompany them are to be dealt with effectively, then Black graduate students must take advantage of the resources Black faculty have to offer. Isolation at any PWI — self-imposed or otherwise — could wreak havoc with the Black student’s probability of success. The PWI is not a utopia, but Black graduate students should use all resources to help them succeed — by any means necessary.
— Dr. Jones is director of recruitment and retention and an adjunct faculty member in the department of educational leadership and
counseling psychology, College of Education, Washington State University.
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