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Wanted: more black graduate students

In the middle of my doctoral studies, I encountered an elderly relative who expressed some chagrin that I was “still in school.” She noted that she had sent me a few dollars when I earned my undergraduate degree and wondered whether her investment was wasted.


When, she asked, might I find myself a “real job.” I drew myself up and told her that I was working on a doctorate, a Ph.D., in economics. I thought that would impress, but it simply muddled matters.


“Didn’t you get that other degree in economics,” my relative asked caustically. I nodded. “Didn’t you learn it right the first time?” she asked, slapping her thigh to emphasize her point.


A few of the others gathered, laughed some in embarrassment, some in true amusement. This occurred so long ago that I don’t remember whether I gave the assembled group a piece of my mind or laughed along. But I do remember realizing that, for all of the African American historical thirst for education, there are also those among us who disparage “too much” education. Among youngsters, it manifests itself in rumors that studying is “acting white.” Among undergraduates, it manifests itself in the focus on careerism, instead of post-baccalaureate education.p Higher Risks


Whether the anti-educational focus is seen in youngsters or undergraduate students, it is terribly out of step with the realities of our nation’s competitive, technological future. African Americans will need more education, not LESS, and more and more of us will need advanced degrees in areas from economics and psychology TO chemistry and engineering to tackle the complex problems, of the 21st century. Those who aspire for more education, though,, may have to clear more hurdles than those in my generation did. There may be fewer, not more, opportunities as attacks on affirmative action continue, and cases like Hopwood vs. Texas threaten to severely restrict or eliminate minority admissions programs.


The current budgetary climate may also shrink funds available for financial aid. Further, economic uncertainty means that many students simply can’t afford graduate education if they have a job in hand. And changes in tenure and other shifts in higher education employment seem to bode ill for African Americans who aspire to the academy, making the risks of pursuing graduate education much higher.


Warriors Needed


Still, the ideological wars that are being fought in the academy scream for the need for more warriors to challenge flawed theories about eugenics, IQ, race, affirmative action and other issues. We need an Alvin Pouissant for every Charles Murray, a Cornel West for every Dinesh D’Souza. These voices are needed outside, as well as inside, the academy.

The paucity of people of color in upper management (as evidenced by the “Glass Ceiling Commission Report” of the U.S. Department of Labor) makes it urgent that more African Americans and others seek graduate management education. The legal challenges that have been issued by this repressive Supreme Court suggest that we must replicate people like the NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund’s Elaine Jones, and the Civil Rights Leadership Roundtable’s Wade Henderson. In other words, we don’t just need lawyers, but lawyers who are committed to the civil rights cause. Conservatives have had the upper hand in recent intellectual battles, especially where race matters are concerned.


There are more who would debunk affirmative action than would defend it. Liberals and others tiptoe around the affirmative action issue, wondering aloud if it isn’t time to put “preferences” to rest in the name of “fairness,” Where are the historians who will succeed John Hope Franklin … the young people whose research will remind us why “preference” is an inappropriate way to describe affirmative action? African Americans are underrepresented in every field, and despite the hurdles that must be cleared, the need for more African Americans to receive graduate and professional degrees is pressing.


Support and Affirmation


It is equally pressing, though, that the African-American community rally round those young people who undertake graduate studies to support and affirm them — and remind them of their importance to our, community. Currently, however, some students feel a gap between the academy and the community.


Indeed, the theme of the National Black Graduate Student Association’s Eighth Annual Conference was “Bridging the Gap Between Academia and the Community.” A panel that included Dr. Mualana Karenga, Dr. Na’im Akbar, myself and others, argued that there need not be a gap, and that students need not accept the notion that academic people are estranged from community.


By the same token, everybody probably has a relative like mine, who wonders if reading, writing and talking constitutes a “real job” –and if graduate study has any value when there are “paying jobs” out there.


I preach to the choir when I ask readers of this publication to make the case that graduate and professional education is important. But I’m not sure how often we take the time to speak to individual graduate students about the challenges to be faced and the way we hurdled them. I’m also not sure how often we commit ourselves to nurturing that promising undergraduate (we may come across) through graduate and professional studies. Those warriors who are wearying of fighting the intellectual wars understand that the army is strongest when it is replenished. We need to send a signal to the young people we encounter.


Wanted: more Black graduate and professional students.


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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