Letter to the Editor: My Doctorate is my Activism

Jamal Myrick, a resident director at The University of California at Riverside and doctoral candidate writes: “This doctorate is more than me. It’s for those that have traditionally felt silenced. This doctorate is for the next generation of leaders of color. This doctorate is for young men and women of color who don’t come from the best of situations but still persevere. This is my activism.” (Source).

This is my activism. This will be my activism.

These words resonated so deeply within me because, honestly, I realized that it’s a good portion of the reason I decided to apply to school one more time (even after I told myself I was done when I completed the master’s degree). That itch to go back to school for a terminal degree was growing as things around me were happening in society; killings of my people, strong instances of institutional racism, mentoring students of color and helping them process this game called life, et cetera. I tried to ignore this growing desire and I was constantly asked by my parents, grandmother and other friends “Why would you want to go back to school AGAIN??” And it’s simple: the time to be an advocate for the African-American community, the community at large and diversity initiatives is NOW.

Please don’t get me wrong: the thought of attempting a doctorate is DAUNTING. However, I have constant thoughts in my mind that push me towards that journey every day. First, like Myrick states: “Imposter Syndrome is real!” As a few of my associates and friends can probably attest to and according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin, there are times professionally and during our educational studies in which we truly feel like we are not qualified enough or have an internalized fear of being made out to be a fraud. While I am sure that I am more than qualified to do the work that I do, successfully entering and completing a degree or certificate program honestly helps to ease that feeling that hovers over us sometimes. (It definitely lifted some of the imposter feelings I had lingering from undergrad after I finished my Master’s degree.)

In addition to that, let’s be honest: credentials, most of the time, will allow you to have a seat at the table that you probably would not have had before. According to what we know of current society, I am already at a disadvantage in the fight for equality, justice and other social changes.

I am Black.
I am a woman.
I am a Millennial (which does bother me from time to time to admit, truthfully.)
I am introverted.

The list could continue. While I am fortunate to have my master’s, the terminal degree will allow me to have a seat beyond the “kid’s table “of society; at least in the battle for diversity and inclusive excellence. In my heart, I feel a doctoral degree will allow me to take my activism to the next level and according to some national stats, I may not be the only African-American/Black person to feel this way. In addition to the statement from Myrick, the National Center for Education Statistics stated that the number of Black Doctoral Degrees that were conferred in the 2014-2015 academic year was 13,278. This is almost 3,000 more than the amount conferred five years earlier. It is safe to say the desire to become more educated by African-Americans is growing more and more each year.

While I cannot answer for anyone else, if I can’t have a seat at the table in society, I’m going to make my own table and have a seat at the head of it. I also know that to have this table and seat, I would have to either work for many years and/or have some extra letters behind my name. One of the common sayings that has arisen in the past couple of years is “The bachelor’s is the new high school diploma.” (Source). This means that for an increasing number of millennials and the under 32 crowd, we go to school, pay thousands of dollars for a Bachelor’s to get an administrative or entry-level position that pays us $24,000-$28,000 initially. Now, it’s very true that you do not have to necessarily go beyond the Bachelor’s to get ahead, but let’s be honest: sometimes, as a person of color, that MA/MS/MEd/MBA, etc. helps. It helps for the following reasons:

  1. It’s respected as a level of prestige.
  2. It allows for you to develop more of the skills necessary to land that job, therefore, making you more competitive.
  3. But most importantly, it gives you just a little more power to change the community and the world that you may not have had before.

As we know, the change in our communities and societies starts with those that can do something and those that will do something. “I will be an advocate for those who face injustice on a daily basis inside and outside of higher education.” -Jamal Myrick. Honestly, if I can say nothing else, the doctorate will allow me to be a change agent in ways that I could have only previously dreamed about.

My degrees are my activism…


Emily Dixon is a born and raised North Carolinian. Now residing in the eastern part of the state, she works at East Carolina University at the Brody School of Medicine in the Office of Diversity Affairs. Between her professional work and her involvement in her fraternal organizations, Tau Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority, Inc. and The Order of the Eastern Star, Prince Hall Affiliated, she takes mentorship in the community and diversity and social justice issues very seriously. If you’re in the surrounding area around East Carolina University or are interested in more diversity work or programming, please reach out to her via email or connect on LinkedIn.

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