BLM x PhD

I recently read this Inside Higher Ed article by Clifton Boyd, a black PhD candidate. He describes his experience as a black scholar amidst the Black Lives Matter movement.

Academia is competitive – like cut-throat competitive. Every year, there are more PhD graduates than there are academic jobs. As soon as you enter the PhD program, the focus lies not on the here and now, but on the future. The question you (and every other student) asks is as follows: What can I do in this limited time, with limited funding and resources, to make my potential and productivity seem limitless?

Boyd is a black scholar in a mostly white field at an Ivy League School. He supports the BLM movement. He is working to excel in his field. He is working to land a tenure track academic job. And, he has avoided attending protests: “This involved, time-intensive approach to emotional processing conflicts with the productivity required of me by academe.”

I know that when the time comes to go on the job market or apply for a fellowship, I will still be expected to have research publications and a polished dissertation. “Paralyzing grief due to the continuous, systemic murders of my community’ will not be an acceptable excuse for why my application is less competitive than that of my peers.

Academia is not diverse. People of color are not well-represented. Like Boyd, I aim to help diversify the American professoriate. Hopefully, in the future, the ivy tower of academia will have more shades of black and brown.

As a PhD student of color, I feel overextended. First, I want to be active and support my black brothers and sisters in their fight for equality. I want to be out on the street and making our collective voices heard. Second, I also think about the future of our higher education system. It is currently broken and only helps certain privileged students. It leaves students of color behind. It leaves undocumented students behind. It leaves students from low-income backgrounds behind. The higher education system fails to serve everyone equally. Third, I think about my responsibility as one of the few woman of color in my program. The sum of interests leaves my attention and efforts divided. The burden is heavy. The expectations I have for myself are high. I am not the only person of color who feels this way.

Academe puts black scholars between a rock and a hard place, forcing us to decide between fully processing our emotions during these moments of racial injustice and producing enough research to survive in a system that already has fewer and fewer opportunities for a growing pool of Ph.D.s.

“The irony lies in the fact that while black academics and other scholars of color are the most distressed by cultural moments like these, academe at large relies upon our success to ‘fix’ the problem of racial and ethnic diversity in our respective fields.”

“This argument extends to the current movement for social justice and an end to police brutality: many members of the black community are out on the streets fighting for their literal survival in a country that can’t agree on whether or not black lives matter.

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