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Constance Iloh

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Supporting Graduate Students of Color … from the Perspective of Graduate Students of Color

This week I collaborated with Joshua Crutchfield, a friend and colleague studying African American History at Middle Tennessee State University. We both appreciate the wealth of efforts by education researchers to examine and address the experiences and challenges facing graduate students of color. We, however, would be remiss not to point out how much our own voices are positioned within this discourse rather than leading it. Accordingly, Joshua and I share some of our own observations and insights.

  • While we appreciate the tough love and survival advice we receive about racism and navigating the academy, sometimes this counsel can be borderline depressing. Much like any profession, we did not come to the academy to survive, but to thrive. We know that this advice stems from an honest assessment of the nature of the academy, but a helpful start to deconstructing this lies in shifting conversations.
  • When asking us to give the “real deal” about our experiences, it is a vulnerable position. Students may not want to be singled out, especially if there are numerous critiques. The term “safe space” is often thrown around but we find this to be essential in such candid conversations. Two especially important components are trust and the belief the other party cares about our long-term success.
  • Having a few or many students of color in an academic space does not equal a culturally inclusive environment. People of color are not a monolith, so even if we do share common experiences, our ideologies do not always match.
  • It is helpful when students of color do not have to take the responsibility of cultivating productive spaces where issues of race and intersectionality are addressed. It is much healthier when multiple stakeholders take ownership of this.

While these are not reflective of all of our insights, we hope these are useful additions to what we already know about graduate students of color. Our hope is that such reflections are a catalyst for changes in not only the content of these discussions but those involved in them.

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