#CocoaScholars: My Village
There is an old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”. I say it takes a village to earn a doctorate. When I began my doctoral journey I received lots of advice from lots of people on how to manage the process, how to study, how to prepare for preliminary exams, how to write each paper around my interested topic, and the list goes on. The most beneficial advice was to “find your people”. In any transition, whether it be a new job or new a city you must find your people. Those individuals that you can connect with to make the journey a little less lonesome and more bearable. The same was/is/has been true for my doctoral journey.
I had to find my squad that I could send the random text in the middle of class because the white dude sitting next to me, in my diversity class, sporting the “woke” pin, just spewed his white boy privilege all over our class discussion. Only they could understand the major side eye that I gave him and the prompt challenge that followed. My squad, the Cocoa Scholars, have been the peace in the storm when my well-meaning instructor threw a pen at me in class, or when an instructor commented on a fellow scholars’ complexion while she was giving a presentation, or to be the smile and affirmation when your presentation title #HigherEdSoWhite graces the screen. Without my squad this journey would be a lot harder. I also understand the privilege I have in not being the only chocolate face in my program or in my classes. That is not everyone’s experience. I value their presence more than I can express in words. We study together, we submit programs and papers together, we engage in fellowship, we celebrate our triumphs, and help each other when we fall short.
Some of our white peers and black peers have commented on feeling isolated or not welcomed in our group. As a community of practice it in essence does create barriers to entry because it is a true safe space for those who are a part of the community. It was also interesting to see the impact of our community on other Black and Brown peers. Some wanted entry and others wished they had something similar when they entered the program. There is a level of network and social capital that has come with our community. Like our white colleagues who seem to connect and share very freely about resources and opportunities our community has created a space to do the same.
We have been able to benefit from the diverse experiences of the members of our group. We have members who are in their second year to those in candidacy. Those who are working full time and those who are full time students with assistantships. Our group is made up of parents, single persons, men, women, we range in age between late 20’s to early 50’s. It is easy to ask for help, if some has a book or an article, or know of any this or that. We have created our own resource drive that can be passed down to other iterations of the Cocoa Scholars.
I say all this to say that finding community is essential in order to persist through this process especially when you sit in a minority seat. I have seen people reject community and the resulting isolation that came with that choice. Your community doesn’t have to look like mine. It has been beneficial to me that mine does consist of black and brown scholars who are at different places along the doctoral journey. In the end we are all “just tryna graduate” and having my squad has made all the difference in making that happen.
About the Author
LaFarin Meriwether is a PhD student in Higher Education program at Florida State University. Her research focuses around Black female identity development. She holds a B.S. in Agriculture Economics and a B.S. Agriculture Education, Communication, and Leadership from the University of Kentucky. She received her M.B.A from the University of Cincinnati.