Constrained Blackness

I think I have figured out at least one reason why graduate school has been difficult. I am rarely around more than one or two Black people at a time. Many times I am the only Black person at social gatherings. Most other times there are only one or two more. I’ve talked about this before, but not so much regarding the cultural mismatch. This is something that really hit me yesterday. It is challenging to go through this period when you are around many people who do not share the same cultural background as you. It is valuable to be around people from different backgrounds certainly, but something can definitely be said about having those shared experiences. I want to be able to talk more about the music I like to listen to without getting a blank stare or some kind of dismissive comment. I want to play my music at my desk without worrying about getting weird looks. I want to freely suggest movies to watch without wondering if people will assume some kind of negative stereotype about me or use the movie to stereotype Black people. And then the food. That has been really rough for me too. Particularly when there is a potluck event and hardly anyone eats the food you bring. The food you spent four hours making. And goddamn I want to have someone to talk basketball with. Basketball is my favorite sport, but I guess it is too lowly of an activity for some people to engage in. I wonder why (this is sarcasm, I know why). I just want to freely express my cultural background without fear of being stereotyped or insulted. I do not like to feel that I have to constrain my Blackness for the comfort of others. Sometimes I wonder if that is why some people are okay with me. Black enough to say you have “diverse” friends, but not too Black to make you uncomfortable. I think this is always something I am going to struggle with: being a Black face in a mostly White space.



“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a a rage almost all the time.” James Baldwin said it and I feel it. I experience it. It’s not always related to being Black, but I have felt like this for quite a while. A few months at least. I am frustrated, angry, and just generally not very happy. I’m frustrated with so many things.

I’m frustrated with my career. I have about another year in this Ph.D. program. I wish I could be done sooner than that. There’s so much I’ve had to deal with during grad school and I’m just over it in general. I’m tired of extending the olive branch to people who don’t deserve it. The relationship with my previous advisor was unhealthy and I recently ended it. She discouraged me from publishing my master’s thesis and now that I have a new advisor who thinks I should publish it, I have to extend the offer for collaboration with her since she was the chair of my thesis committee. It’s the “professional” thing to do. I’m tired of professional meaning that people can exploit, discourage, degrade, and insult you while still benefitting from your work. It makes me sick. She’s part of the reason I needed to go to therapy 2 years ago. I’m tired of having to be the one to smile and nod in the face of people who care nothing for me and who abuse their power and authority. I’m just tired of being devalued and being expected to prostrate myself for people.

I’m frustrated with feeling like I have to shoulder the burden for multiple people. I’m only one person, but I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world. So much is needed and expected from me, frankly unfairly so. It’s gotten to the point that I get anxiety whenever my phone rings because it’s inevitably going to be someone asking me to do something when I’m already really overwhelmed. Too often I have had to bring myself away from the brink of breaking down. It’s rough. I feel like not too many people know/care about this. Me, me, me, me, me. I feel lost in the shuffle of everyone else’s problems particularly when asked to help with them. I feel overburdened and I feel like no one is/will mitigate that burden, particularly if they are adding to them.

I also am frustrated with just the general state of things. Relating back to my first point, I’m frustrated with seeing so much Black pain, suffering, and hurt only for it to be ignored, downplayed, and disregarded. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of finding myself in situations in which I have explain my perspective as a Black person in America only to have it challenged by people who have no fucking idea what it is like. I’m tired of these damn White faux-progressives and their damn performed liberalism that’s used as a tool to talk down to Black people and tell them to behave properly. I’m tired hearing people talk about things they know nothing about and having to challenge people about their erroneous assertions of reverse racism and other nonsensical concepts that allow White people to deny the advantage that they’ve had in this country since before it was even a country. I’m tired of being nice and trying to spare people’s feelings because they want to play dumb and be blind. I’m tired of being someone who possesses much more experiential and scientific knowledge of this area than the people I find myself in these scenarios with, only for them to try to employ half-ass tricks of debate and logical fallacies to tell me how I’m the one who is wrong or mistaken. As if their White opinion trumps my reality and years of academic study. I’m tired of feeling like the token/Black friend who has to tell people how things are because if I wasn’t a grad student as well, they likely would not have much of a reason to associate with me and I’m the only Black person most of them probably interact with past some hierarchial relationship in which they are on the higher level.

I’m tired, I’m frustrated, I’m unhappy. I share all of this for the comfort of some level of catharsis. None of this is up for debate or argument. I’m not backing down from what I say. This is how I feel in its rawest form. Anger and frustration laid bare in front of you. Also, do not use this as a means of projecting your own insecurities onto what I am saying. Basically, don’t come asking me if I am talking about you. If you really care, you wouldn’t ask that question in the first place. I’ve said my piece. Maybe I will be in a better place tomorrow or hopefully things turn around. I need it to because I need to be able to take care of myself and its difficult to juggle that with so many demands from so many people and so many pressures. I want to help, I really do. But sometimes I need help too, but it’s hard to ask for help when so many other people are asking me for the help. Maybe it will get better.

Being Black in Grad School

It is really hard. You think you are prepared for it, until you actually experience it. In many ways, it is difficult to put into adequate words, but I will try. The best way to explain it is as a constant paradox of feeling both under scrutiny and invisible. You feel under scrutiny because you are visually different than most people around you. A lot of times I find myself as the Black face in a crowd and even at 25 this is still a discomforting experience. It is things like going to social events and having people come up to you and touch your hair without permission, examining it as if it were some kind of specimen from another world. A sense of bewilderment and awe at how someone’s hair could possibly look the way mine does. Additionally, there is the uncomfortable position of feeling kind of violated but being afraid of making a scene to express your discomfort of such things for fear of being labeled the angry Black man. Or it’s having your friend tell you that one of his colleagues is uncomfortable and afraid of African Americans. It is always fighting that imposter syndrome mixed with its own flavor of stereotype threat. Always being afraid of seeming not as intelligent as your White peers. It is always wondering if the people you are friendly with genuinely like you or if you’re just another background character in the story of their path to racial enlightenment. The Black friend. It’s meeting a friend’s family and having them try to dap you up instead of the handshakes that they gave to everyone else. Or being told that kids would relate to me because they would like my hair. It is feeling different, looking different, and always getting reminders of difference. It can create a completely different kind of social environment that highlights your difference.

Then there is the invisibility. The feeling of seeing so many of your peers get so many opportunities to publish and work on different projects with faculty and being left wondering what is it about you that precludes you from receiving those same opportunities. You come to realize that it may be due to the fact that there are so few Black people around and that there aren’t enough of you work together to have the same level of productivity that White students have because there are so many more of them to work with each other. This is also probably related to the fact that many of us study issues related to Black people. There is the ubiquitous first day introductions in which everyone talks about their research interests. Everyone else gets follow-up questions about their topics. “My name is Dominique Thomas and I study how parents talk to their children about race and how those messages influence academic outcomes” usually gets met with a blank stare and some variation of “ok cool” or “that’s interesting.” Happens at social functions too. The implicit message that your work doesn’t really matter that much. There’s going to bi-weekly brown bags with periodic guest speakers and none of them being Black during the 5 years you’ve been there. There’s disappearing of Black faculty because they realize that their efforts will not be awarded with tenure. There’s going to a national conferences, applying for a mentoring program, asking if there are African American mentors, and then being told to not “segregate yourself.” The endless stories of some Black person who finds new life as the latest #hashtag because they met a premature death at the hands of a police officer. The things that affect you in a different way than your other classmates because you are all too aware of the reality that it could have easily been you.

It’s feeling lost in the shuffle. Feeling marginalized, forgotten about, and invisible. It’s a constant of wondering what’s just your perception or what’s reality. Weighing whether to confront someone about a racist thing they said. Picking which fights are worth fighting. Which things are worth speaking out about. Whether to put yourself out there for fear of repercussions when you are already fighting an uphill battle. It’s tiring, exhausting, painful, and lonely. But you do it because people are relying on you. Your family. Your community. You’re driven by some greater purpose probably. You probably realize that your struggles will probably make it easier for the person behind you. Make some kind of positive difference in your community. Whatever the reason, keep doing it. Surely all this is worth it. I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to keep studying my “Black shit” and do it very well.

New Year, New Start

This year is going be different, hopefully that is a good thing. For one thing, I’m starting in a new research lab this semester after switching advisors. Things are looking good so far and I think this will be a significant improvement from the previous situation I was in, a none too healthy one. I look forward to a lot of positives and hopefully graduating within the next year and a half. I’m teaching again this semester as well. This first class was this week and I think I have a good group of students this time around. I’m hoping to learn from some of my mistakes last semester and improve my teaching this semester. This year is going to be a period of growth and looking forward. I’m nearing the end of this PhD program and I have to start putting more thought into what I’m going to do after this and how I can best prepare for myself for that next step. This is going to be an interesting year.

Why I Became a Community Psychologist

Ever since I could remember, I have always been interested in issues of social justice, particularly as it is related to African Americans and our place in this country. My grandmother would tell me about her experiences growing up and living in Mississippi. She was always very blunt and never sugar-coated things, particularly when it came to racism. There were things that she said and believed that I was unable to fully grasp at the time that she said it. A couple of those things being that racism never really went away and that they should have never integrated the schools. I did not agree with everything that she thought, but she definitely shaped my worldview and the lens through which I look at things.

As a child I read a lot of things related to Black history like the Civil Rights movement and ancient Egypt and Black historical figures like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali. While all those things really interested me, they felt distant and far away, things of a bygone time. I grew up and lived in a predominantly low-income Black neighborhood so I had limited interactions with White people; racism and race were not quite as salient for me then or at least it did not have the same type of salience. One thing that happened that started to change that for me was an issue involving the confederate flag.

On the beach near where I lived, there was a structure where several flag posts stood with different flags on them. Of course there was the American flag, but there was also the Confederate flag. One day someone started sitting out in front the flags in protest. Days and days went by and he refused to leave. He would not leave until the flag was taken down. This went on for about a month or so until he finally left and the flag was eventually taken down. The discussions and debates surrounding the flag showed me that racism was not a thing of the past; there were still wounds present that had not quite healed yet.

Those previous situations still felt somewhat external to me; they were important issues, but they did not really resonate with me that deeply. During the summer before my freshman year in high school, we were given a reading for our honors English class. One of the books on the list was Richard Wright’s Native Son. I thought it would be an interesting book so I chose it as one of the books I would read and write about. For reasons I’m still unsure about to this day, the book really hit me. I think it was the first time that issues of race, racism, and identity had been crystalized to such a degree that I internalized it. Through my immersion into the story I became more aware of how society viewed Black people and what our place was in it. Coincidentally, this came right before I was to be made hyperaware of my Blackness because I had my first experiences of being the only African American in the classroom.

Such an experience was initially very shocking and unnerving for me. I was constantly on guard and wondering how people viewed me, so much so that my performance started to suffer due to my high discomfort. Eventually, I got over the discomfort, but there would still be reminders of my otherness, particularly during one semester in which I was called names by a White student every time I walked in the classroom. High school was definitely a time in which I began try to make sense of the racial landscape immediately surrounding me and in general. I always found myself being the only one or one of few African American students in advanced classes, despite the fact that I knew other African American students who were definitely capable of excelling at that level. I also noticed that in many ways, the experiences and contributions of African Americans were largely absent in the curriculum. I began to wonder if something else was going on. In trying to figure these things out, I used a lot of my class projects to study things that both interested me and helped me learn more about being Black in America and just what it all entails. In my English classes I wrote about things from the Civil Rights movement to the history of hip-hop to why African Americans should receive reparations. In my government class, I wrote a paper about the Dred Scott case. All of these things were topics that were not really covered in our classes and at some point as I got older, I began to understand why.

An area in which I got an unexpected lesson about where Black people stand in America was the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Living on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, I unfortunately have first-hand knowledge of the damage that was done and the lives that were changed. For the month or so after, we were pretty much cut off from the rest of the world because of the periods without access to lights, water, and cable. When we finally got access to television again, I began to have a better idea of how things were being portrayed in the media. One thing that I noticed was how similar acts were being reported differently based on the individual’s race. In newspaper articles, a picture of an African American getting food from a destroyed grocery store would be reported as “looting.” Yet, similar images of White Americans doing the same thing would be reported as “searching for food.” The African American hurricane victims were being portrayed in a negative light while the White victims were being portrayed in either a neutral or positive light. That difference in reporting angered me and I wonder what kinds of messages such reporting and information sharing sent to individuals. I was particularly angered because in times of desperate need, we were still denied our full humanity. Whether it was the lack of response on the part of the federal government or the unfair reporting, it was unfortunately clear to me that we were not valued.

Around the same time I had decided that I wanted to become a lawyer, because I thought the best way to help my community was through the justice system. An event happened, once again in my hometown, that paradoxically made me want to be a lawyer more, but shook my faith in making changes through the legal system. An African American man had been arrested by the police and taken to the county jail. Somehow he ended up dead after being in custody. Eventually video of what happened surfaced and it was revealed that the police officers had beaten him to death, while he was hog-tied and had a plastic bag over his head. Right there, plain as day, it was apparent something was terribly wrong and broken within the system. I believe whether or not the officers were charged, which they were, is irrelevant to the broader point of the complete disregard for Black lives. That has always stuck with me and it is something that I always think back about when I hear about the most recent tragedy or injustice.

After I graduated from high school, I attended Morehouse College. This was partially because I had attended a summer program hosted at the school and also because I tired of being the only Black person in my classes. I knew how important representation was and I wanted to see more people who looked like me in both the classroom and in the curriculum. While at Morehouse, faculty and administration had the goal of instilling in us a sense of responsibility to the community and that is one thing that I definitely took to heart. As previously mentioned, I originally wanted to be lawyer, but I became a psychology major rather than a political science or other major because I believed that having an understanding of how people behave would help me in my law practice. Eventually I became disillusioned with the idea of becoming a lawyer because I did not believe that it would be the best route for me to do work related to social justice. I decided that I would be a psychologist instead.

My first research experience was my time in the Ronald E. McNair program. As part of the program, I had to work in a research lab under a faculty mentor. I started working in Dr. Bryant Marks’ Morehouse Male Initiative lab. The research we did in the lab was related to the experiences that Black men had in college. My first project in the lab was examining racial identity as a predictor of mental health. Specifically, I looked at how racial centrality, private regard, and public regard predicted self-esteem and depressive symptoms. That was the first project that sparked my broader research interests that I would continue to develop. At first my research interests were mainly involving mental health outcomes as they related to racial identity, but I started to become more interested in education related outcomes given that our lab’s focus was the Black male college experience. During my senior year, our thesis project was examining the relationship between the attachment that an individual has to their school and their self-esteem. After that, I started to consider how such things were related to factors such as racial identity. My interests in racial socialization started to emerge because I realized that these aspects of identity did not come out of nowhere; they had to have come from some source whether it was parents, media, or schools.

My consciousness grew and through community psychology, I was able to better understand and articulate the various m phenomena I witnessed both in my personal life and in society. I first heard about community psychology at Morehouse. One of my professors was a community psychologist, but I did not really have an idea what community psychology was, yet it seemed interesting. During my senior year, I took a community psychology course with that same professor. Once in the class, my interest in community psychology grew as I was exposed to more of what it entailed. Perhaps coincidentally, I took this class during the same time I was applying to graduate school. I applied to other programs, but I made sure to apply to a community psychology program.

I wanted to go into community psychology because of the focus on enacting social change and engaging in community based research. I also felt that community psychology was the best blend of the different things I wanted out of a future career. I believed that community psychology, more than other areas of psychology, paid attention to the various contextual factors that influence people’s behavior. Also, the idea of a strengths-based perspective appealed to me very much as an alternative to the typical deficit-based perspective that is common in mainstream psychology. There was also something that gave a sense of hope that things can be improved to some extent. A positive outlook was something that was refreshing to me, given the pessimism that I have at times. I hoped that community psychology would be the vehicle through which I could help enact some level of change.

Through my first three years in the program, much of that time was spent trying to determine the direction in which I wanted my research and future career to go in. I used many of my class projects to develop ideas and get feedback on them. For example, in the Community Intervention, Prevention, and Social Change class, we each had to pick specific social issues and frame our weekly discussion questions and final position paper around this issue. The social issue I chose was the achievement gap between African American students and White students. For the final paper, I proposed advocacy and creating alternative settings as two intervention strategies that could be utilized to reduce the achievement gap. The reason I chose those two particular strategies were because of the ongoing internal dialectic I have. My preference for practical solutions and my exposure to political science and law lend me to see the utility of using political and legal avenues to enact social change. On the other side, my pessimism born from experience, has me wary of using political and legal means due to those systems being used to disenfranchise and oppress African Americans. That part of me wants to not bother with that and just create something outside of those existing systems.

In weighing the pros and cons of these approaches, I came to have a better understanding of what happens in schools, particularly those with large proportions of African American students. Reading the literature reminded me of my own experiences in school and I saw the same themes and trends over and over again. Disproportionate tracking places large proportions of African American students in lower tracks; couple that with the social isolation that the few African American students in higher tracks experience. Disparate disciplinary actions remove African American students from class at higher rates and too often expose them to the criminal justice system. It was at this point that I realized that aside from studying issues of race such as socialization and identity, I definitely wanted to do work that would help to improve the educational prospects of African American students, whether they are in K-12 or post-secondary institutions.

This realization helped me to figure out what I would be writing for my master’s thesis. The thesis merged together my interests in race-related factors such as socialization with my interests in academic outcomes for African Americans. My topic was the effect that racial discrimination has on the academic attitudes (educational expectations and educational value) of African American college students and whether being prepared for that discrimination (preparation for bias) can lessen the negative effects of that discrimination. I thought about this topic through an ecological perspective. At the individual level, there is the student and the attitudes of the student. At the microsystem level, there is preparation for bias from the family within one microsystem and there is the racial discrimination experienced in the school setting within another microsystem. These two processes interact at the level of the mesosystem to influence the student’s attitudes regarding education. Not surprisingly racial discrimination had a negative effect on both types of academic attitudes. Preparation for bias had a positive relationship with only educational value and did not lessen the effect of racial discrimination on any of the academic attitudes. In my head, it would make sense that being prepared for discrimination would in some way better protect a person from the harmful effects even though this was not reflected in the data. I started to wonder whether there was something more to it that I was not really thinking about. I thought that there may be something related to the experiences of African American college students that facilitated positive academic outcomes in the face of likely racial discrimination.

I realized that something that was likely missing from my analyses was the actual experiences of people. Although my strength is in quantitative methods, I do realize the weaknesses in such an approach given the reliance on numbers and data rather than people and experiences. For this reason, I took a qualitative methods course. My hope was that learning another skill set would allow me to better answer the questions that I had. I also hoped that I would come out of the course being able to ask better questions. For the final project, we had the option of creating an interview guide and piloting it. I chose to create an interview guide that I could use to attempt to understand the lived experiences of African American students in the education system. I wanted the guide to be able to help me find themes across people’s experiences and to determine what were the kinds of things that influences decisions about education. One thing I learned from the project was not to necessarily assume that the information that I get from the interviews would be negative. I acknowledge that I came into the project with a particular lens that colored the types of responses I thought I would get. I realized that I needed to be more intentional in framing the work within a strengths-based perspective. So my broad question ended up morphing into: what are the experiences of African American students that lead to positive academic outcomes? This question could be answered in several likely ways, so the goal now is to determine the best way of answering this broad question and figuring out more specific questions that help to answer the larger question.

In trying to answer questions like the one above, I often find myself trying to figure out what kind of scholar I want to be. My experiences both in school and outside school have shaped my worldview and in many ways I wonder how that influences my current and future development as a scholar. One thing I know for sure is that I do not want to be good at just one thing. I want to be able conduct face-to-face interviews with the same ease that I can run regression analyses. I want to do work that helps me personally and professionally and I also want to do work that helps to make a difference in the community. I think that if the research that is done does not have the potential to make a positive societal contribution, then it is not really worth doing. I do not want to be one of those ivory tower scientists that only worries about publication numbers and grants.

In wanting to be an effective community psychologist, I want to make sure I stay informed of not just the most recent research, but also the current events. I think that if one is not connected to what is actually going in society, then there is the risk of producing research that is irrelevant and outdated. In addition to reading current research articles, I also keep track of things going on through the news. I also read books about various issues that are mostly written by academics, but are written for broader audiences. A lot of those books get at the some of the issues that we study as community psychologists, but often it seems it is without all of the esoteric theory and jargon. It is much more grounded in the reality of these problems and is more relatable. I believe that there is a place for both in the field: empirical and theoretical articles and books for non-academic audiences. I want my work to be relatable and relevant to people, but I also want it to be accessible. I would like to be able to reach people in a way that has an impact. I do not want my work to be limited to journal articles that only a privileged few may have access to. I want the work to matter and to get to those who need it.

Related to the previous points, community psychology has come to mean several things to me. First, it means being able to see the larger picture of what goes on in society. Understanding how different levels of society impact people’s behavior allows one to get at the root of certain problems and be better prepared to intervene. Second, it means using our scholarship to help make people’s voices heard who would have not been heard otherwise. Community based research should incorporate the needs and input of those it would affect. Third, it means finding the inherent strengths within a community in order to build upon them to improve people’s lives. Too often mainstream psychology uses deficit-oriented approaches to research without acknowledging people as functioning and contributing members of their community. Finally, it means using our scholarship to enact social change. If our scholarship does not help to enact some level of change, then we need to rethink what it is that we are actually doing.

When I engage in those kinds of activities, I feel most like a community psychologist. There are some times when I question my place in the field and do not necessarily feel like a community psychologist. A lot of these situations stem from my racial identity. I feel out of place many times when I go to community psychology conferences and see how few African Americans are present. I feel out of place when I read all of the seminal articles in the field and most of them are authored by White men. I feel out of place when there are serious issues in society that are related to African Americans and the field seems to be relatively silent on these issues. I feel out of place, but then I remember that I have to change the situation by contributing to the field and helping to bring in more African Americans to the field.

For my future career as a community psychologist, I want to continue doing research, specifically on African American students across different stages. In addition to conducting research, I would like to be able to evaluate and consult programs that serve African American students.  I also want to use my position to expose more African American students to the field of community psychology, while also making sure that it is a field that is more ready to support them. In short, the reason I became a community psychologist is to improve the situation of the broader African American community.

2015 Was Some Year

This has been a really long year for me. It’s been a long time since I last posted something on here and I figured I would give an update to people who may have wondered what’s been going on with me. I came into the year coming back from my trip to Haiti, which was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, I came back to my apartment being flooded due to a busted pipe under the building. Additionally, my roommate had lost his job and the responsibility of paying all of the rent and all of the bills fell to me and that caused additional stress for me. On top of this, I’m dealing with grad school stuff, particularly studying for my comprehensive/qualifying/doctoral exam, which I had originally planned to take in April. To digress a little, the format of this test is essentially a long essay that you’re given 16 hours over 2 days to complete. The content of the exam differs depending on your specialty, but it is essentially testing you on everything that you have learned during grad school. Just imagine trying to study for that.

On top of this, I took in my younger brother for a few months because of all the terrible things that have been happening from our hometown, specifically violent things. In retrospect, it may not have been the best/healthiest idea for me because I ended up taking on too much stuff and it wore on me very quickly. Add to that, a relationship that was not going well and did not end very well. There were points during that first 5 or 6 months of the year in which I felt like I was on the verge of cracking. Some days, I just stayed in bed the entire time, not wanting to deal with anything. Eventually, my roommate got another job and my brother was ready to go back home, so some of that burden that I took on dissipated.

One way in which I tried to cope with these things was to try and put my energy into my work. I started trying to do more things with my department’s graduate student association as well as our diversity committee. Also, I ended up becoming co-president of the Black Graduate Student Association, something that actually gives me sort of fulfillment outside of the purely academic stuff that I do. I did 2 presentations at one conference, complicated by the fact that I left my laptop on the plane when I landed in Philly for the conference. Somehow I got my laptop back, but that was definitely additional stress I did not need at that point. Ended up both organizing a roundtable with friends and volunteering at another conference later that year. A conference that I probably would not have afforded if I had not gotten a travel award and/or taken out a student loan for the summer. I was also working on a manuscript based on one of the presentations I did earlier in the year and I submitted it to the Journal of Black Psychology. It was rejected. Talk about a blow to the ego. I’ve edited and fixed it since then, but I have some level of apprehension in terms of sending it out again to another outlet, given how long this process can be. On top of those things, I had an internship in which I worked with a consulting firm and I also was a field interviewer for the Atlanta Youth Count project, which was a study on the needs and experiences of homeless youth in Atlanta. Both of these experiences together were very informative and opened my eyes to a lot of things. It also provided a distraction from some of the other things I was dealing with.

Another source of conflict and stress (really has been for the last 4 1/2 years) has been my relationship with my advisor. It’s been rocky, a generous term, the whole time and I’ve tried my best to get through the situation. A bit of miscommunication between us resulted in me scrambling to find committee members for my exam for my goal of taking the exam in April. Ended up not getting enough people in time and I had to wait until the end of September to take the exam. This put me in a bit of a limbo for a few months because I was unsure for most of that time when I would be able to take the exam. I ended up passing the exam, but that was after I had to redo one of the sessions during an additional hour and 15 minutes on top of the 16 hours I had already done. After the exam (actually before the exam and during the time I was studying), I started working on my dissertation. I had a general idea of what it was I wanted to do. I really wanted to move forward as fast as I could within reason to get to where I wanted and needed to be. However, there was period of a month during which we did not meet. This was due to a sick day from me and honestly a day she just didn’t show up. Unfortunately, but not too unexpectedly, the fault landed on my shoulders for us not meeting during that month.

There’s a bit more to this story, but I’m keeping it as brief as I can while trying to get to the main points. During the last meeting we had, I wanted to talk about our dissertation, but I felt as though she would rather talk about why we had not met in the last month, which I felt was counterproductive. During that meeting, I felt as though the blame was being placed on me and there was more interest in lecturing me about missed meetings than about talking to me about my dissertation. Four years of frustration, feeling unsupported, doubt, and anxiety boiled over and I finally had just had it. I stepped out during the meeting, not sure if I was going back for the meeting, but eventually deciding to not go back to the meeting. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to switch advisors with that action, but it was probably the only thing I could have realistically done after that. I feel like the relationship was too strained, at least for me, and I had dealt with enough negative feeling during that to continue any longer. I ended up making the switch a couple of weeks after that and I have to say that I feel a sense of relief from finally making that decision. It was long overdue honestly.

So remember earlier when I mentioned having to fix part of my exam? The first day of the exam went pretty well. I wrote 8 single spaced pages and felt like the exam was not as difficult as I thought it would be, or at least as hard as I was afraid it would be. I had basically written everything that I wanted to include except for one of the sections. Right after I finished my writing for the first day, I found out that my apartment had been broken into. Most of my stuff outside my clothes was stolen. My Playstation 4, my laptop, all of my DVDs, and more. Once again, something that happens at the absolute worst time. To make it worse, they broke in through my bedroom window. I basically did not sleep in my own apartment for 2 weeks straight because of the combination of my apartment complex dragging their feet on fixing my window or at the very least covering up the hole and that I just did not feel safe there. The next day, my brain would not work. I spent much of the time staring at the computer screen in a semi-daze. Needless to say, I did not get as much done on the second day as I did the first day. The next week I had my defense and afterwards I was told I had to revise one of the sections. Of course it was the section I hadn’t finished on the first day and had to struggle through on the second day. BTW still have not heard anything from the police; it’s been almost 3 months. I don’t plan on hearing anything else on the matter.

This has been a really rough year for me, but I try to think of the positive things that have happened for me too. I ended up replacing a lot of the stuff that got stolen. I was hesitant to at first, but I went through with it because I made a decision not to let that situation make me afraid. I was on a panel discussing the movie Straight Outta Compton and NWA’s impact on the Black community and society as a whole. That was interesting to say the least. The roundtable that we organized at the conference went relatively well and we decided to write an article for our field’s newsletter. It was accepted and you can find it here if you want more info (page 28). It’s about culturally sensitive mentoring of graduate students in community psychology. I also wrote an article about my first trip to Haiti, which you can find here. I’ve been trying to do other things where I can put my skills to use, but in a non-academic realm. I just became a contributing writer for this online magazine called Those People, where hopefully I can utilize the things I’ve learned from my research to communicate to a different audience in different way.

I saw two of my best friends each get married over the summer and I’m about to see a third friend get married in a few days. Also for me, I am in a relationship again, this time a much better one with none of the drama. Not to mention how supportive she’s been during these last few difficult months, particularly with the situations with the break-in and my advisor troubles. Definitely lucky to have someone like her. I also taught my first class during this semester. That was definitely a highlight for me this semester. I found myself unexpectedly at ease when I was teaching. The anxiety that I normally have when I give presentations was largely not there during my lectures. It may have something to do with an increased sense of control over the situation. This experience definitely helped me to feel as though the work I do matters because I can actually see the impact. It’s been a long and trying year, but I can take lessons learned from this year and use them to make sure the next year is better. I know that this marker is rather arbitrary in terms of making a change, but given how the last 356 days have gone, I would want to make sure that the next 365+ will be a vast improvement. So here’s to hoping that 2016 is a great year.

Just finished watching the documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross

All of the episodes deal with some heavy stuff of course.  The last episode is the one that actually got to me for real.  About half of the time covered in the final episode is during my lifetime.  While there was a sense of hopefulness in the episode, there was also this deep sense of loss and hopelessness in my opinion.  Whenever there seemed to be gains, something happen to set us back.  King’s assassination, the “War on Drugs,” the crack epidemic.  Hurricane Katrina and Trayvon Martin got me.  Surviving Hurricane Katrina and remembering the immediate aftermath…man I will never forget that and those memories really get to me sometimes.  All the destruction, people misplaced, the government just basically left people out there to suffer and die.  It’s hard to think about.  The Trayvon Martin was just another instance of Black bodies being devalued and treated as if they were dispensable, like trash that needed be thrown away.  Definitely makes me less comfortable walking around, especially in a neighborhood I’m not from.  All of those things just have me feeling a certain way right now.  I just wonder will things ever right for us.  Is this a losing battle that we’re fighting, will any of us alive today live long to see the battle won? I don’t really know the answers to any of those questions. All I can really say is that I know that I’m going to make sure that I’ll use my talents and skills to the best of my ability to aid in this fight.  This Ph.D. is going to mean something, it’s going to put to use, somehow someway.  Knowing everything that I know and having these experiences, there’s no way I will leave here without at least making some contribution to the struggle.  Whatever it is, I”ll have something to offer