The Great 8: These 8 Black Women Are Receiving Their PhDs Together

In May, eight Black women are earning their PhDs in Education from Indiana University. The amazing thing is the women did not all start the ...

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In May, eight Black women are earning their PhDs in Education from Indiana University. The amazing thing is the women did not all start the program together but they found each other along the way and cultivated relationships to help them achieve their goals. This May they are making history. The university has never had eight Black women complete a program at one time. The Great 8 attribute their success to the ground work laid by Black women before them. They are committed to leaving institutional legacy so Black women still in the program and those coming behind them have the support they need to thrive. Graduation Ceremonies for the #Great8 will be held on Indiana University campuses in Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses between May 5th and May 8th.

Demetrees Hutchins
Higher Education Doctoral Candidate


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What's the biggest obstacle you've had to surmount to complete your degree?

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was fear of my own success. The fear of succeeding at something everyone else felt was impossible for me to do. Once I overcame that fear, I was able to refocus and complete the journey I started.

What advice would you offer anyone else who'd like to obtain a terminal degree?
Self-sabotage is a real thing. Recognize when God is bestowing blessings and accept those blessings. No one ever said it would be easy, but know that anything is possible. Understand your struggle is never in vain, so use it to tackle all hurdles and remove all obstacles that stand in your way. And don’t be afraid to sing your song as it helps you determine your purpose.

Jada A. Phelps-Moultrie

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Why did you want to pursue a PhD in education?
I was an instructional coach assigned to assist one of the lowest-performing schools in the state of Indiana. This school received national attention for its low performance as its Black male graduation rate was 17%. I witnessed things that should never happen to Black children. Teachers called them monkeys, some showed movies on a weekly basis, some even wrote discipline referrals on children before they did anything wrong just to get them out of class. I informed the principal. She did nothing. I told my supervisor. She could not do anything. At that point, I needed to get myself some power because I did not want people who allowed these things to persist to be with our children. This is why I chose educational leadership and urban education as my focus and pursued a Ph.D.. 

What's the biggest obstacle you've had to surmount to complete your degree?
I quit my career in education after 13 years because I refused to engage in a broken education system until I learned more about the inequitable systemic structures. I saved for one year, working two full-time jobs so I could live off of a $15,000 assistantship as a Ph.D. student. When I began the program, I met my husband, got married, and had two babies 20 months apart. While my husband was deployed, I raised my children by myself while completing course work. We, then, moved away and I completed my dissertation isolated. There are many days where I am holding my children while writing and sending emails. However, self-doubt always creeps in. I am a Black woman in a very White space which means I am always second guessing myself. That is why having Black women, like Dr. Robin Hughes, Dr. Khaula Murthada, Dr. Chalmer Thompson, and my fellow PhD sisters, who have been there and are on their  was vital in hurdling over this self-doubt obstacle. When you see them in this field, you can rise above these issues.
Jasmine M. Haywood
Higher Education Doctoral Candidate  
@BlatinaScholar

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Why did you want to pursue a PhD in education?
As the product of a public high school in upstate New York, I witnessed countless students of color get pushed out of the educational system because of underqualified teachers, educational tracking, and unsupportive environments. The graduation rate at my high school was less than 50% and students of color struggled for human dignity on a daily basis. I wanted to be a part of dismantling our broken education system. After completing my bachelor’s at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and master’s at Indiana University, I realized that in order to truly be a transformational change agent, I would need a Ph.D.

What's the biggest obstacle you've had to surmount to complete your degree?
The biggest obstacle in my journey was being one of the few graduate students of color in a historically White institution. I was often taking up invisible labor as a graduate student of color – mentoring and role modeling for undergraduate students of color, serving on search committees, and implementing diversity trainings. That coupled with the emotional taxation of coping with microaggressions inside and outside of the classroom can become burdensome. After having my son during my third year in the program, I truly learned the importance of self-care, balance, and protecting my spirit.

What advice would you offer anyone else who'd like to obtain a terminal degree?
The advice I would offer is to think about why you want to get a terminal degree. How will it help you achieve your purpose and passion? Once you know that, hold on to it and remember why you wanted to do it when the going gets tough. Be intentional. Have thick skin, but a soft heart. Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything.

Johari S. Shuck 
@drbluehoosier15

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What's the biggest obstacle you've had to surmount to complete your degree?
Managing stress and transition. As a single mom of two kids who's lived in two different places, Chicago and Indianapolis, throughout this journey has been taxing, to say the least. Traveling by plane, train, bus and automobile back and forth, every other weekend, for 6 years, I have been in a perpetual state of change and transition while trying to be the best scholar I can be.


What advice would you offer anyone else who'd like to obtain a terminal degree?
When I applied to IU, I had an admission interview with a Black woman faculty member, Dr. Sheree Wilson. At the end, she told me that she had my back and gave me a hug. That was before I was even accepted. That set the tone for my entire experience.  My advice is for people in the initial stages to be very careful about the institution they chose. Specifically look for people among the students and faculty who also belong to groups with which you strongly identify. Talk to them about their experiences. Pay attention to the vibes. This can be a very isolating and emotionally taxing process. You need circles of love around you to protect you from all academia and life will throw your way, for better or worse.


Juhanna N. Rogers, MS. Ed. 
Doctoral Candidate in Higher Education 
@scholarjuhanna

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What's the biggest obstacle you've had to surmount to complete your degree?
The biggest obstacle to overcome is self-doubt.  Often times, as a performance artist and dancer, my work looks different than most students. White faculty questioned my ability to do scholarly work, which left me feeling isolated.  I started to believe the White discourse about Black youth from the inner city. Maybe I wasn’t prepared for this type of rigor growing up in Newark. Maybe I lacked the tools to compete with my peers. I was struggling as a writer, and it seemed to come so easy to others. Maybe I was not cut out for this work. Yet, as I continued to doubt myself, others continued to sow into me. Drs. Little and Modibo, IUPUI African Studies faculty, and Iris Rosa gave me opportunities to teach and travel with undergraduates. Drs. Hughes, Patton-Davis, and Murtadha provided opportunities for me join research teams, publish, and present at national conferences. Black faculty challenged me to produce when I wanted to quit. They wouldn’t give up on me, so I couldn’t give up on me.

What advice would you offer anyone else who'd like to obtain a terminal degree?
Mentorship and trustful friendships inspire you to believe in who you are and what you want to offer the world when doctoral socialization process leaves you in doubt. Create and cultivate genuine relationships, inside and outside of the academy. 

When it comes to your academic work be you and share it with the world. Submit your papers to conferences early and go present it will help you establish connections beyond your institution which can help you establish yourself in the field. But don’t sacrifice who you are and the things that make you who you are; find someone who will help you bring you into this work. 
Nadrea R. Njoku 
Higher Education Doctoral Candidate
@kween504

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What's the biggest obstacle you've had to surmount to complete your degree?
My biggest obstacle has been remembering that I have divinely assigned lane to drive my career. That lane is crafted by me, for me, and ordained by my higher power. In a doctoral program you find that you constantly find yourself comparing yourself to other scholars for validation and affirmation. Who is publishing? How many publications do they have? What is everyone presenting on? What conferences are they presenting at? Who is mentoring who? Who is getting a fellowship? The fact of the matter is, i am in this program to blossom and develop into a special and unique voice. I cannot obtain my maximum #BlackGirlMagic potential if I am following someone else’s path. I was hurt the deepest my first year in the PhD program when it looked like everyone was getting awards and funds except me.  After I wiped away my tears--and my momma looked at me sideways for stressing out about someone else’s blessing--doors started to open for me. However, I can’t say I don’t slide backwards from time to time, because I do. But with prayer and focus I stay centered on my goals, distinctive voice, and watch the blessings fall down.

How did having a network of Black women during your PhD journey shape your experience?
It provided me with a team, a squad, a scholar crew to run with. My crew includes the 8 and beyond. Having a Sista Scholar Crew felt natural to do because I graduated from an HBCU. The difference is that at a PWI that crew takes a little more work to identify.  I ran to them on good days and bad days. Each car ride was a debrief and strategy session on life and the PhD journey. It also gave me writing and presenting partners to assists me in building my CV. They saw me as special and great when I could not...We reflected back at each other and we soared. I am never alone, they are always by my side. But I will add, that these relationships are not easy. We have discord and disagree. However, I’d rather learn the lesson of how to repair and heal with my scholar Sista than anyone else. Remember who’s team you are on; don’t forget that! 


Shannon McCullough, MS E.d
 @ShannonMc1015

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What's the biggest obstacle you've had to surmount to complete your degree?
Balance! I balance the demands of a full-time program director role, doctoral requirements, and familial responsibilities. There are times when one role can easily take me away from the other. The need to turn your brain off from one role and on for the next, sometimes multiple times in an hour, can be taxing. My obstacle was just to stay resilient to any barriers, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that made me want to just give up. I had to keep perspective all the time on why I was doing this; for my family, for those I lead and those who led me, and myself. I am a better mother and leader because I worked through the struggles of this balance and continue to persist.

What advice would you offer anyone else who'd like to obtain a terminal degree?
My initial advice is to be aware of yourself, your goals, and your reasoning for doing it before you do. I purposefully took breaks between each degree to ensure I was on the right track and I was going into the next one with certainty that it would provide the outcome I was seeking. I see students rush to the next degree because they think they need to and it is not the path that is meant for them. Before handling the demands of a terminal degree, be sure that the work you will be doing and the doors it can open for you lead to fulfillment. Once you figure that out, then my advice is to persist. Persist through the readings. Persist through fatigue, through the many hoops and required milestones. Remember why you are doing this. There are many reasons why you will not want to keep going (examples in my life were missing family time; falling behind at work; exhaustion). However, if you just keep going before you know you will be at the end. You will have accomplished so much in your scholarly journey and have grown so much personally because you did not give up.


Tiffany S. Kyser 
 Urban Education Studies Doctoral Candidate 


What's the biggest obstacle you've had to surmount to complete your degree?
Persisting through the challenging journey toward a PhD while working full time, being present for my family and friends, and staying engaged as an active citizen in the educational landscape within Indianapolis.

How did having a network of Black women during your PhD journey shape your experience?
I am in awe of the love, spirit, and care the faculty and staff at IUPUI have provided me throughout the years. Having a network of Black women in my field of study, within the social sciences, and within a supportive recognition of intersectional identity was and is significant. Standing in solidarity as Black and as womyn/women, but also embracing the intersectional identities of class, gender, gender expression, sex, sexual orientation, geographic origin, faith tradition, dis/ability, language, etc that simultaneously converge and diverge between Black womyn/women, was also equally necessary and significant in my current doctoral journey.

What advice would you offer anyone else who'd like to obtain a terminal degree?
Do it! You most certainly can and you most certainly will! This world needs your mind, your heart, and your thoughts! 

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