Curating A Village: Creating a Supportive Environment to Thrive in Academia
The Need to Curate a Village
As a black student in higher education and as someone who has consistently attended predominately white institutions, it was imperative for me to build a community of folks around me during my doctorate. My previous programs did not satisfy my need for mentors who provided consistent and substantial advice, support, and opportunities. After I swiftly changed my dissertation topic the beginning of my third year, I realized that I needed to supplement what my new committee could offer to achieve my academic and professional goals.
Finding My Way to the Folks in My Village
Initially, I contacted researchers whose work I enjoyed reading and following (i.e., researchers who had dozens of entries in my Mendeley library). I sent random emails to researchers and asked questions or asked for a time to schedule a meeting. When attending or presenting at national conferences, I searched for researchers whose work I admired, attended their sessions and approached them afterwards. During phone or Skype calls, I used my list of questions to learn about their work, get ideas about parts of my dissertation, hear their thoughts about where the field was headed, and ask what else I should be reading (especially literature and studies on intersectionality and black women). I ended each call asking if I could follow-up with future questions and was often informed of or introduced to other researchers I should contact. The researchers I spoke to were quick to respond, generous with their time, and so encouraging to a newbie like me. However, few were black women scholars.
Where are the Black Women?
Attending conferences significantly helped me find cohorts of black women scholars who were often singletons (or in few numbers) at their home institutions and offices. Together, we thrived, and these events allowed me to listen to and learn from other black women. Also, getting together with other black women scholars encouraged and revived me—feelings that I did not often experience during my daily grind through my program, despite being in a collaborative and supportive environment.
Curating My Village
My curation process is ongoing and does not exclusively include black women (allies are welcome!), but I do advance membership to those who support, listen to and seek to understand black women. Currently, I am fostering more relationships with other students or recent graduates who serve as peer mentors. As I finish the last year of my doctorate, I am even more interested in finding as many black women (and women of color) scholars, advocates, and community members to join my village. I believe these connections will help me transition to the next phase in my journey. I am not scared to ask for what I need from my village as I am constantly making myself available to help those around me and behind me.
Three Key Things I Learned about Curating a Village:
1. Just how much representation matters. I believe it important to center black women in my research and I decided that I needed to see more work with and about black women as well as see black PhDs moving in different professional spaces. Sometimes you just want to know that someone around you “gets it” and for them to tell you that you’re NOT crazy.
2. It really is all about who you know. The network of mentors and colleagues I curated will become my network of peers upon graduation. It is important to begin building those relationships now as they will serve you throughout your career. Remember, you will not be a student forever.
3. Your “village” ain’t for everybody. The beauty of curating your own village is that YOU get to decide who to include. Many decisions during the doctoral process are out of your control, but for your village, you choose. Don’t include people you don’t vibe with and be strategic about the types of people you include. Do you need a mentor? Going out buddy? Writing partner? Professional development guru? Cheerleader? You get to decide, and the best kinds of villages are ones in which interests and benefits are mutual.
Make sense? Have suggestions or ideas for others looking to create a supportive environment? Sound off in the comments or on twitter to let us know what you think. Looking for more? Read previous posts by other contributors on The Power of Your Network and Being Black at a PWI!
Rachel G. Logan, she, her, hers
Institution: University of South Florida
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org