A Long Way to Go: Conversations about Race by African American Faculty and Graduate Students

By Darrell Cleveland | Go to book overview

22

“I GOT MINE, NOW YOU GET YOURS”:
DERAILING THE UNDERGROUND
RAILROAD

Mark A. Williams

The completion of doctoral studies is never a solo project or accomplishment. Rather it involves the dedication and active involvement of many people. Their individual expertise and experiences collectively create the framework upon which the doctoral research/studies are built. At a minimum, the graduate student, the dissertation advisor, and the dissertation committee are involved in a concerted effort; but additionally the dissertation often requires the committed participation of a mentor or predecessors who serve as a continued source of encouragement and inspiration for the student. This network is particularly important for the student of color.

One sentiment echoed by many minority faculty and students who have either completed or are completing their doctoral degree requirements is that the graduate school environment, particularly at primarily White institutions, is covertly and/or overtly hostile. Most students and faculty who have successfully navigated through the many obstacles placed before them by academe have done so with the help of conductors who formed an underground railroad of sorts—a network of collaborators who direct other students of color through hostile territories along a path to academic success and attainment of the doctorate.

Institutional ineptness and unwillingness to embrace cultural diversity mandates the creation of this “underground railroad.” Cultural norms and behaviors that stress cooperation and altruism keep it operational. However, definite forces and philosophies endanger its continued existence. This essay discusses cultural norms that influence minority student and faculty collaboration, thus facilitating

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