In an effort to help a colleague who is interested in pursuing a doctoral degree, I was recently reviewing my statement of purpose for admission to graduate school that was written over five years ago. It was an odd feeling to read something that I know I wrote , yet, didn’t feel like mine. The following passage stuck with me:
This journey toward pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education began my junior year at the University of Florida when I was selected for the inaugural cohort of the Grad Prep Academy scholars. Sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE), this initiative attracts Black undergraduate men to careers in education research and prepares them for the graduate admissions process at top schools of education. It was an honor to be one of ten scholars selected for this prestigious program, but as I traveled to Philadelphia for the four-day campus visit, I was uncertain about the social impact of academic work. This reservation stemmed from the fact that as a political science major, I did not see how research was informing my professors’ practices, especially concerning issues that affect communities of color. Oftentimes, faculty members with whom I interacted were not open to critical dialogue; they did not seem to care much about the social and political issues that concerned me. Hence, like many other students of color, I felt alienated from the educational process. These experiences made me skeptical about a career in academe, despite my strong belief in educational attainment as a means of overcoming historic obstacles.
Rereading the latter half of the passage took me back to a place and time where I was highly skeptical of academia because I was looking at it from outside the "ivory tower." I could see the flaws, namely doing meaningless research divorced from the challenges that influence the everyday experiences of communities.
What gnawed at me the most though was that I was also reminded that I swore to myself that if I did pursue my PhD (which I ended up doing) and became a professor (also, check), that I would try to do things differently. Yet, here I sat five years later, one year into my tenure-stream faculty job, super worried about "publishing or perishing", and trying my best to fulfill my other responsibilities of teaching and service.
These “work” thoughts also coincided with “real-life” reflections. My mom, Dr. Georgiene B. Morgan, passed away last year from cancer and navigating those challenges has put a lot of things into perspective. There are a ton of important things my mom taught me as a single parent raising my sister and me, but one phrase always stands out. Whenever my sister and I would depart for school, my mom would tell us to “Go M.A.D.,” meaning “Go Make a Difference”. Her encouragement was rooted in her faith and the idea that we’ve been gifted with talents and time here on this earth to try to make a difference in the lives of those we interact with and the society in which we live.
The combination of these two realities left me questioning: what can I do to make a difference in my work that feels authentic and congruent to who I am as a person, educator, and scholar?
How cliché, right? Who needs another internet site filled with"academese" and cultural and political "hot takes" are the same thoughts I battled while conceptualizing this website. But, I finally realized that I was framing things in a deficit way because it prevented me from having to grapple with the pressure I feel to help make a difference. To push past this fear, I flipped the question and asked, what if I make a website that actually helps people? And here we are, giving it a go! So welcome, I hope you come back and find this site helpful in your everyday life.
Now to the the nitty-gritty questions that I hope you’re wondering:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Website
(But first a poem to get your mind right)
Let America Be America Again
By Langston Hughes
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That’s made America the land it has become. O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore, And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we’ve dreamed And all the songs we’ve sung And all the hopes we’ve held And all the flags we’ve hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America!
O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again!
I don't get how that's related to calling your website the Diverse Democracy & Higher Education project?
By many accounts, the US is a pretty diverse place that continues to wrestle with how to make it’s democratic practices function in a way that promotes “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for everyone; or in the Langston Hughes sense, how do we "make America again".
There are plenty of institutions that play vital roles in shaping the USA (think churches, K-12 schools, your local bowling league, or not), but I’ve always been the most fascinated by higher education and its roles in democracy.
Higher education, understood as the combination of different postsecondary educational spaces (e.g., community colleges, 4-year institutions, and yes for-profit colleges) is such a complex industry with a huge impact on society. There’s the obvious education and training of students, but there’s also the production of new knowledge and scientific breakthroughs and important relationships between campuses and their localities . Hence, I’ve come to believe that when higher education functions well and lives up to it's mission, it is an unparalleled asset to a diverse democracy.
Yet, higher education in the US is broken, Not only from the financial or a governance perspective, but most important to me, from the perspective of not effectively preparing people to engage in a diverse democracy.
Take for example, almost all of the sitting congress members have at least a bachelors degree.
However, it’s well documented that members from different parties can’t get along to get anything done for their constituents or the country as a whole. As someone who trains people to work with students on college campuses, I often wonder what these congress members did in college and whether they were ever encouraged or taught to work with people who were different than them. If they didn't have to interact across difference in an educational space setup for them to learn how to do it well, should we be surprised by the current political climate? Put another way, why didn’t their experience in higher education make a difference to how they conduct themselves as elected representatives? This reality pushes me to take some responsibility in whether or not people leave higher education being able to work with people who are different than them, not only in the political context but in every sphere of our democracy.
As a result of these dynamics, my scholarly interests and as an extension, this website focuses on how to bring together the research process and the dissemination of information to help inform and improve institutions so they can live up to their educational missions and the important roles they play in a diverse society.
What can I expect from this website?
The hope is that this site has many different audiences, so there are a lot of different components:
Research Initiatives: Provides updates and relevant material related to the different strands of my research agenda. For researchers and people interested in the nitty-gritty of the work we’re doing, this will be a great place to come back and visit to see what’s going on in the field as we work on different projects.
Resources: “Knowledge is power” they say and in academia we too often hoard our insights to help us accumulate a semblance of distinction from people without “our knowledge”. The whole idea of a pay-wall is something I hate because it enforces this separation. The resources page is where we will put content that we create so that it is always freely available to people that are interested. We will also have links to the good (and sometimes disagreeable) work that others are doing in this space.
Interactive Maps: Being a visual learner, maps have always been of interest to me. Fortunately, I learned how to make maps in graduate school and have begun to use it as a tool in my research projects. The plan is to use maps to tell stories in interesting and accessible ways, so check back to see what we’ve produced.
Blog: Well you’ve already found the blog! The plan here is to use this as a space to engage with people who follow our work and respond to issues in real-time, with a sprinkling in a more long-form articles on focused topics (since journal articles sit under-review FOREVER). My research team and I will be regular contributors but we will also have guest bloggers.
Who are you?
I am a Christian, a husband, a brother, a friend, an educator, a researcher, and a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. I get the opportunity to teach at Loyola University Chicago and work with some amazing students (meet some of them here). I am a huge Florida Gator and Miami Heat fan and a political “enthusiast” !