For as long as I could remember, I knew I wanted to be a part of CSAA. I still have flashbacks to the days where I ran up to Dr. Dunn or Dr. Dean at ACPA and graduate fairs or when I tracked down alums and current students to hear all about the ways CSAA positively contributed to who they are as a student affairs educator. Though things in our program are not perfect, and not everyone leaves here as happy as they were when they came in, I am proud to say that CSAA, overall, has been a strong source of community, joy, and inspiration for the woman I’m becoming. There are some days I still feel like the giddy 24 year old who received her acceptance letter and found out she’d be the youngest person in the program—days I feel like there’s no way little ole me is a part of such a historic program ripe with potential.
Given how Black our program is, and I say this with intentionality as I hope to increase racial diversity beyond the Black/White binary for incoming classes, I had no problem finding friends to talk to who looked like me or shared my experiences. If we’re honest, I didn’t have an issue with many white folks in CSAA as many people in the program have displayed a willingness to attempt to learn to do and be better around issues of diversity and social justice—a commitment I had already made to myself before graduate school. I bonded with people beyond identities I could see around research interests, my love of small liberal arts institutions, food, travel, and much more. My sista circles with Lamesha & Qua’Aisa, (Dr.) Joan, & (Dr.) Marvette; conversations about making it through the program with Jackie and Courtney, southern dinner dates with Matt; incessant debates with TJ; and, raised brows across the room with Rose and Meg are all highlights of my being in the CSAA program. So are my connections and relationships with others in the program. And while I enjoy my CSAA family, and believe me I do, this community is not the only one I’m allowed to call home and I’m grateful for that.
Besides, when all your friends are in the program, who can you talk bad to about your friends? I’m kidding. But there are times when I need fresh perspectives, outlooks on spirited in classroom debate, and to talk through how I’m understanding course material with people who do not share the same hallways as me. Luckily for me, having and creating that community has been easy.
Since my first year in CSAA, I have found refuge with a group of women, sisters—to be honest, many people know them as the founders of #SisterPhD. SisterPhD is made up of five doctoral students (myself included): Mika (Miami-Ohio), Laila (Iowa), Shetina (Indiana State University), & DaVida (Iowa). Since the moment I realized I was going to graduate school, I had these four Black women in my corner to discuss every bit of confusion, celebrate every victory, and to challenge every obstacle with. When my grandfather died a week before my CSAA courses began, it was SisterPhD and my then roommate Sarayfah who served as my support network for figuring out how in the heck I was going to make it through year one of the doctoral program when I felt like I’d lost my third parent and best friend. Over the course of my doctoral journey, I have been privileged to laugh, cry, pray (even though religion is fluid for me), vent, shop, rant, present, and do research with this group.
I understand not everyone has the foresight or access to create the kind of community we’ve built at SisterPhD (it is actually a goal of SisterPhD to serve as a model for building support for the doctoral journey). But my hope with this post as that each and every one of you reading begin to see how important it is to find your people beyond the program whether you land here at Georgia or elsewhere. My communities beyond CSAA have made it possible for me to take time for myself, offered words of encouragement each morning before comps, sent me gift cards for trips to Ulta and Sephora or the nail salon, allowed me to cry on the phone, and have done it all while helping to protect my reputation and balance my sanity. My community has also been four-legged and furry–especially during the anxiety-inducing weeks leading up to comps!
I would be remiss, though, if I did not acknowledge the other pillars of my community. Community for me is not simply folks I interact with every day. It is not always geographically, phenotypically, or familial bound and it certainly isn’t limited to student affairs. There are people like Drs. Tressie McMillan Cottom, Stephen Quaye, Z. Nicolazzo, D-L Stewart, Christa Porter, Jason Meriweather, & Jon Paul, and fellow graduate students and practitioners like Chris Venable, Marcus Langford, and Karyn Dyer, all of whom help me stay grounded in how I understand my research, my identities, and where I fit within the everyday disjointed mess that is life. People whose work be it formal and informal who help me think about what I want to do with my personal and professional endeavors and how to maintain balance amid seemingly competing needs.
Sometimes, though, I need to be filled in a different way. To not have to talk about research and academia. To enjoy moments of laughter and joy, poke fun, and simply exist in a world where Black women aren’t often afforded opportunities to let her hair down. For me, being able to cope with the stress of doctoral study means not putting aside family. Instead, making it a priority to show up on more than an iphone. Doing more than homework on weekends and choosing to instead miss family events to make an ANOVA deadline. As I updated this post, I found myself watching a show that shall not be named for fear of critique (ha). On the show, a character reminded the audience that at the end of this short life we hold, our family and friends will be just as sustaining as our work.
There are not enough pages of a blog post to encapsulate the folks within and outside of the field who’ve changed me, but many of the people listed and unlisted here for reasons only I know are my community. I understand community as the act of being there for someone and someone else being there for when the going gets tough so the tough gets going. SisterPhD has crystalized this for me and as has #CiteASista—a digital counterspace I helped to create with Dr. Joan Collier thanks to Dr. Linder’s Whiteness and White Privilege course in hopes of translating knowledge to practice and centering Black women’s experiences within and beyond academia. There are countless people in the world I’ve never met who I consider a part of my community and a large portion of them are the readers, tweeters, and engages of Cite A Sista. They are the twitter influencers with and without a check mark whose thoughts and actions inform my research, pedagogy, praxis, and understanding of self. They are the Kim Love’s, Feminista Jones, Hend Amry, and Katie Mac’s of the world whom I’ve never had the chance to meet but am forever changed by.
The doctoral journey is stressful in and of itself. It will take tolls on a relationship (believe me I know), strains friendships, forces you to prioritize, and demands your time in ways you never thought imaginable. Because this is true, there’s no sense in placing all your eggs in one basket, or of having only one group of people you call your community. Reclaim your time and your sanity by allowing yourself to have a host of mentors you can rely upon. Give yourself a full board of directors, a committee of trustees, and even that friend who’ll make you party when you feel you shouldn’t because being in communication with multiple people can be good for you. Allow your family and friends to be with you in the process. My biggest advice no matter where you are on this journey is to figure out how you learn, whether it be by reading, doing, or hearing, give yourself the grace to do so because if you go from prospective CSAA student to current CSAA student, here you’ll always find people with whom you can call home.
Brittany M. Williams is a third-year CSAA doctoral candidate. Prior to joining CSAA, Brittany served as a career services and residence life practitioner. Her research interest include: first Generation College Students (FGCS); career development; college retention and recruitment; Black women’s identities; Queer identity; non-traditional pedagogical practice including game-based education, hip-hop as praxis, and experiential learning; community advocacy, activism and social justice; & qualitative research design. The lede photo on this post is a selfie of Brittany, her mother, and sister in Salt Lake City, Utah.