Is Graduate School Right For People of Color?

Many people consider education to be the great equalizer, a way for people of color to rise up from the harsh situations

By Ryan Velez

Many people consider education to be the great equalizer, a way for people of color to rise up from the harsh situations they come from and make something more of themselves. Grad school is the pinnacle of this for many, but what gets missed is the issues of making that journey, including those beyond the studies themselves. In a Medium article, writer Ciarra Jones explains how people of color end up dealing with added issues in the grad school environment.

“Like many of you, I conceptualized Harvard as the pinnacle of educational attainment. I envisioned walking through the pearly gates of campus while opportunities magically presented themselves to me. My classmates would analyze theory from an intersectional framework, one that took into consideration the ways in which race, class, s*x, gender, and more interact with various social phenomena. Even if they did not understand the former, they would have the basic wherewithal to not say racist things,” she opens, mentioning how her Ph.D. student brother told her to lower her expectations.

“However, in every class at Harvard, I must implore my colleagues to acknowledge the Blackness extends beyond theory, that Blackness is a living breathing human experience full of multiplicity and dynamic intersections.

My classmates talk about Black people like we are some amorphous concept that they read about in that one Black studies course they had to take to satisfy their undergraduate degree. When I say, “uh, this article is racist,” my colleagues respond with “but we can’t just throw the baby out with the bath water.” Which is code for, yes this is racist, but I will still use this article to further my own research and maximize my personal scholastic gain. Personally, I think we should throw out the whole tub.” Many people in higher education have seen this happen to some degree. After all, you have people coming from environments where they rarely interact with people of color. But to hear this in one of the highest schools in the country is a bit disheartening.

“Master’s and Ph.D. programs alike enable white people to sit behind a desk in order to read about and theorize Blackness without actually shaking a Black person’s hand or looking us in our eyes. This practice of collecting knowledge about Black people is like reading a book about soccer and then trying out for the Olympic team: just because you can dribble a ball in your mind doesn’t mean you don’t still suck at playing soccer.

Like sports, allyship is something one must practice over and over and over, you can’t learn it from a book,” Jones explains. This is a situation with no easy answer, but the best start we can make is calling attention and making it clear that there actually is an issue here, even if everyone can’t see it.