By Dr. Marybeth Gasman
A recent report published in Diverse: Issues In Higher Education states that Ph.D. completion varies by gender and race. Specifically, the 10-year completion rate for Whites was 55 percent, for Hispanics it was 51 percent, for Asian Americans it was 50 percent and for African Americans the rate was only 47 percent. Of course there are many factors that play a part in the lower completion rates for racial and ethnic minorities compared to their White counterparts. However, I’d like to focus on one of these factors: attention and support of one’s faculty advisor.
As a faculty member, every so often, I write down the name of all my doctoral advisees, noting the collaborations that I have with them or the introductions to opportunities that I have made for them. I do this to see if I am being equitable in my support of students. Sometimes as faculty, we tend to send all of the opportunities for scholarship, teaching, and professional service to one or two students. These students often “think like us” and are eager to do whatever we ask. But what about our other advisees? I think that as faculty we need to ask ourselves periodically if we are making connections with and for all of our students.
Are we passing on opportunities to teach and write to students of color? Are we collaborating on research projects with students of color? The doctoral process, and especially the dissertation process (the point at which those who drop out, drop out) is a lonely experience. It is the first time in a student’s life that he or she is asked to “go it alone.” Having the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on an article or assist with a class can provide a doctoral student with a comforting venue for motivational interaction and self-reflection. Watching another person navigate the writing process can be empowering, especially if that other person (the faculty advisor) is upfront about the ups and downs of the writing and research process. Sharing our lack of invincibility with our students helps them to see that finishing the Ph.D. is possible.
In closing, I urge all faculty members to take a periodic look at the work they do with their students, asking whether or not they are equitable in their treatment of students, especially students of color. It is absolutely crucial that we increase the success of doctoral students of color as this is the only way to change the racial and ethnic make-up of the professoriate. And, in my opinion, this type of change is a moral imperative.
An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).