This May, eight Black women will be walking the stage to receive their PhDs in Education from Indiana University. These women did not all start the program together, however they found each other during their academic journey and created these strong relationships that helped them achieve their goals, and this May they are making history.

The university has never had eight Black women complete a program at one time. These eight women, who we will refer to as the Great 8, say that their success is in part because of the work that other Black women have laid out before them. They aspire to leave a legacy throughout the university so Black women who are in the program and coming behind them will be given the support and inspiration they need to continue with their studies.

The graduation ceremonies for the Great 8 will be held on Indiana University’s campuses in Bloomington and Indianapolis between May 5th and May 8th.

For Harriet organized small interviews on the Great 8, so let’s meet them:

Name: Demetrees Hutchins

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to surmount to complete your degree?

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was fear of my own success. The fear of succeeding at something everyone else felt was impossible for me to do. Once I overcame that fear, I was able to refocus and complete the journey I started.

Name: Jada A. Phelps-Moultrie

Why did you want to pursue a PhD in education?

I was an instructional coach assigned to assist one of the lowest-performing schools in the state of Indiana. This school received national attention for its low performance as its Black male graduation rate was 17%. I witnessed things that should never happen to Black children. Teachers called them monkeys, some showed movies on a weekly basis, some even wrote discipline referrals on children before they did anything wrong just to get them out of class. I informed the principal. She did nothing. I told my supervisor. She could not do anything. At that point, I needed to get myself some power because I did not want people who allowed these things to persist to be with our children. This is why I chose educational leadership and urban education as my focus and pursued a Ph.D..
Name: Jasmine M. Haywood

What advice would you offer anyone else who’d like to obtain a terminal degree?
The advice I would offer is to think about why you want to get a terminal degree. How will it help you achieve your purpose and passion? Once you know that, hold on to it and remember why you wanted to do it when the going gets tough. Be intentional. Have thick skin, but a soft heart. Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything.
Name: Johari S. Shuck

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to surmount to complete your degree?

Managing stress and transition. As a single mom of two kids who’s lived in two different places, Chicago and Indianapolis, throughout this journey has been taxing, to say the least. Traveling by plane, train, bus and automobile back and forth, every other weekend, for 6 years, I have been in a perpetual state of change and transition while trying to be the best scholar I can be.
Name: Juhanna N. Rogers

What advice would you offer anyone else who’d like to obtain a terminal degree?

Mentorship and trustful friendships inspire you to believe in who you are and what you want to offer the world when doctoral socialization process leaves you in doubt. Create and cultivate genuine relationships, inside and outside of the academy. When it comes to your academic work be you and share it with the world. Submit your papers to conferences early and go present it will help you establish connections beyond your institution which can help you establish yourself in the field. But don’t sacrifice who you are and the things that make you who you are; find someone who will help you bring you into this work.

Name: Nadrea R. Njoku

How did having a network of Black women during your PhD journey shape your experience?

It provided me with a team, a squad, a scholar crew to run with. My crew includes the 8 and beyond. Having a Sista Scholar Crew felt natural to do because I graduated from an HBCU. The difference is that at a PWI that crew takes a little more work to identify.  I ran to them on good days and bad days. Each car ride was a debrief and strategy session on life and the PhD journey. It also gave me writing and presenting partners to assists me in building my CV. They saw me as special and great when I could not…We reflected back at each other and we soared. I am never alone, they are always by my side. But I will add, that these relationships are not easy. We have discord and disagree. However, I’d rather learn the lesson of how to repair and heal with my scholar Sista than anyone else. Remember who’s team you are on; don’t forget that!
Name: Shannon McCullough

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to surmount to complete your degree?

Balance! I balance the demands of a full-time program director role, doctoral requirements, and familial responsibilities. There are times when one role can easily take me away from the other. The need to turn your brain off from one role and on for the next, sometimes multiple times in an hour, can be taxing. My obstacle was just to stay resilient to any barriers, both intrinsic and extrinsic, that made me want to just give up. I had to keep perspective all the time on why I was doing this; for my family, for those I lead and those who led me, and myself. I am a better mother and leader because I worked through the struggles of this balance and continue to persist.

Name: Tiffany S. Kyser

What advice would you offer anyone else who’d like to obtain a terminal degree?

Do it! You most certainly can and you most certainly will! This world needs your mind, your heart, and your thoughts!

(Photo Credit: For Harriet)