For the past two years, I have documented my journey as a doctoral student and, more specifically, as a Latina student in the process of dissertating. I call these “Dissertating Latina” moments because I want other future dissertators, women of color and dissertators of Latin American descent, to be able to see themselves in this process. Thus, for personal and political reasons, the term ‘Dissertating Latina” represents a part of my identity that I have decided to share using a social media platform to describe my journey into the culmination of the dissertation. This journey specifically began 10 years ago, but more broadly nurtured by my father, Miguel G. Vega, an Ecuadorian immigrant to the United States who has lived in New York since 1968. My earliest memories of my father are of him taking me and my sisters to the Columbia University Campus, sitting us down on the steps that led to the Alma Mater, and telling us about how he arrived to New York, obtained a second grade education, and wished differently for his daughters. “Mija,” my father told me, “You can attend a school like this if you study and work very hard. One day, if you want to, you will be a student here.” Three rejections later, and I was accepted into Teachers College/Columbia University in the Higher and Postsecondary Education doctoral program. So my first dedication goes to my family—Miguel G. Vega, Blanca N. Vega, Janet R. Vega, Judith K. Vega Catanzaro, and Lizette N. Vega. Without these first individuals in my life, this love I have for race, education, intellectualism, Latinidad, and Ecuador would not have been nurtured.
Along this journey, amazing teachers and educators guided me. I will begin with my 5th and 8th grade teacher, Sr. Evelyn Kelly, who taught me to love a good story. Her partner in crime, Ms. Imelda Lati, made sure I attended Brooklyn Technical High School. While there, Ms. Judith Ann Cohen, who coordinated the Preparation for Undergraduate Learning through Science Enrichment Program (PULSE), taught me the value of discipline and dedication. Ms. Cohen and Ms. Marcia Solomon, former counselor at the Double Discovery Center, encouraged me to attend Brandeis University where I met Professors Dora Vasquez Older, who continues to be one of my main cheerleaders today. I also met Kim Godsoe and Lesola Morgan, who talked me through great bouts with academic self-concept and various forms of racial conflict. They listened and they guided me through many difficult moments. After Brandeis University, I entered my world as a higher education professional and met two amazing people—Daniel St. Rose, LMSW, and Mary Caldwell, LMSW. They have witnessed me grapple with many aspects of my life that have led to my current state as Doctor of Education. Along this journey through higher education administration, I met over 300 talented, intelligent, loving students. I am blessed that some of them call me “mom” today. I met these students at the Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP) at John Jay High School in Brooklyn (1998-2001) and the Higher Education Opportunity Program (2006-2014). Because of them, I was forced to articulate what it meant to be a doctoral student or, more specifically, what it meant to dissertate. This work could not have been done without three wonderful colleagues who I consider my family now: Kevin Smith, Rebecca Pinard, and Dr. Cindy Mercer. They saw my most intimate moments as both HEOP director and doctoral student and never once complained about supporting me throughout. Special acknowledgement goes to Rebecca Pinard who has taught me to be a better administrator, sister, and friend.
Toward the end of my doctoral journey and the beginning of my dissertating Latina life, several groups of people emerged and were my muscle and spirit to finish this fight. They include my dearest friends in my writing groups: Dr. Bianca J. Baldridge,
Dr. Sosanya Jones, Dr. Keisha McIntosh, Dr. Terrenda White, and Dr. Darnel Degand. This first writing group continues to provide me with support—emotional and academic—today. I crossed the finish line with my sister scholar, Dr. Keisha McIntosh, and I am grateful for the many nights and mornings we spent texting or calling each other to ensure that we were making it to the finish line. Members of my second and third writing groups include Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Alex Welcome, George Gardner III, Esq, Tara Conley, Sofia Quintero, Dr. Alex Trillo, Aja Burrell Wood, and Melissa Valle. Special thanks to Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy and Dr. Kenny Nienhusser, who have provided me with the tools to make it through these last two years. These two professors embody the spirit of true scholar activists—scholars who are deeply invested in the uplift of the community around them. I hold deep gratitude to them for showing me what mentorship is supposed to look and feel like. And finally my dissertation committee: the official members, Dr. Ernest Morrell, Dr. Felicia Moore Mensah, Vice President Janice Robinson (my dissertation fairy godmother!), have provided me with amazing guidance toward finishing this dissertation, as did my unofficial committee members, Dr. Anna Neumann and Dr. Yolanda Sealey Ruiz. This group of faculty nurtured my love for race scholarship and never once dissuaded me from doing this important work.
The end of this Dissertating Latina journey has slowly transitioned into Latino Love moments. By that, I mean two things: friends who have provided me with the tools necessary to endure personal battles with love such as friends who have been there for me before I even began my dissertating Latina journey like Joanne Joseph Hudson and Yasmin Regalado. Additionally, I have met an Afro-Costa Rican-Brooklyn family introduced to me by Marco A. Sanchez Cunningham, who are now helping me to adjust into my new identity—from being Dissertating Latina to becoming Doctora Latina and right back to being Liz (my family name), again. I expected to walk this journey alone but have instead found someone with whom I can walk this path—and for that I am truly grateful.
I would like to end this dedication, this love letter from a Dissertating Latina, to future Dissertating Latinas. This identity is a shared one—I don’t claim to own it, but I do claim to have some knowledge of what this process feels like and my hope is to inspire and motivate others into this journey and let them know that I will be there to support them in any way that I can. To whom much is given, much is expected, and I certainly am no different. I am excited to witness how the hashtag #dissertatinglatina evolves as I know several newly admitted doctoral Latina students who have inquired “What will happen to the dissertating latina?” – Easy! The baton has now been passed to you – future and present dissertating Latinas.
I can now move on to a different part of the journey – as Doctora Latina.
En la lucha siempre!
Dr. Blanca E. Vega