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Socializing Black Male Ph.D. Students to the Professoriate

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Often overlooked in efforts to attract more Black men to [classroom teaching] roles is their underrepresentation among scholars who conduct research, publish books and scholarly articles, and are consulted as experts on education policy and practice.”


The posting below looks at some of the factors that impact the decision of black male PhD students to become professors.  It is from Chapter 8 – Improving Attainment, Experiences, and Career Outcomes among Black Male Students in Doctoral Degree Programs, by Shaun R. Harper and Robert T. Palmer, in the book, Advancing Black Male Student Success from Preschool through Ph.D., edited by Shaun R. Harper and J. Luke Wood. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102. Copyright © 2016 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.



Rick Reis



Tomorrow’s Academic Careers

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Socializing Black Male Ph.D. Students to the Professoriate


Socialization is the process by which a Ph.D. student comes to learn and understand the values, norms, rules, and rewards of academe (Austin, 2002). Austin and McDaniels (2006) suggested that this process occurs on three levels: socialization to the role of becoming a graduate student, socialization to academic life and work, and socialization to one’s specific discipline or field. Additionally, Gardner (2007) added that doctoral students are socialized to the culture of the broader institution in which their graduate programs are situated, a context sometimes fraught with racial climate problems that undermine sense of belonging in one’s program or department (Griffin, Muniz, & Espinosa, 2012).

Faculty advisers play the most important role in the doctoral student socialization process, as they possess knowledge about what is required for success in the program and the larger academic discipline or field (Barnes, Williams, & Stassen, 2012; Shore, 2014; Zhao, Golde, & McCormick, 2007). Notwithstanding, women and students of color, in comparison to White doctoral students, report less support, guidance, validation, and mentoring from their advisers (Felder, 2010; Felder & Barker, 2013; Gardner, 2008a; Gasman et al., 2008; Gay, 2004; Gonzalez, 2006; Noy & Ray, 2012; Patton, 2009; Patton & Harper, 2003). They also tend to be afforded fewer opportunities to collaborate with professors on research and publications. Brown, Davis, and McClendon (1999) asserted that one common myth in graduate education is that only faculty of color can effectively mentor and advise students of color. This myth exacerbates racial and gender disproportionality in service (particularly advising) among professors at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) (Griffin, 2012; Griffin & Reddick, 2011; Turner, Gonzalez, & Wood, 2008), with faculty of color often doing significantly more service than their White colleagues.

Gardner (2008b) highlighted the important role that peers play in the socialization process, as interactions among students can affect sense of belonging, as well as access to information about resources and opportunities. According to Gardner (2008b), doctoral students often spend 60 to 70 hours per week interacting with each other. But given the racial makeup of most doctoral programs and the aforementioned issues of onlyness that many students of color experience at PWIs, White students often profit more from their White peers. Black graduate students in Gasman et al.’s (2008) study characterized their relationships with White peers as cordial, but not close and mutually beneficial. Participants in the Shavers and Moore (2014) study talked about wearing an “academic mask,” which entailed having to constantly prove their academic competence to combat negative stereotypes that White peers had about Blacks. These Black female doctoral students “constantly monitored their language, grammar, interactions, and outside appearance to ensure that they always appeared professional. Many also had a heightened awareness of the stereotypes for Black women, and felt a strong need to control how members in their departments perceived them” (Shavers & Moore, 2014, p. 398).

Departmental cultures can enhance or hinder the doctoral students’ socialization experiences. Carlone and Johnson (2007) studied successful women of color in science departments from their undergraduate studies through graduate schools and into science careers. Nearly half the participants in their study reported having experienced racialized and gendered moments in which their identities as scientists were disrupted and insufficiently nurtured. Some felt that faculty, teaching assistants, and fellow research group members believed they were admitted to doctoral programsonly because they were people of color, not because they were competent scientists. As such, these women did not receive the same opportunities or affirmations as their White peers, and they often felt invisible in their programs. Other studies have found that doctoral students of color generally (Gardner, 2008a) and Blacks in particular (Felder, 2015) often feel like they do not fit the mold of their particular programs and departments. An insufficient sense of belonging helps explain why doctoral students, regardless of race, experience higher levels of stress and depression than do undergraduates (Gardner & Barker, 2015), as well as why approximately half of all students who start doctoral programs never finish (Golde, 2005; Lovitts, 2001).

The socialization process during doctoral study affects career aspirations and helps partly explain why so few Ph.D. recipients of color pursue professorships (Gibbs & Griffin, 2013; Jaeger, Haley, Ampaw, & Levin, 2013). This trend is both raced and gendered, with women of color being most severely affected. But even among men, inequities exist. Table 8.4 presents the distribution of men in tenure-track faculty positions by rank and race at U.S. colleges and universities. The higher the rank, the less represented are Blacks and other men of color.


Table 8.4

Full-Time Male Faculty at U.S. Colleges and Universities by Race and Rank, 2011



Racial Group



American Indian

Asian American









Associate Professor

American Indian

Asian American









Assistant Professor

American Indian

Asian American










Note. Percentages do not total 100 due to the exclusion of multiracial faculty, those who are not U.S. citizens, and those for whom race was unreported.

To be fair, these representation patterns are largely attributable to a complex cocktail of structural forces that disproportionately disadvantage Black male students from preschool through Ph.D. attainment. Hence, Harper and Potter (2012) contend that increasing the number of Black male Ph.D. recipients would create a large cadre of Black male researchers to study factors, conditions, and policies that undermine Black male student success at all levels of education. They acknowledged the need for more Black male teachers in P-12 schools, but also argued the following: “Often overlooked in efforts to attract more Black men to [classroom teaching] roles is their underrepresentation among scholars who conduct research, publish books and scholarly articles, and are consulted as experts on education policy and practice” (Harper and Porter, 2012, p. 8). The 304 Black undergraduate men in Harper and Davis’s (2012) study believed that earning the Ph.D. in education would enable them to research and ultimately fix some of the most vexing equity issues that affect Black communities. They were interested in earning doctorates, most wanted to become professors. In light of these young men’s aspirations, several questions are worth considering: How many will encounter onlyness, microaggressions, and racial trauma during doctoral study? How many will enjoy validating interactions with peers and faculty, collaborate with their doctoral advisers on research and publications, and profit from other experiences that effectively socialize them to the professoriate? How many will ultimately become tenure-track assistant professors and persist through promotion to the highest professorial rank?


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