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  • Expanding Access Through Doctoral Education:Perspectives from Two Participants of the Sisters of the Academy Research Boot Camp
  • Dannielle Joy Davis (bio) and Joanne Sutherland (bio)

When pondering the term boot camp, one often envisions the rigorous physical training soldiers endure prior to military service. Boot camps challenge individuals to exceed limits that may never have been tested and develop physical, mental, and emotional stamina to prepare for future arduous tasks. The Sisters of the Academy (SOTA) Research Boot Camp exemplifies such an environment, featuring strict training for the "academic battlegrounds" of doctoral attainment and the professoriate. It seeks to develop the intellectual muscles of women who have enlisted to pursue the doctorate and academic careers, stretch them beyond their zones of familiarity, and validate commitment to their research interests. Black women have made phenomenal strides in their quests for higher education, but have yet to reach demographic parity in the ivory tower (Evans, 2007). As such, the camp trains its participants for active duty in the academy, from the dissertation writing stage, toward tenure, and beyond.

Significance of the Program

In their work, Exposing the "Culture of Arrogance" in the Academy: A Blueprint for Increasing Faculty Satisfaction in Higher Education, Thompson and Louque (2005) found that the majority of Blacks in academia have experienced the sting of undermining from colleagues and administration (64% and 58%, respectively), marginalization at department meetings (57%), and professional jealousy (70%). Such hostile climates call for a heightened need of Black women to establish and maintain strong support systems (Gregory, 1999). However, chances of developing such connections on most American campuses are challenging due to the low numbers of the population in these settings. Black, non-Hispanic women comprise only 2.7% of all full-time faculty in the United States, compared to White women who are 31.6% of full-time faculty (U.S. Department of Education, 2005, cited in Holmes, Land, & Hinton-Hudson, 2008).

The SOTA Boot Camp addresses occupational stressors and underrepresentation by providing mentorship, a key component in the retention and success of minorities in White spaces (Davis, 2008a & 2008b; Owens, 2004), as well as a structured environment to facilitate writing productivity. By fostering mentorship, the camp works to "replac[e] prevailing interpretations of how we [as Black women] are [End Page 606] supposed to view ourselves with oppositional perspectives that not only redefine notions of marginality but reclaim marginal locations as places of . . . intellectual, political, and ethical strength" (Collins, 1998, p. 5).

Preparing for Active Duty: An Overview of the Program

SOTA is an organization whose mission centers upon facilitating the success of Black women in higher education. The organization's goals include creating networks for Black women to promote success in teaching, scholarly inquiry, and community service and developing programs and relationships to enhance members' professional development. To address the underrepresentation of African and African American women in doctoral study and the professoriate, SOTA sponsors the Research Boot Camp, a week-long workshop geared towards enhancing the research skills, writing productivity, and professional networks of doctoral candidates and junior faculty members of the group. Senior scholars facilitate workshops designed to assist doctoral students in the conceptualization and design of their dissertations. Each student participant is linked with senior and junior scholar mentors to cultivate mentoring relationships.

Participants in the 2007 Boot Camp consisted of both doctoral students and junior scholars. The camp catapulted us to the next level as it transcended every aspect our lives by countering myths related to the capabilities of racial minority women. Dispelling myths was demonstrated by the extraordinary senior scholars who availed themselves as mentors on our journeys toward academic careers in various disciplines. Each participant's assignment of a mentor enabled them to receive personalized attention and address the individual challenges we faced at various stages of doctoral proposal, dissertation, or manuscript completion. Each participant strengthened her resolve to accomplish goals during the camp experience, be it completing a dissertation proposal, book chapter, or journal article. This article provides the perspectives of two participants. One was a student who attended the boot camp and the other served as a junior mentor and faculty participant. Their brief stories are the focus of this article...


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pp. 606-608
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