Dissertation Acknowledgements

Last night, I received a sweet email from a friend telling me how much she appreciated the acknowledgements section of my now bound and electronically available (albeit behind a pay-wall) dissertation.  Sadly, just letting my thank yous sit in an academic database means the very people I am indebted to will never see them.  Well, that is unless I make them available myself.  Personalized emails or cards would take forever, so I am sharing my acknowledgements section as a blog post — see below.

Also, this let’s others get a glimpse of the amount of support it requires to start and finish a dissertation.  It ain’t easy!


Dedicated to those gone too soon…

 My cousin, Danny (1992-2011)

My uncle, Sonny (1952-2012)

 My grandfather, Sylvan (1916-2013)


First, I am indebted to my chair, Dr. Brian Powell. He has served as my primary advisor beginning even before I officially started in the graduate program at Indiana University, to my master’s thesis, to teaching for the first time, to my qualifying exam, and through the job market and dissertation. By no means has our relationship been without bumps along the way. But, as I conclude my graduate training, I realized (which Brian likely knew all along) that that had more to do with me than him or our connection. I came to, and now leave, graduate school as an activist at heart. At many points, I struggled to reconcile the typical professional socialization in graduate school with my social justice agenda and values. Even when I was obviously miserable, or angry, or even resistant to advice I was given, Brian remained a committed, supportive mentor. Even knowing that I did not always appreciate his advising, or his particular style of advising, his guidance never waned nor ceased. In this final stage, it dawned on me that Brian has been quite perceptive of the challenges I have faced, and even the sense of incongruence I sometimes feel between my goals and those of mainstream academe. In fact, he has been guiding me in a way that hones my passion, activism, and even anger into ways to transform academia and research. I had not realized (until now) that all of this time, Brian actually “gets me” and cares deeply about my success than I ever realized. Fortunately, I was able to convey this to him before I leave IU for good.

Dr. Peggy A. Thoits, my “number 2,” has been tremendously helpful in completing my dissertation, and developing the beginnings of my academic career. She also served as a mentor through my qualifying exam, my first publication, and the job market. As Peggy Thoits, I was initially intimidated by her; but, as she became Peggy, I came to appreciate how open and accessible she is. I felt comfortable enough to tell her when I struggled, and what I am truly passionate about. But, when it came to doing good work, she expected no less of me than any of her students. And, she, like Brian, had a magical way of ensuring that my voice and my interests remained at the core of work that became polished enough for mainstream sociology. She showed me that conformity and detachment are not necessary prerequisites for being a great scholar. Rather, she serves as a model researcher and teacher who can be widely known and respected while still being open and honest, and having a clear research agenda based on one’s passions.

 I have greatly benefited from the guidance of the remainder of my dissertation committee, as well: Eliza K. Pavalko and Pamela Braboy Jackson. Eliza began serving as one of my mentors from the start through her Research Methods course. She has kept up with my work as it shifted from that first methods project to my dissertation. I have appreciated her enthusiasm and encouragement, but also a healthy dose of caution to ensure that my work is as strong and thorough as necessary to withstand potential criticisms. Although I have only benefited from Pam’s mentorship in this last phase of graduate school, she has been no less instrumental in completing this project. As I fumbled a question posed by another professor during a presentation of preliminary dissertation findings, she quickly jumped in to dismiss the (inappropriate) question. That day, it became clear to me (and Brian) that Pam was the critical perspective I was missing on my dissertation to counter questions that did not take serious the contribution of my line of work, and to convey, in general, just how important this kind of research is.

I also developed additional layers of support to supplement what my committee provided – metaphorically, concentric circles that extend wider and wider from the core (my committee). The second “circle” included recent IU alums, now professors at other universities. Drs. Yasmiyn Irizarry, Rashawn Ray, and Sibyl Kleiner spoke with me at length by email, phone, and in person on the few occasions we were in the same zip code, to offer advice and encouragement to survive the job market and dissertation. This, of course, is on top of the mentoring they are actually paid to do!  Drs. Laura Hamilton, Kyle Carter, Jason Cummings, Michael Thomas, Evie Perry, Curtis Childs, Melissa Quintela, Simon Cheng, and Bradley Koch were more than happy to share information and advice. Another “circle” of secondary advisers were other IU faculty who offered feedback or the occasional words of encouragement: Scott Long, Jane McLeod, Cate Taylor, Patricia McManus, Stephen Benard, Jennifer C. Lee, Sheldon Stryker, Donna Eder, Jessica Callarco, and Bernice Pescosolido; even former faculty – Elizabeth Armstrong, Leah VanWey, Quincy Thomas Stewart – remained available for support.

Beyond these secondary advisers, “it takes a village.” Many friends and fellow graduate students have provided much needed emotional support, especially Lisa R. Miller, Jennifer Puentes, Shandu Foster, Rachel La Touche, Matt Gougherty, Hubert Izienicki, Shawna Rohrman, Elizabeth Martinez, Annalise Loehr, Jaime Kucinskas, Kevin Doran, and Sarah Hatteberg. Other trusted friends and colleagues provided emotional support, and shared some of their brilliance with me in the form of feedback on chapters or presentations: Long Doan, Christy L. Erving, Dana Prewitt, Dr. Abigail Sewell, Amy Irby-Shasanmi, Jennifer Caputo. I also benefited from the advice from Natalie Ingraham, Brittany Charlton, Joseph Lee, Dr. Derrick Matthews, and Dr. Kristen Mark.

With the quick advance of technology and social media, my cheering squad extends around the country; special thanks to Dr. José Najar, Chad Anderson, Dr. Krystale Littlejohn, Mieke Thomeer McBride, Dr. Catherine Connell, Brandon Andrew Robinson, Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello, Aubrey Beta Schafer, Tim Marshall, Shani Robbin, Carrie Tilton-Jones, Danny Nguyen, Sam Buelow, Richard Garcia, Dr. Chris Cox, Dr. Tara McKay, Dr. Sonya Satinsky, Mark Bissonnette, Shaughnessy O’Brien, Tamara Williams van Horn, Dr. CJ Pascoe, Dr. Monique Cary, Dr. Debby Herbenick, Doug Kincaid, Jenny Bass, Tim Ortyl, Erik Martinez, Dr. Chris White, Dr. Kimberly Kay Hoang, Brad Blankenship, Dr. Dayna Henry, and Danielle Watkins. My UMBC family continues to support me well beyond finishing college: Dr. Ilsa Lottes, Dr. Fred Pincus, Jen Dress, Dr. Lee Calizo, Dr. Patty Perillo, Dr. Jodi Kelber, Holly Brown, Durell Callier, Justin Clapp, Dr. Jakana Thomas, Alex Ostell, Dr. Jaime Washington, Elizabeth Hagovsky, David Hoffman, Darci Graves, Erin Carter, Erin Hood Stampp, Candice Doane. Lisa Gray, Nkenge Wheatland, Dr. Thomas Vicino, Elizabeth Jennings, KB Singh, Kyle Carter, Tiffany Sanchez, Tuan Pho, Ryan Bricklemyer, Jordan Hadfield, Elan Schnitzer, April Lewis, Rachel Artiss, Winona Caesar, Jennifer White-Johnson. The seeds that were planted during my days at UMBC are now blooming.

So much of my success is possible because of the endless love and support of my mother (Cynthia) and father (Elliott). They have been encouraging at every step of the way, making very clear their expectations that I “do better” than them. Since both completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working full-time and raising me, the bar set for me was a PhD. Both were the first in their families to attend college, let alone graduate school. So, I had little excuse not to succeed. But, success simply for the sake of success was never their goal for me. Rather, they always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I sometimes tease my mother and father that they “created a monster.” There is great truth to this, albeit in a positive sense. Since my childhood, my parents have instilled a strong sense of self-awareness and pride in me, and encouraged me to speak up against injustice and inequality. The five-year-old who questioned his kindergarten teacher about being unable to choose more one race or ethnicity on school forms has now grown into an outspoken adult, still advocating for inclusion and visibility. I owe so much to my parents for all of their sacrifice, support, encouragement, and love.

My family, as a whole, has provided me with a strong sense of determination and hope. My aunt Dannette, has also been a source of love and encouragement since my childhood. My sister Tania (and wife Heather) and brother Bobby (and wife Lisa) remind me each time I visit home that family is most important, and that family will be there for me no matter the distance. One of my heroes, my grandfather Sylvan, constantly reminded me of life’s most important values: “happiness, health, home, and hope”; he passed earlier this year, just months before the graduation I knew he would attend otherwise. Another hero, my younger cousin Danny, showed me that we are stronger and more powerful than we realize. Unfortunately, he passed as my parents and I left the 2011 meeting of the American Sociological Association. The day before Danny died, my father – proud of my successful presentation of what would become my dissertation – asked me not to forget the importance of doing work that “really matters.”

Soon after my cousin Danny passed, I met my partner Eric. Almost two years later, we are preparing to begin the next chapter of our lives as I start my new job at the University of Richmond. Once, I joked to Eric that universities should grant honorary degrees to the partners of doctoral students for all that they do (read: put up with). I knew to warn Eric at the start of our relationship to be ready for a stressful two to three years – dissertation, job market, moving, and starting a new job. Frankly, neither of us knew just how much support he would have to give in that time. Eric was often the sole audience member to rants about the frustrations of dissertating and applying for jobs, to impromptu lectures as I tried to make sense of my results, and to random dancing and singing when my writing went well. He had to be the shoulder to lean and cry on during those few times I was overwhelmed by the stress. In a way, he also took on the task of making sure I stayed healthy, including encouragement to socialize with other humans every once in a while, and go for walks. Of all that he has done to support me over the last two years, I am most grateful that he did not let me allow myself to succumb to self-doubt or even others’ pressure to deviate from my path. I suspect life would look quite different if Eric had not come into my life.

Finally, the completion of my dissertation, and success in graduate school in general, was possible thanks to the generous financial support from the Ford Foundation in the form of a pre-doctoral fellowship, as well as my department and Indiana University. The sociology department staff remained a helpful source of information, particularly navigating the many steps to applying for jobs, completing the dissertation, and graduating. Thank you to everyone who has made this project possible.

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