Finding A Dissertation Topic

Attention Black women.

I said, attention all Black women!

We are entering a state of emergency!

It’s not just that you take what we create.

It’s that it always gets lost in translation.

Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad – “Hide Your Shea Butter” (CUPSI 2016)

I haven’t written much about my actual dissertation on my blog.

I want to change that.

Today, I will tell you the long version of how I came to my topic.

I will describe the context in which I came to my topic.

I would like to note that research topics can come from many places and points of inspiration.

Finding a topic is a messy process.

Qualitative research is a messy process.

This is my story.

A year ago, I just finished transcribing my first sista circle for my dissertation.

I knew that this was more than another research project.

Magic was happening, a spirit of connectedness that was screaming for recognition.

My dissertation was an experience, not just another item on my to-do list.

Wasn’t about a credential.

I was after something much bigger.

Here is the overview of my study that I gave during my first circle: 

*I use actual excerpts from my data (and real life). Names are pseudonyms to protect participants’ identities

Marvette: I’m gonna give a brief overview. So originally…how my mind works…I’m a big picture thinker. And so because we’re in student affairs and we’re always talking about what’s the future… umm for me, I don’t think as a field, we’re not paying enough attention to where our students’ attention actually is going towards. Umm we’re still using old theories and old understanding of how (laughter) to come to like how we think of ourselves.

Sasha Fierce: Cause I’ve been studying.

Marvette: I don’t see myself reflected in the academy or college. I don’t have anywhere to go to talk about being a Black woman from Chicago that comes from a working-class background. Umm I’ll go to YouTube and find someone who’s in college who looks like me who comes from a similar neighborhood and see how they’re doing it and that’s how I get my understanding one of me and how to navigate through college and so I was wondering…

How can we take what’s already happening and bring it back to the brick and mortar university and build those communities?

But first I really wanted to understand…as Black women…

Sasha Fierce: So your research is mainly focused on the representation of Black women.

Marvette: So how do you make meaning of those and then what does that do for your identity?

I used Sista Circle Methodology.

Meaning, I was a participant in my study.

This also means that I included my own words in my transcripts and in my write-up.

You will find excerpts like the one above throughout my findings section.

However, that is a blog post for another day.

We viewed Beyonce’s “Formation” and Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad’s  “Hide Your Shea Butter” before engaging discussion.

The next three weeks were full of love, revelations, tears, fears, and laughs.

Everything just clicked.

Searching For A Topic

Let’s rewind back about two and a half years (Fall 2015).

I could not figure out a topic. Too many options.

I knew I wanted to do something with Black women, identity development, and Beyonce.

Lemonade was not yet released.

My committee just gave me the collective side-eye about the Beyonce part. 

My advisor mentioned maybe I could do an updated version of Dr. Rachelle Winkle-Wagner’s  The Unchosen Me work.

We were floating around the idea of hosting a 10-week workshop for Black undergraduate women where we would discuss pop culture and identity development.

10 weeks though?!

I was trying to vibe with it though.

Working on pulling it together. Meeting with key gatekeepers to help me with the project. Drafting plans.

Just couldn’t quite get into it.

50th Anniversaries, Black Berets, and Surprise Performances

Fast-forward to February 7th, 2016 during a relatively boring halftime performance (#SorryNotSorry)

Beyonce’ appears with a new single, a tribe of Black women, and a message for the world.

February 8, 2016, I went to my counseling appointment with a nice, white lady.

Nice, white lady: How was your weekend?

Marvette: It was okay. Didn’t do too much. Enjoyed some much needed alone time.

Nice, white lady: Oh, I thought you would’ve mentioned Beyonce’ at the Superbowl.

Marvette: Oh yeah, that was a cool surprise.

Nice, white lady: Why would she do that?

Marvette: *confused look*

Nice, white lady: Why would she support that terrorist organization? The Black Panthers! I was just meeting with a client whose father (that was a cop) was killed by the Black Panthers.

Collective sigh.

That ended in an hour-long session about the Black Panthers, Black Lives Matter vs. All Live Matter, and other fooleries.

Noted to self that was my last session as I went home to get ready for the day.

A few hours later, I rolled into a school function that I showed up to only so I wouldn’t be fined.

During a break, another “nice, white lady” started a conversation about Beyonce’. This time it was about the Formation video.

I hadn’t seen it yet.

Nice, white lady 2: Marvette, what did you think about the Formation video?

Marvette: I haven’t seen it.

Nice, white lady 2: I’m all for art and expression but why does she have to be crass, so vulgar? I believe you can get your message across without having to do all of that. The middle fingers, the police car underwater….

Y’all, it was only the afternoon.

Beyonce’ could have sent out an email to the Black woman collective to provide a warning or something.

We could have been prepared or at least made the decision to not leave the house for a couple of days.

Get In Formation

Formation was just the prelude or the positionality to Beyonce’s dissertation, Lemonade.

Lemonade dropped and the Ashiest of the Ashy also came to join in the conversation with the nice, White ladies.

I couldn’t believe all of these discussions on Twitter.

It was as if Black women were in a different world than everyone else. Here are all of these beautiful images of Black women in the center of a discussion around empowerment, healing and self-definition and the Ashies on Twitter (and the Ivory Tower) could only feel threatened.

It made me wonder: how can I be a part of capturing this affirming moment for Black women?

Think piece upon think piece detailed Black women’s responses to Lemonade. What it meant for them. How it helped them to reconcile their past with their present. How Lemonade reflected what their bodies already knew.

Lemonade was about more than a cheating spouse and father.

Lemonade and Formation was a call for Black women everywhere.

I took that call in the form of my dissertation work.

Black women in the Ivory Tower have been slaying for years, without recognition or support.

Our bodies hold the magic, the sacrifices, and the trauma of the past and present. As slaves, we were used to breed more property while matching the men in skill and productivity. Today, we are still expected to do the same. Except we are not harvesting cotton, we are now harvesting degrees. We are the silent ones behind the scenes. We are the ones on committees, running research projects, teaching courses, volunteering our time and emotion to our communities while still completing our class assignments and own research projects. We do so without praise or mention from the Ivory Tower. Oh yes, the academics celebrate our numbers, but it is hidden behind convoluted rhetoric that erases our efforts.

Ivory Tower, you give the gifts of trauma and pain, instead of support and assistance. And we keep rising; we keep spreading our magic. You tell us that we are not good enough; that our acceptance into your program was some sort of anomaly. As a result, we have to work harder, be the butt of your oppressive jokes and remarks. I acknowledge that this is not about one particular group of individuals. It is about the institution of higher education. This shit was not built for Black women. We are not asking for handouts and or special attention because we have been doing great without it. That excellence comes with its price though. And we continue to bear that price alone. We ask that you acknowledge us and that you hear us. We are asking to stop being lost in translation. 

I was working to provide a space for Black women to reconcile their personal development with their academic development.

No longer having to sacrifice the personal for the academic. I wanted a place of healing. Provide Black women a place to make their own decision about who they are in a holistic way.

That their experiences in their program along with childhood, sexuality, and spiritual experiences were all interconnected.

I did just that.

And became Dr. Lacy in the process.

Naomie: So umm that’s one thing that I think of the importance of having other Black women around you for multiple reasons to serve as a support umm bounce ideas off of each other whatever but it’s just having that network of other Black women umm I think that’s important.

Audre: the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve been around more Black women from different areas, different places different spaces seeing it doesn’t have to be this or this and that has been a strange, a challenge and just figuring out where I fit into all of that or creating my own space for all of that but it’s also a very freeing and so its an onward process but just getting out of that this or this just has been just liberating

(Collective hmmm)

4 Unexpected Things I Learned From Writing My Dissertation

Originally Published on SisterPhd

The first 5 months of 2017 are kinda a blur to me.

I started data collection on January 3rd, 2017 and successfully defended my dissertation on April 11th, 2017. I don’t suggest this timeline to anyone.

I sometimes have difficulty believing that I am Dr. Lacy.  I get questions all the time about the process.

Do I have any advice to give?

What did I wish I knew before starting the process?

The dissertation process is a very individualized process. This is a cliche response and a very true response. However, there are some things I’ve learned from this experience that I believe can help others.

Here are the 4 unexpected things I learned from writing my dissertation:


Make the decision to complete your dissertation.

Your dissertation is not happening to you. No one can make you complete it. The proposal is just the beginning. Getting to the dissertation defense is the part where it is all on you. The dissertation is the ultimate test in how bad you want to be #PhinisheD. You have to make the commitment EVERYDAY that this is what you want. It will be lonely. It will make you question if you really NEED this degree. Life will continue to happen. There will be celebrations, heartache, and everything happening in between that will make you question this process. You may have to miss some things, people, or events. How bad do you want it? It also doesn’t have to be all about sacrifice. It could also be the most enjoyable experience in your life. However, it is up to you make those decisions.

Write every day.

No doubt you’ve probably heard this often since beginning the doctoral process. It is especially true for the dissertation process. Writing every day is not only about sharpening your writing skills. Writing every day doesn’t mean just academic writing. Write whatever comes to mind. Writing can be therapeutic, reflective. Writing can capture your thoughts about what is happening with data collection, data analysis, your position on what is happening, and your life. You will not be able to hold all these thoughts in your head and accurately recall them later when you need them. Writing everyday will also develop your discipline in being able to sit and write for long periods of time, which you definitely need to do during this process.

Reading is also a part of writing. Reading will improve your writing. It is especially helpful to read as many dissertations as you can, particularly paying special attention to chapter 3 and 5. These are the chapters that are difficult for most. Chapter 3 is about outlining your plan and needs a level of detail that beginner researchers are not used to providing. Chapter 5 is explaining what should be done with this data. The “what now”. Chapter 5 is also the end of a tiring process. Your brain is done and over it. Strengthening these chapters requires reading other examples and giving yourself time to work through it.


Your advisor is on this journey with you; it’s not just about you and your timeline.

I have the BEST ADVISOR in the world and I dare you to challenge me on this. #FightMe

Seriously, I couldn’t have asked for a better advisor. In November 2016, after I defended my prospectus, she informed me that I would be graduating in May 2017 instead of August 2017 like I planned. She then proceeded to send out a direct and clear email to all of her advisees outlining that she will not be putting up with any foolishness and that there are some strict deadlines to be met.

“I think you’re planning to graduate in May, so I wanted to review these deadlines with you and give you something to work toward from my end.  As you all know, I strive to be direct, clear, and good with boundaries and not make our emergencies other people’s (e.g., your committee!) emergencies.  I don’t want to sound like a jerk, yet I also don’t want there to be surprises later, so I want to say up front that for me, there is no compromising on the two weeks time required for your committee to review the dissertation and then if you have edits to make (and you will – everyone does!), you need time to make those.  In some cases, committees will want to see your edits before submitting them to the graduate school, which will mean you need even more time.  I have been on too many committees where students have expected me to drop everything and review their dissertations as soon as I get them and I don’t want to put other people in that position, so we won’t be doing that!  Give yourself (and the people supporting you) plenty of time!” Dr. Chris Linder

This means that a completed draft of my dissertation had to be completed by March 6, 2017. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I didn’t. I made it. The truth is I forgot that advisors are also being evaluated on their advisees. This year, my advisor would hood her first Ph.D. students and she waited (over) 4 years to do so

Redefine your personal understanding of productivity.

It took 3 hours to write chapter 3, 1 day to write chapter 1, and three months to write chapter 2. I started my proposal June 2016 and had a completed draft in September. I completed data collection February 6th, 2017. Chapter 4 was due two weeks after. Chapter 5 due on March 6th, 2017. If you’re following along with the math then you know there is a lot of time in between. Writing is a process (see point 2). The pressure was on! Plenty of days where I felt in the groove. Other days I cried, laughed, or just couldn’t even look at my laptop. And all of that had to be okay. There was no other choice. I just told myself to keep moving forward. I didn’t beat myself up about “wasting time”. I had no time to think about if it was perfect and I honestly believe my dissertation is better for it. Because the beauty is in the editing process. First drafts are meant to be shitty. No (successful) writer exists in isolation.

Completing a dissertation is more of a mental exercise than it is about actually writing 200 pages (arbitrary number). Some days the writing will just flow. Other days you will spend five hours staring at your screen. Both are productive. Have kind and realistic expectations of yourself. There is no “should” “supposed to be” or “right way” to this process. Already there is enough pressure and expectation built in this process, try not to put extra on yourself. Cry if you need to, have that shot of Crown, spend hours on Facebook, re-watch all 13 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. It’s all a part of the process. You will need breaks. Just don’t stay there too long.

There is so much more I could say about lessons learned. These four lessons had the most impact. My dissertation allowed me to connect more with beautiful souls who graciously shared their time and their stories with me and each other. The beginning of the year was more of a spiritual journey where I learned about who I am as a writer, a researcher, a person and who I want to be in the future.

Dr. Marvette Lacy currently resides in Milwaukee, WI where she is the Women’s Resource Center Director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She also works with graduate students to better understand qualitative research. Need help with your dissertation or research assignment? Sign up here for a free 30-minute consultation.

You Can Change, I Can Show You How

Last week, I told you a little about how my upbringing influenced my adult life.

Today is a more concrete explanation of how I transformed from negativity to a more purposeful life full of life

I felt stuck, not sure of my purpose

I felt alone, relationship in turmoil

Isolated from friends and family

High anxiety and depression

Felt really bad about myself, like I did everything wrong

Always felt take advantaged of and used

Felt no one cared about me

After finding a counselor and deciding to change,

I took steps to help me feel different

I now have purpose, sure of what I should do with my life

I now have and accept a circle of supportive loving friends, family, and love ones

My anxiety is under control, no longer ruling my life

My depression is almost nonexistent

I speak up more for myself and get what I want and deserve

I’m finally getting the love I give, deserve, and want


7 Step Process

  1. Make the decision
  2. Decide what I want
  3. Figured out my starting point
  4. Examined the root of my issues and my limiting mindset
  5. Put a plan into action to get to where I wanted
  6. Continue to educate myself
  7. Give more to myself than to others

Want to know more?
I’ve created this 7 Day Challenge. Join Me!

It’s Not You, It’s Your Thinking

For the most part, I have always been in a relationship.

I would go from person to person, hoping that this time would be different, only to end up in the same place.

During my transformation, I was referred to this book.

Inside, there was an activity to take inventory of past relationships. I was then also asked to take inventory of my family relationships.

The most eye-opening thing that I realized was that I was in the same relationship over and over trying to fix the relationships of my childhood.

This had led to a quest of furthering my understanding.

Because of my childhood abuse and emotional abandonment, my thought pattern was all wrong.

My life was all about what I could do for others.

I was unable to express emotions, despite always feeling deep emotions

I used school, grades, and awards as validation.

I never really felt close to others.

I always tried to give people what they wanted before they asked.

I couldn’t handle criticism or being wrong

I constantly felt used and abandoned; no one was giving the same amount of love that I was giving

I felt I was doing everything wrong and that’s why I felt all alone.

The Truth

It was how I saw the world. You can’t change something that you don’t even know is a problem.

I kept focusing on that something was wrong with me. I would try to think positive, be positive but people still told me I was negative.

Looking over the past helped me to realize the root of my negativity. Understanding my childhood through a different lens helped me to also see the root.

I was a people pleaser

I struggled with perfectionism

Shame and guilt ruled my life

I had high self-confidence but low self-esteem

I had all the goods, so much going for me. I am beautiful, smart, funny, and fun to be around. I would just let my mind get in the way of seeing that.

My childhood taught me I, my feelings, or needs didn’t matter.

I was only there to be in service of others.

People didn’t want to know my truth, they just wanted to be comfortable.

I had to be, act, say, do certain things for attention.


What I’ve Learned

Maybe it’s not just about being negative, maybe it’s something deeper.

Once I understood the root, I could change my negative and limiting beliefs.

Once I put in action to change and saw my value, did I get the love I deserved.

Do you want to know more about what I did to change?

Sign up for my FREE guide, Love Me: 3 Days To A New You. It will be starting soon and there are only a few spots available.

How I Transformed My Life And Learned To Love Me

I was lost.

No idea what to do.

I was crying all of the time and had no control over my emotions.

My second year of graduate school was ending and I wasn’t sure I should return.

I had no job because I was laid off.

I was broke, no money and no idea of what to do next.

I had been playing around with the idea of starting my own business for the last two years. There was a woman that I followed who started her own business and it was really starting to take off.

I watched her build her business from the beginning and she inspired me to do the same.

One day, she sent out an email saying that she was offering free calls to her followers who wanted to talk about starting their own business. This was my chance, my way out. If I could talk with her and everything would be good. While I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to her, I knew this was going to be a massive step in the right direction. So, I signed up.

The Call

During the call, she began by asking me questions. She was reviewing my website and asked me what I wanted from life. I remember that it was difficult to answer those questions and I felt very awkward.

At the end of the call, she made her pitch for me to join her business class that was starting in the next few days. I told her that I literally only had $5 to my name and there was no way I could afford to pay her or find $300 for her course.  

She told me that if I was serious enough, I would do what I had to do to get the money. There were many other women who were worst off than I was who was making it happen.

I was angry, hurt, and confused because it seemed like she couldn’t understand or didn’t care about my situation.

I felt dismissed.

After I hung up with her, I decided that I would show her that I could do it on my own.

Fast forward a few months later, I wasn’t any better off.

It seemed like no matter what I did, things in my life were getting worse.

A friend suggested a counselor to me that she thought could help. The only problem was that my student insurance couldn’t cover the session and I would have to pay out of pocket a $100  a session.

I was desperate.

The Change

This time, I didn’t care what I had to do, I wanted my life to change.

I worked with that counselor for about four months. In that time, I was introduced to books and other resources that put my whole life into perspective. The time spent with her helped me to take responsibility for where my life was and helped me realize that I had the power to change it.

I was the only one who could do it.

It wasn’t that she was some miracle worker or that she had all the answers.

It was that I was finally ready to stop being a victim and start being an active participant in my life.

Now two years later, I have my own business.

I’m about to graduate with my Ph.D.

My relationship with my boyfriend is going better than ever.

I understand myself and have more control over myself and my emotions.

I’m not exactly where I want to be but I’m miles and miles away from where I was.

How Can You Do It?


Make the decision to accept the sacrifice.

Change requires you to do something different than you’re used to doing. That is not going to be comfortable or easy. You are going to have to sacrifice something. It could be money. It could be time with loved ones. It could be chocolate cake. If the change is important to you and you are serious, desperate even, you will sacrifice what you have to in order to make the change.

Find someone who can help you.

I don’t mean your friends or your family members. You need to find someone that you pay. This is important because their only job is to listen to you and help you get where you want to get. They are not obligated to lie to you or make you feel good. Their one goal is to get you from point A to point B. AND if you pay for the help you are more likely to take it more seriously.

Make the decision to keep at it even when you don’t want to.

In the beginning, your excitement will make you give 150%. That will disappear a few days into the process. It will no longer be exciting and the hard work will start to set in. This is the most important time to keep going. It helps to remember that it is not about being perfect and doing everything at 100%. It’s about your persistence and your progression towards your goal.

Create a morning routine.

How you start your day sets the tone for the rest of the day. Some things that you can include in your routine are:





Eating breakfast

Listening to a certain playlist

This is customizable to you and what will help you be the most productive. Maybe you wake up 30 minutes early to work on that book you’ve always wanted to write. Or to put your meals together for the day so you can avoid eating out. It can be whatever you make it.

Figuring out what you want from life.

This can be done through goal setting, creating vision boards, and even reading the biographies of people you look up to. This will help you find out what you are attracted to and the other possibilities for life. Once you can identify what you want, you can begin working towards it.

Remember, clarity comes from doing as Marie Forleo says.

I’ve done these things and continue to do them. These were a major part of how I changed my life around. Interested in learning more about how you can incorporate these into your life, click here to schedule your FREE 30-minute call with me.

What is your morning routine? Let me know in the comments.

Why I Started This Blog: My Story

For a while, I felt I had this calling to share my story. That sounds so big, right? At first, I thought it was a way to start my own business, which is a dream of mine. However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized that it was for a much bigger reason than that. I needed to share my story to save my own life.

As I look over my life, for the most part, I have some great accomplishments. I have done pretty well for myself considering my beginnings.

My Story (short version)

The short version of the story is that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. My first experience happened when I was about three and ended around eight or nine. One thing I should say is that one of the after effects of trauma, of any kind, is that it affects your memory. For me, there are a lot of memories that are not clear. There are huge chunks of childhood that I cannot remember.

Two separate family members molested me. The second family member was the abuse that lasted the longest and has had the most impact. I told my family in the beginning about both instances. Their reactions to my confessions were very confusing for me. I felt like I was in trouble instead of doing something that was brave. I remember a lot of yelling and looks of horror on my parents’ faces. I remember telling my brother and his silence and physically withdrawing from me. This further made me feel like I did something wrong.

Today, my family has no recollection of these events. They say that they do not remember me telling them anything. Also, they do not understand why this is something that still effects me today. While I do not see them as these evil, bad people, I do see them as people who have hurt me deeply.

After Effects

Most of my life, I have lived in isolation and quietness. There was always this huge secret I felt like I had to keep in order to protect the people in my life. At a very young age, I was aware of other’s feelings and trying to protect them from the bad ones. Although I was seething with negative feelings (self-hate, negativity, loneliness), I knew I could handle it and my family would not be able to handle it.

As I continue to do my work to free myself from my past, I can see how the isolation and quietness leads to my difficulty of trusting other people. In any of my relationships, I do not have the expectation that people will be around for the long-term or that they will not be there in my time of need. And that was what seemed to be happening. It was like I was becoming victimized all the time and had no control over it.

My childhood abuse affected me sexually. Throughout my teenage years and early twenties, sex became this thing I did constantly. I felt like it was the only thing I was good at and it was my duty to provide men with sex. Otherwise, what else was the purpose of a man and a woman being in a relationship with each other?

There are other things that are affected by me being molested. I am sure I am not even aware of them all yet. It is motivation for me to continue doing the work to be more aware and getting out of this victimization cycle. That is why this blog is important to me.

Road to Healing

For the past three years, I have been on the path to trying to heal from the untitled-designpast. I lost a marriage, friendships, and myself and I just wanted to get me back. This required me to take an honest look at myself. What was my responsibility in all of this? I never thought it had anything to do with being molested as a child; I just thought there was something wrong with me.

I felt no one understood me. No one understood how I thought, how I saw the
world, and what my needs were. But I did not understand them, so how could I expect anyone else to do that?

This Blog…

I write this blog to share my story. In sharing my story, it helps me to examine my life, to continue to do the necessary work to free myself of the pain and being a victim.

I share my story to help others, so you know that you are not alone.

And lastly, I share my story to explore the bigger picture of child molestation and sexual violence. It is not just individual women problems; it is a societal issue that we all have a responsibility to attend to.

Every week, I will post on different topics related to childhood abuse and sexual violence. I will talk about how you to can heal from the past and have a life where you feel loved and complete. It is a journey and we can help each other overcome.