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)

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