“Before you can make a dream come true, you must have one” – Ronald McNair
Ronald E. McNair changed my life, even though he died four years before I drew my first breath. You see, in Summer 2011 I did a little thing called the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program that prepared me for not just graduate school, but for my entire scholarly career. The McNair program is designed to prepare students of color to get PhDs by preparing them for the graduate school process. For me, it gave me the opportunity to present my research for the first time and learn what it means to be a scholar. Without it, there probably wouldn’t be a Ratchedemic.
Let’s get some facts out of the way first. We talk all about first generation college students all the time. One thing I have noticed, however, is that we NEVER talk about first generation graduate students. Why? Probably because the vast majority of us (people of color, particularly Black folks) are first generation graduate students. How many of us have parents with Masters or Doctorate degrees? Anybody? Yea I thought not. We're getting to the point now where graduate degrees are just as required as undergraduate ones, and without the training and preparation for that, those of us who are first generation graduate students won't get a fair shake. The McNair program helps us to get equal footing with those with generational wealth and privilege, and nah it’s not that “reverse discrimination” that folks think (Stay Mad Abby) it is. We don’t have the same opportunity to be exposed to graduate education that others (*cough* white folks *cough*) do, and the McNair program helps to expose us to graduate programs and graduate students.
I quickly realized that I wanted to go to graduate school, and I was told by people who had done the program the year before me that it was a great opportunity. They were right. From the moment i stepped on the campus of University of Mississippi (I know…) I could tell this program would be a big deal. The students that I met from Alcorn (most of them I knew already), Ole Miss, Tougaloo, and Rust were all capable scholars and would come to be pretty good friends of mine during this journey and to this day. For an entire summer we would be living as Ole Miss students, going to the library, doing research, meeting with our advisors and getting GRE prep, all the while visiting possible graduate schools and learning more about the process of applying to graduate school. The McNair program was the first time I heard the words statement of purpose, CV, writing sample, assistantship, and fellowship. McNair helped me to understand what it meant to go into graduate education, and understand the stakes that I would have to take in order to be successful outside of Alcorn. Most of all, McNair helped me to understand research and how it could be used to influence those who are exposed to it.
I had done research at Alcorn before (badly; I got a C in my research writing class), but the graduate level research I was expected to do at McNair was a whole other level. I worked with Dr. Jaime Harker and produced my project: “Sickly Sweet: Southern non-normative lifestyles as presented in Randall Kenan's A Visitation of Spirits” over the course of the summer. I ended up able to explore how the intersections of race, regionality, and sexuality can cause insurmountable trauma for a person and what can be done to alleviate that. In order words, I did a project that showed how hard Southern Black gay people have it by talking about a book where a Southern Black gay boy had it REALLY hard. That little aside I did was what McNair taught me: you can do all the research in the world, but if you can't relay that information to audiences in a way that they understand and relate to it, you're just talking. Now, I understand how to present information in a way that engages people and it shows up in my teaching, my writing, my presenting, and of course my blogging. Like I said, McNair changed my life, if for no other reason that giving me a book I can always fall back on to present or win me some money.
McNair was an amazing program; one I encourage anyone with access to it to apply for. So many of us have thoughts, ideas, and voices that could change the world, and McNair can be the megaphone that amplifies those voices. McNair helped me to be where I am today, and I try my best to recommend others to McNair and pass on the knowledge I gained from it to those without access to the program. It really helped that there were fellowships and application fee waivers that are only available to McNair scholars too tho lol. Overall, I'm eternally grateful for the McNair Program and all of the people involved with it (Shout out to Ms. Demetria and Dr. Cole!). I can honestly say that Dr. McNair helped me to reach my dreams, and I'll always be grateful to the program for giving me that opportunity.
What do you think about the McNair program? Do you have any desires to continue education beyond undergrad? Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and don't forget to like and subscribe!