Celeste Watkins-Hayes moderates a panel of Ford School PhD alums reflecting on key issues, challenges, and solutions around racial justice. November, 2021.
Kathryn Dominguez: Oh, it's great to see so many people on. Let me just see if... I think the idea was we're gonna take down the slides so we can all see each other. Is that the idea? Fabulous. Good to see everyone. Now. Hello, I'm Kathryn Dominguez, the current director of the Ford School joint doctoral programs. Welcome, and thank you for joining us today. It's wonderful to see the mix of attendees for today's session. I see some current PhD students, alumni and prospective students. And we're all here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our joint doctoral programs with this dynamic panel. We are especially happy to have Mary Corcoran joining us from Hawaii no less today. Mary started the joint PhD program and nurtured it into what it is today. Brian Jacob is also joining us today. He was the director of the program for a number of years. And again, just great to see all of you. I'm about to turn it over to my colleague, Celeste Watkins-Hayes. Celeste is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Founding Director of the Center for Racial Justice. She is also the Jean E. Fairfax Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, the University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, and Professor of Sociology. So take it away, Celeste.
Celeste Watkins-Hayes: Thank you so much, Kathryn, truly appreciate it. Hello everyone. It is such a pleasure and an honor to be with you. It's just wonderful that you're gathering here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the PhD program, but also to come back into community with each other, to get an opportunity even if just for a moment, even if on Zoom, to nevertheless see each other, to reconnect, to reflect on the role that this program has played in your lives and careers. And also to talk among, now colleagues, about where we are as it relates to conversations around public policy, as it relates to racial justice, and about a whole host of other questions that we wanna grapple with today. So I wanna thank you and welcome you into the space. It's really my honor to present the panel.
CW: As you know, there are so many amazing careers to speak of within the PhD community, and we could have had any and all of you alums on the panel, but we nevertheless had to select just a few to really showcase the diversity of work that you're doing in different sectors, in different fields. And I also, of course, want to acknowledge and welcome the current PhD students who are students at the Ford School and also prospective students, prospective PhD students, and also students who are in the process of moving into PhD programs, who are doing Master's and perhaps Bachelor's degrees. So welcome and welcome to all of the faculty, my colleagues who have been active leaders in parts of this program. So without further ado, it's really my honor to present to you your panel for this afternoon.
CW: First, I wanna introduce Dr. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy, who received the PhD in 2008, currently an Associate Professor in the Sociology of Education Program in the Department of Applied Statistics, Social Science and Humanities, at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. L'Heureux holds his PhD in Public Policy and Sociology from the U of M and a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology from Morehouse College in Atlanta, just across the street from my alma mater of Spelman. L'Heureux's research, his central line of research concentrates on educational inequality, particularly focused on the intersecting roles of race, class and place. His first book, Inequality in the Promised Land: Race, Resources, and Suburban Schooling, examined the experiences of low-income and racial minority families' attempts at accessing school-related resources in an affluent suburb.
CW: He's currently fielding a multi-site ethnographic study in Westchester County that examines residents' experiences with housing and schools. And his larger research interests include race and racism, gender justice and community mobilization. His research has appeared in multiple edited volumes and academic journals, such as Urban Education, American Educational Research Journal and Ethnic and Racial Studies. He is a frequent media contributor and public speaker, including to outlets such as Ebony Magazine, TheGrio, The Root, US News and World Report, and on channels such as CNN and Al Jazeera. Prior to joining NYU Steinhardt school, he held an appointment as an Associate Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York, and was a member of the Doctoral Faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center. So welcome, L'Heureux.
CW: Next, we have Alexandra Alex Resch, holding the PhD starting in 2008. Alexandra Resch, Alex is the Director of Learning and Strategy in Mathematica's Human Resources... Human Services Unit. Since joining Mathematica in 2008, Alex is focused on educational research and is specialized in developing the capacity of programs and local organizations to generate and use evidence to improve their programs. From August of 2018 to October of 2019, Alex served as an Interim Senior Program Officer on the Measurement Learning and Evaluation team for the K-12 strategy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In this role, Alex contributed to the development of a measurement and evaluation framework for R&D in education. Alex or Dr. Resch holds the PhD in Economics and Public Policy from U of M.
CW: And we have Dr. Kennedy Turner, who received her PhD in 2019. Kennedy is the Director of Graduate Education and Fellowships at Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America. In this role, Kennedy supports high-achieving low-income students in reaching their educational and leadership goals. And prior to joining the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse Education, Kennedy earned her PhD in Public Policy and Sociology here at U of M. Her research explored the racial identity and development of black college students at elite public institutions. And prior to coming to Michigan, Kennedy earned her BA in Political Science from Howard University, HU, in Washington DC. And Kennedy is originally from Wichita, Kansas and currently lives in Louisiana.
CW: So welcome, welcome, welcome, panelists. It's so great to connect with you and be with you. So I have many questions for you, but first, I would love... As I just read those amazing bios that you have, I would love for you to think about the relationship between your current professional projects and your training at the Ford School and in the PhD program and help us understand and reflect upon how policy analysis and research, the training that you received at the Ford School, factors into how you shape your work right now and the skills that you find most useful. And we will just go in the order in which I introduced you, and then we'll switch it around. So L'Heureux, I'm gonna start with you.
L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy: Great. Thanks, Celeste, and thanks everyone for giving me the chance to share and to meet some of you along the way. So I think to answer your question, I have to get in my time machine for a second then. I came to Michigan to do my PhD in Sociology, in Justice and Sociology. As that was happening, I was going through my standard coursework and I was beginning to understand the sociology of race and the power of institutions, and structures, and theory, and I found myself, towards the end of my first year, a little bit disappointed. I was disappointed because a lot of the conversation that was happening in sociology was around demarking differences among race, talking about the social construction of race, and I said... Particularly as someone who is black, I was like, "So what do we do about it?"
LL: And I remember having a conversation with my then theory professor and he said, "Well, the practice that we do is writing journal articles. So if you're interested in practice, you can submit to this article." And I was like, "That seems woefully insufficient." And I said, "Well, where on campus do they do things about these problems, around racism, around poverty, around gender discrimination?" And I don't know if that professor mentioned it intentionally but he was like, "Maybe you should look over at the Policy School." And I got referred over to the Ford School and at that point, Sheldon Danziger was someone that I had met in passing and I went to his office and he said, "Look, there's this new thing that we are launching, and it's a joint program between public policy and sociology. And if you want to do something, understand how to do something about inequity, along race lines, along class lines, along gender lines, you should consider it." And I'd never really thought about public policy as a path for myself.
LL: While I was at the Ford School, I met a number of folks that have been thinking around policy interventions, alumni of the PPIA program, etcetera, but I was like, "Well, maybe." And what happened when I was in the joint program was I started to see the complementary nature between social scientific investigation and also policy analysis and intervention, but one of the things that was a struggle immediately was that I felt like some of the conversations I was having in Sociology were particularly nuanced around conversations of race and power, institution and structure, and some of the conversations I was having in Policy were very targeted to set of bills and analysis, and memo-writing, but they weren't always coming together. And so I ended up finding in the PhD program a set of scholars and friends whom I could go to to trouble through these questions.
LL: So early on, it was people like Kerwin Charles who was there, it was Tony Chen who was there, it was now late mentor, David Cohen who started to get me to think about, "How do you want to think about the intersection of these two pieces?" 'cause oftentimes, we discuss inequality but we're afraid to mention a thing like racism. We talk about policy interventions but we don't talk about the history that has created unequal access for these groups. And so it was between the Ford School and LS&A, and it was between the conversations I would have with peers who were living out these worlds that I started to think about, "Really, what does it mean to have the public in policy? What does it mean to intervene on problems, not just in a way where we can capture and make a little bit of progress but really try to attack the depth of inequality that wraps around our world?" and the Ford School helped me do that because the program challenged me in different ways. There were ways in which, as a sociologist, I've gotten used to saying, "Oh, we're gonna talk about policy but it will be the last paragraph or two of what we write," but instead, making it central in how I think about educational inequality today, how I think about who has power within the citizenry and what it means to actually do the work towards justice.
CW: Interesting. And Alex, how about for you? Take us along that journey and talk to us about the training that you received and the experience you had and how it shows up in terms of your current work and how you thought about building your career around your training in the PhD program.
Alexander Resch: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Celeste. And I'm glad L'Heureux went first because so much of what he said really resonated with me. So I came... I also did not apply to the joint program because it was brand new when I arrived but I actually did find out about it before I got there, so I was a slight step ahead of L'Heureux. I always thought of myself as an economist. I had been working at the Federal Reserve. I was an economist. And I think I'm coming late to the... Made it relatively late to my dissatisfaction with Economics as a field. I probably should have studied Sociology, I have learned in the last couple of years, but yeah.
AR: And I was reflecting and thinking about this whole topic, really thinking about, in my training my whole life, starting in undergrad, race was just like an explanatory variable or it way a category we are using to look at X. And similar to what L'Heureux said, that's not helpful, that's not sufficient to solve... Improve our schools, improve our society. But the thing that I think more than any particular skill that I learned at the Ford School, I think just the network and the norm that you should be talking across disciplines and that there's things to learn and people to learn from, I think that was the most valuable thing and the thing I would not have gotten if I had just stayed as an economist. And so L'Heureux and I were in the second year seminar together with Kerwin and that, it built me a network of people I can think of and at least look at what they're writing, if not call them. And then for the later years, I had a writing group with some of the other sociology and political science students and we would just sit together somewhere and be writing, but it built some engagement with what other people were thinking.
AR: I think the thing that I never learned in school and never would learn in school as an economist, certainly, and I wonder if the Ford School maybe could focus more on this over time, was just how much... Even when I got right to Mathematica in 2008, the thing that was a shock to me was how much the job really is sales. I had to sell the idea of research to a superintendent and then to a principal and then convince them that they wanted to know the answer to these questions and that it was worth the time and resources to engage with us, and then carrying that on. And once we learned something from that work, we have to sell it to policymakers, we have to sell it to funders. And so just thinking about... That's something that I've definitely learned on the job and still have a lot to learn but the more time goes on, the more my job is about communications and understanding different audiences and what they need and what would be convincing to them, and so that's been super interesting to me and continues to be where I need more work.
CW: Really interesting. And Kennedy, how about for you? Talk to us about your process and your journey.
Kennedy Turner: Yeah, sure. So I did apply directly to the joint PhD program. It was in existence when I came along. And I was looking for that, that mix of applied and what are we gonna do about the problems, like L'Heureux was mentioning, and so that was definitely something that was important to me. And as I moved through graduate school, it became even more important. And the part that I really loved about graduate school were the teaching and the mentoring, and the service work, and so that's what made me interested in going the non-profit route and going the direct service route in terms of my career and being able to work directly with students.
KT: My dissertation work was on the experience of black college students. And then now in my current role, I work hands-on with students, starting from high schoolers all the way up through graduate students, black and brown students, who are trying to get into and succeed in these institutions. And I think that the policy training and the mindset of research, even though that wasn't my favorite part about grad school, I have a deep appreciation for and understanding of it. And it's always important to bring that lens to what we do in the non-profit sector and to bring that focus on evaluation, bring that focus on understanding the structures within which these individuals are operating and making sure that we don't go too far on the other side where we're so focused on helping individuals that we... How are we taking what we're learning from working with individuals to then speak back to these larger structures and to try to transform the structures that necessitate program such as ours in the first place.
KT: And so I think that's the types of things that I'm thinking about now and the type of skill set that is helpful to bring to bear, and I find a lot of those same analytical skills and evaluation skills that we craft in the Ford School are helpful when they're... But now they're applied to these very direct problems of how do we improve our organization's outcomes, how do we work with students better, how do we increase our capacity, increase our reach, and how do we make sure that we actually are effectively reaching our mission and vision. And so it's definitely been helpful training, but yeah, just at a little bit different of a level on the scale.
CW: And let me ask you this, Kennedy, and then I'm gonna ask all the panelists, as you know, we had a national conversation and reckoning on race and racism with the murder of George Floyd and the recognition that there were many people, men, women, non-binary folks who had suffered and whose lives had been lost due to racism and racist institutions, and racist ideologies, and I wonder if you can talk about how you see the conversation around race moving, what changes have you seen pre versus current 2020? Do you think that we advanced the conversation? Are we engaging in the conversation differently? Are we using new and better frameworks? Do you see that playing out within your institutions?
KT: Yeah, yeah, I think that's such a good question and a big question, and I think now we're definitely in this part where we're coming up on a year, 18 months, after so many of those promises were made by so many who had this reckoning. And so now we're at a point where we're able to sort of do some of that, "Okay, well, which of them promises did y'all really keep?" And I think the way that it shows up in the non-profit that I work for, in our world is that all of a sudden... So our organization, yes, it has Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America, so LEDA is the organization, and we focus on... We say that we serve high-achieving low-income students, that's the language that we use, but the reality is, is that we mostly serve black and brown students, but there had been some reluctance to sort of call it out and say it for what it is. But then all of a sudden, last summer there's a lot of conversations about like, "Ooh, they're giving out money for people who are doing stuff about race, don't we do stuff about race?" And then, so trying to really frame what we do, and tell the story of what we do, and what we've always been doing, but now having permission based on the funding structures that exist to speak directly to race in ways that I think some members of the board or other players maybe had been more reluctant to do so in previous time.
KT: And so I think that is one way that it's really showed up in this space, about all of a sudden, if there's money for something, then how can that reframe how we talk about what we're doing, even if the reality of what we're doing is the same, but that's one thing that I definitely have an eye on to see how that will continue to change and shift and what the future years will bring, when this reckoning isn't such top of mind anymore. But I think on a larger societal note, it has been very, very interesting to watch folks have some conversations, and to sort of try to move the needle forward in some of their understanding, use of terms, use of just recognition, acknowledgement, that the black folk exist, and that our experience in this country and in this world is, in part, shaped by the racial structure of our country. And I don't know yet, I don't know exactly if all of this is a good thing or not. There are several individual circumstances that I can point to of changes that were made in certain institutions post-2020 that I believe to be good, but I do... I guess the researching part of me is not completely gone, and I feel like we need more data, we need more evidence to really be able to make claims of whether or not these things are successful and whether these are long-term improvements, or whether they are just more short-term things, and we'll see when we get to year three and five, sort of where we are as a society.
CW: Very interesting. Alex, what do you think?
AR: I have so many thoughts. I think that... I think, I have a similar sort of... A couple of themes, I would say, are sort of, like what I've seen be different over the last year and a half is people getting more precise with their language and being willing to sort of say, "Oh, this is what we meant in the first place," that idea of sort of saying, "Low income," and being like, "Oh, actually, we mean this," really resonates with me. And I think the... And so from an institutional side, even, we've been thinking about diversity and equity and inclusion for a long time, but in the last year, only in the last year, has Mathematica put out a statement that said, "No, we mean racial justice, like social justice and racial justice are what we're talking about as part of that.
AR: And similar at the Gates Foundation, and then I still do a lot of work with the foundations, it's been... Like that I think has been a place where there's a lot of foundations who are pushing a little harder than the federal government. I think the federal government is still trying to work through what they want to say and can say, but I think there's definitely movement like OPRE at HHS just revised their whole research and evaluation policy to be a little bit more specific about what they mean, and to put a little bit more of an equity lens on things, I don't know that they go as far as talking directly about race and racial justice, but I'm working on one project where we support a set of education grantees, grantees that are building education products to improve math outcomes.
AR: And it's under this, it's an R&D program called the Advanced Education R&D fund, and so this EF+Math Program, they say explicitly in their... All their paperwork, that they're... Their primary root objective, I'm reading this, is to re-work research and development as inclusive and anti-racist. And so they are front and center with that. They're putting a lot of resources behind that. They're building... They have a bunch of different groups, different kinds of stakeholders, who are engaged from start to finish, and I think that places where I still see challenges are... And I mean, they know that they're building this and trying to figure out what works and what will work, but... The place where it gets tricky, like people I think...
AR: So this is R&D, you're starting developing programs from the ground up, there's lots of comfort with engaging stakeholders in the development process. Once you get to the research piece, people get a lot less comfortable, and so the question I think... Some of our funders are saying, "Who gets to ask the questions? Are these the right questions? Who should be at the table asking the right... " That's real movement that I'm excited about. But then a lot of times they don't actually like the answers. Sometimes they're like, "Oh wait, we didn't actually wanna change the questions." And so I think trying to figure out that balance is something that I hope we'll keep moving on in the next couple of years, and it's really interesting to be in the middle of it, and it's also, it goes against all my training some of the time. And so it's been... I think there's lots of movement, and there's lots of promise, and as Kennedy said, we'll see how it goes.
CW: Very interesting. L'Heureux, what do you think?
LL: So yeah, I'm definitely going in the same direction as Kennedy and Alex. So the first thing is that I think 2020 was an important moment, but I think the way we frame things says a lot about what's actually going on, so we had this moment where folks were talking about a racial reckoning, and racial reckoning presumes that the folks... That people have to come face-to-face with race. We've called for a million conversations. We've talked about getting better at race. What we never actually talk about is racism. Racism is largely absent from our discussions of interventions. We want racial justice, we want to be anti-racist, right? We don't mean the systems that are at the core and at the center. There's been no reckoning. What happened for me is really a question of racial recalibration. We're in the 21st century. And now there is a battle over what these categories of race and which systems of racism will be in place to actually board opportunities. This, for me, in 2020, when I saw... I was excited, right? We have the largest and most continual set of uprisings in America, and really globally around resisting extrajudicial police killings, and violence, particularly against Black folks, right? Violence against poor folks, violence against queer folks.
LL: But what we never... What I really never expected is that, from that movement for people to say, "You know what, there is something so deeply wrong, that we have to change everything." In fact, we've gone back to this place of like, "Well, what can we tinker with?" Right? And Alex and Kennedy have spoken a lot to this question of like, "What are we able to say now and not say?"
LL: And the problem is, folks like Kennedy have been doing work that has been impacting and deeply dealing with these issues. But if you can't say the truth of what your work is doing, and it's all tied to these strings where the money is tied to people who are like, "Well, how is a way that you can state it that's more palatable?" We haven't even begun to move. And I think Alex talks about that tension. And I see it. I even see myself as someone who works with schools, or even works with one of the research projects that happens around school boards. And a year and a half ago, nobody wanted to talk to me about school boards. Now, everyone's like, "We've got to talk about school boards. We've got to talk about this Critical Race Theory backlash. This is where the problem is." I was like, "No, I want to talk about racism in school boards, about literally, who even sits there. Not the bombastic in-your-face stuff, which matters." But I'm talking about what does it mean to have entire communities where the majority of students are Black, are Brown, are low income? And the majority of folks who occupy board seats are affluent and White? What does it mean to have them actually controlling the destinies of children and communities that they don't listen to?
LL: That kind of systematic, deep sets of issues that we know are present, those automatically get dropped to the floor, right? These flash points get people excited. But if we really had a reckoning moment, it would really mean you had to give something up. I think part of our attachment to or even the idea that we can have a reckoning moment is that there are ways in which inequality, people have become desensitized to and willing to talk about, but when there's an implication of yourself, it's like, "Well, let's step back." We can have a conversation about justice, we can have a conversation about equity, but we can't talk about racism in the Ford School. Racism at University of Michigan. "We can talk about racial justice." I'm like, "Mm, until we can talk about it in the institution and name it, then we haven't even begun to do the work." So I'm excited that people are getting more specific with their language. But I definitely think those who have power actually have to literally yield power and actually listen, because these aren't new conversations. So George Floyd's death was absolutely important. But I remember three years ago, when a grassroots research initiative, Operation Ghetto Storm, literally said every 36 hours, someone Black is killed by the police.
LL: And I was like, "Well that can't be right. Let me see the methodology of this study." And now we're like, "Oh, yes. Guess what? Police killings are an issue." They've been an issue. They were an issue in the 1950s, in the '60s. So if you're catching up to it in 2020, I'm saying to folks who are catching on now, I'm like, "Wow! Can you imagine what you have really missed?"
CW: Mm-hmm. And I wanna follow up on that and pose this question for all of you all, because what you're talking about also, is where the levers of power are operating, and where you feel like you can make some movement and where it feels intractable. And in a policy school, and in policy conversations, I think we wanna believe that we have equal opportunity to hit every lever to move the needle in all kinds of policy conversations, federal, state, local, different kinds of institutional configurations, etcetera. And I wonder if you all could talk about that, because some of us are discouraged, quite frankly, and some of us are wondering, where you actually can effect change and how you can actually affect change.
CW: And I don't know anybody more worried about that question than policy students, and policy faculty, and people who have dedicated their studies and lives and careers to this notion that with research, with evidence, with the argument and data on a particular issue, how can we not be successful? But we have a lot of instances of which we're not successful. So I wonder if you can just kinda talk to us about... What do you think right now about the power and potential of public policy to meaningfully enact positive social change? How do you nuance that discussion in terms of the kinds of levers of power and the kinds of institutions that may be more malleable than others? And Alex, I'm gonna come to you first, and then L'Heureux, I'm gonna come to you next on that question.
AR: That's a hard one, I think. I think the hardest lesson I've learned since I came out of grad school was that like most people don't care about evidence and data. That's been hard. That's been hard to hear.
CW: Oh that's something. We all just have to sit with that one for a minute.
AR: But I think... I mean, I think that is... You know, so it is... I mean, that's part of me... You know, my... My first response is thinking about actually what I need to do to understand better, is how to communicate to these different audiences like, what is it that this person or this organization cares about and what's gonna move them? And so I think... For me, personally, I think it's like, where do I spend my time to try to move this... It is the foundations that are saying, out loud that, "We care about racial justice, and we're putting money behind this," like maybe that's not gonna last forever, but we've got a minute here where we have their attention and they have convening power and can bring different people in the room and like, let's get in that room and try to do the best we can at starting those conversations. I think the piece that's hard, and it kinda... When L'Heureux was talking, I was thinking about it, I think there's a bunch of well-meaning people who don't wanna give away power.
AR: And then there's a bunch of well-meaning people who would be willing to, but they don't know how to go into those conversations, they don't know how to lead... They don't know how to organize that room, they don't know how to... Who to bring in to lead it that's not them. And so I think to the extent that that's a set of skills and people and expertise that we could find them and bring them together, that, I think would add a lot of value, and so I think helping people have those... Start those conversations, lead those conversations, I think could be helpful.
CW: Yes, very interesting. L'Heureux, what do you think?
LL: I definitely agree with Alex, recognizing that data does not rule everything, and even if you place data in people's faces, it doesn't mean they'll shift course. And what's important for me to understand in the context and kind of I had a sense of this, but I felt it even more, the traditional tools of evaluating policies and interventions, they lean to the side of conservatism, they lean to the side of maintenance of status quo, they lean to the side of marginal change, not big shifts. Even when we are preparing the most well-executed statement on what we need to do with our schools, how we need to place affordable housing in different locations, how we need to do some sets of reforms around use of force, they're always gonna whittle away at the edge, but leave the center intact.
LL: I struggled with that initially when I got to the Ford School, 'cause I was like, "Wait, none of this stuff seems to actually move the issue." It makes the issue a little bit more palatable. It's like, "Okay. So we didn't kill 24 people this year, we killed 20." And I'm like, "Ahh, 20 kids." Or, "We reduced poverty or food insecurity by 4%," and that is something to celebrate. 'Cause I also, in policy, learned Rossi's Rule of Intervention, that on average the intervention will have zero impact, but I'm like, if we keep on trying to say, we're fine with 4%, we're fine with the idea that small changes can lead to more small changes that eventually lead to a groundswell. We are playing ourselves. I think there are great places for intervention around policy.
LL: So, I now live in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's district, and I see the work that she's doing, I see the work that Jamaal Bowman's doing, I see the way in which they're kind of pushing things around the infrastructure bill. But I also recognize, and this is something that was largely absent from the conversations that I had when I was in school, the role of social movements. Social movements have always been, in my experience, particularly in the United States, coming from communities that have been marginalized by white supremacy and other forms of power, such as capitalism, movements have always been the places where you can hear more authentically what people need and want, and we have to actually start listening to what people need and want and take a chance on them. 'Cause, no, they may not have been able to literally find the area under a curve, they may not be able to present to you the perfect memo, but even when we have these perfect analysis, they're still really marginal solutions.
LL: I'm like, "When do we take risks on the people who have been experiencing and living through the things?" I think that's when we actually return the public into policy. Most times we just say policy, policy, policy, but if we're actually listening differently, I think if we give some power into those places, then I expect to actually see more movement than we do, and there are very few places where we do that. We are... Whether it's philanthropy, whether it's academia, whether it's collaboratively sharing in these things, we're like, "Wait, I give up power?" And I'm like, "Yeah, you got to." Because if you don't, then you're only going to... You're saying this dynamic in this relationship of researcher above, foundation officer above, non-profit administrator above, and people below, and that fundamental relationship is going to keep intact the inequity that we claim we care about.
CW: Kennedy, what do you think about this question?
KT: Yeah, it's definitely a very big question and what L'Heureux and Alex were saying has me thinking about some things, and part of it, when we think about the success of the movement for black lives and in this moment that we're in, as we know, this groundwork has been laid for decades previously, and I think this is a role where research and the policy work that we're doing is. Right now, yeah, a lot of the things that we're saying are making changes on the margins, but when we do have that moment of societal shift, when we do have this big inflection point like the murder of George Floyd provided, then everything...
KT: All the balls get tossed in the air, and in that moment where we're trying to recalibrate, if we've got good evidence, good data, if we've planted the seeds, if we have these terms, if people are familiar with the idea of defund the police, if people are familiar with the concept that Black Lives Matter previously, if we've got evidence that shows that police killings are happening at this rate, that when we're in this moment of flux, societal flux, then we can sneak in underneath and be ready to provide a framework to move forward with. And I think that's part of what has... It's part of why this time was different versus Trayvon or Mike Brown or all these other moments in the recent history where we have been making these same compelling claims is that...
KT: We've gotten... These ideas have slipped into our lexicon. People have gotten more comfortable even with the... With some of these concepts, some of the language has changed, and the progress that we have made, even though it has been incremental and frustrating, I think makes people a little bit more prime to then be able to make those bigger jumps when the moment presents itself. I don't know, that's just an idea that I'm still sort of thinking about based off of the earlier conversation, and I know that's not enough, but it's important that we're ready when the moment arises when people are like, "Oh wow, it's really actually too bad that X problem exists. What can we do about it?" When we can come in and say, "Actually, hey, here are a bunch of well-researched and well-thought about solutions and things that people have been working on for 20 years but nobody's been listening." And then when people are listening, do we have something to say to them? So I think that's something that is [chuckle] I have been thinking about based on the conversation.
KT: But then also another point is that for me, when we're thinking of power and where do we actually make change, I think that is one of the benefits that I do have, and I get to have in working direct service and with people, is that there is some benefit of... It might be a small thing, but this individual change in this individual person's life is, for them, a huge deal. And yes, while it's horrible that it's not enough to just be like, "Okay, we're incrementally moving the needle." But for that one person that the needle is has moved on, it's everything, and so that's a way that it's gotten me to get excited about my work and to be... To feel good about that is that while it can be frustrating because we want the societal change, as I said earlier. We want a world in which we don't need these sorts of interventions. Hey, each person, each individual that we work with, each direct service that is administered, that's one step towards it, and it's a way for me to sort of feel good about the fact that at least we're moving in the direction that we're trying to go.
CW: I wanna ask one more question, and then I would love to hear from the folks in the audience, our students, our prospective students in terms of what's on their mind and what they're really excited to ask you about, but like I said, we have a lot of students here and prospective students, and I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the day in the life of being a PhD student and what were the things that you did to navigate this... That reality, to be able to get to where you are? Because when I think... When I listen to you all, and I think about the idea that our students wanna one day be the kinds of influencers you are or moving through organizations and influencing conversations in the way that you are, and clearly also doing it so effectively, they've gotta get through their educational program first. And you remember the kinda mundane-ness of sometimes being a student and the struggles and the frustrations and the "Why am I even here?" and "Why am I doing this?" And I just wonder if you can speak to that a little bit, offer some advice, some tips, some wisdom, some strategies, so that we can make sure that we're shoring up this next generation and cohort who's coming behind you. What would you say to this group? And why don't we start with... Kennedy, you wanna start?
KT: Yeah, sure. Yeah, 'cause I guess I was in that place the most recently and the grad school experience is a lot of things, and you're balancing yourself as a student, but also as a teacher and also as a researcher and also as a person and trying to put together all of those things. I always think that it's incredibly important to keep your 'why' front and center. Why is it that you're here? What is it that you came to do? Your 'why' for this dissertation or for this grad school experience, but also your larger 'why' and kind of keeping that separate of the graduate school. It isn't everything, it's one part of your life, but it is not your entire life, and that it is one way that you are using this to then to live the life that you want to, and that life doesn't stop while you are in grad school.
KT: So I think that's something to always just keep literally written on a post-it note and stick it on your mirror, whatever you gotta do to keep it in front of you as you navigate that time. And I think also one thing that now that I'm outside of academia, is just sort of realizing that... I think sometimes academics, and I know it happens in other careers, but we love to just be so focused on ourselves and so feeling like we're in this unique perspective where like we're the busiest people in the entire world, and we're the most put upon, or the most whatever." But I think just having that perspective of "This is your job, this is one way that you show up for yourself, this is one way that you follow your passion, but it's not the only way," and that... Just trying to have that perspective about "This is a thing that you do, but it isn't all that you are," and finding ways to make that work for you and make that be your own path and get what you need out of this journey and setting up the boundaries for your work and for your life in a way that feels good to you so that you can remember that there is life outside of academia. I think those are the things that right now, I would say, but I can get more specific later if we need to.
CW: Wonderful, that is great advice. Alex, what do you think?
AR: I think that all resonates. And I think that sort of reminding yourself there's life outside of academia, or in this case, grad school, I think is important. I think the biggest advantage I had going into grad school was that I had worked for five years before going back, and so what I saw in a lot of my classmates was they had only ever been in school and they had only ever been super high achievers. And so the first... I still remember this, it was almost 20 years ago. My first Game Theory test, I have had a 17 out of a 100. That's not great. But I knew there was... Like I could get a job. [chuckle] I was just like, "Well, this is not good." But it wasn't like, "My life is over." Whereas like I think some of my colleagues thought their life was over, 'cause many of us got very poor scores. And so I think having that, recognizing, I think also just like... So I had the mindset. I didn't think I had to be the best student in the PhD program, and so I could go into it with the... I was there to learn, I needed to learn stuff and I needed to get through it. But I didn't need to be the top person in every class, on every test, in every interaction and so I think that's a helpful mindset to come with. And then I think the other piece is to find your people, maybe they're in the program, maybe they're not.
AR: But sorta find your people and the people that will bring you back up or sort of help you, remind you what's real or just get your mind out of school, I think. I mean for me, my actual practical advice that I didn't actually realize, I had such structure until I was thinking about it today, I had... Every Saturday morning, there were friends I met at Zingerman's, and we had breakfast, and we'd go to the farmer's market. And sometimes we went to football games, sometimes whatever. But every Saturday morning, I knew that's what I was gonna do. And I was gonna see people that I liked, and then there were... Monday dinner, I had Monday dinner with a different subset of friends. And just sort of having those things that I didn't have to think about it, I just knew it was gonna happen, and I think I need like more of that in my life now, actually, to bring that back. [chuckle]
CW: Mm-hmm. I love that. I loved... Just such great ideas. I'm writing several of these down, for not just for myself, but also just in terms of how to pass along such great wisdom and advice to students. These are... I love the idea of the Monday dinner and the Saturday kinda you know you're gonna do something fun. L'Heureux, what advice would you give? Strategies, tips.
LL: So first, I really have a question for Alex, 'cause I need to know what kind of stipend you had to be eating at Zingerman's every Saturday morning 'cause I can't afford a Zingerman's sandwich right now.
KT: Right. Did you just get the samples at Zingerman's or are you actually eating?
AR: For breakfast? The breakfast is not that bad. You can get like a bagel for like $8. I mean like... That's a lot for a bagel, I recognize that.
LL: So listen, I'm like, "Okay, I should have had that half while I was there." Because it's a whole different world, right? My time in Ann Arbor was good because of the folks that I surrounded myself with. I'm a first-generation college student, which also makes me a first-generation graduate student and PhD student, and then when you say, "Hey! You're getting PhD of Sociology in Policy," half the time, you can't explain it to yourself, so let alone to your loved ones. So I did a lot of translation work. I also left a lot of things on the table. Sometimes you can't explain it, but you're going through the experience and figuring it out as you go. People often look like they know everything from the outset and they don't. I also had to start to recognize that the people who are around me, who are kind of giving this like, "I work 24 hours a day, I'm in the lab for 18," they were terribly unbalanced. And if they were doing that, they weren't doing it well, because they spent all that time and then still came out with the same outcome. I had to learn how to turn the faucet on and off with my own work and effort, because doctoral degrees encourage you to pour more and more and more and more and more. And you can, but you're receiving a lot.
LL: So that meant that I was meeting folks in the Ford School, I was meeting master's students, like Janine Lee, like Jeff Page, I was meeting PhD students like Alex, like Jordan. I was also meeting folks outside of the discipline that I had chosen. I was meeting folks in psychology, and we were kicking it. We would go bowling. We would hang out because we had to be whole human beings to survive, because much of academic training tries to make you look a certain way, sound a certain way, feel a certain way. And in that, I knew way too many students who got broken down. The Students of Color of Rackham, SCOR, was one of my safe havens, safe spaces, and I often use it to create what I needed. What I tell my students now, when they're doctoral students is learn how to find some semblance of balance. It's not gonna be perfect. You're already in a PhD program, so on the scale of "I got a little something wrong with me," you're up there. You decided to commit yourself to a set of strangers and say, "I'm gonna study a thing, and when I've got it figured out, and you say it's okay, then you'll let me go."
LL: There's nothing wrong with you if you choose that. It's okay. But in that choice, you can figure out the ways also how to be your fuller self and enjoy the process. I loved just going to random talks. I had never been to an economic seminar until I got into to the joint program, and I was like, "Oh wow! They're really over here interrupting folks on the title slide? That's what y'all do? Interesting."
LL: And then I would go over to a talk also in like History. There's so much that is happening literally on and around that campus. Don't miss the opportunity to take advantage. A PhD, by definition, makes you very narrow, but widen out yourself as much as you can. Because, as weird as it may sound, and I know I heard this when I was in graduate school, this is a really special moment. Clearly, it's also a trying moment. But it's a super special moment if you do it right and you get to enjoy it. And whatever you go on to, whether it's industry, whether it's activism, whether it's academia, you're going to need to go into it with a sense of balance, with a sense of self, and an increased set of skills to kind of analyze and hopefully impact the world.
CW: Mh-hmm. I love all of this these advice. Remember the 'why' from Kennedy and the notion of community from Alex and L'Heureux's other points about community and also this idea of enjoying interdisciplinarity and getting to know what other disciplines are thinking and talking about in the dynamics, in their cultures, and all of that. That's all part of the process and journey. Love, love, love this advice. Okay, so we have a question in the chat from Catalina, who wants to know, "As a follow-up to this question on giving up power, I know Robin DiAngelo herself has said she doesn't bring up capitalism in anti-racism trainings. How do you make giving up power e.g. Resources, wealth, access to prestigious educational systems palatable to those with that power? I'm just curious about thinking beyond using quantitative evidence." And L'Heureux, why don't we start with you on that question.
LL: I mean Catalina came out here throwing softball questions. Easy ones, right? So the things to be clear on, right? Me and Robin DiAngelo operate a little bit different. Robin DiAngelo will train a million more people than I ever will and have a million more dollars. But in part because I'm also clear that when I'm in a space, and I'm talking to folks, I try to be as honest as I can but also meet them where they're at. That doesn't mean avoiding the things that I know are going on. So I may not say the word 'capitalism,' but I can talk about economic exploitation, I can talk about opportunity hoarding, I can talk about the ways that you chose to move into a city and only send your kids to particular schools, but would never look at the one that was right down the street that's populated with neighborhood kids. And we can talk and level on that and wrestle with that. Now... Yeah, in an academic seminar saying capitalism may work, but oftentimes for everyday people, you don't need to have that explained. You can talk about their actions and lead them to think about it.
LL: Now, I also come from the school of thought that power concedes nothing, it concedes nothing without demand. And part of it is not simply being in a space where our movement and action comes in training. Trainings are... At their worst, they're preaching to the choir, at their, best they're reaching the small percentage of folks who come to the pews on Sunday. There are way more folks outside of the church on Sundays than inside. And so in that way, I'm like, "Yes, training has utility, but it doesn't actually get us much further." You can develop small cadres of folks. One of the things that I study now is literally in suburban spaces, where are the people who are challenging power, challenging zoning, challenging school and housing?
LL: And I think they do a great job, but one of their challenges is sometimes like, "I can't get my partner... I can't get my husband to actually stop doing what he's doing." I'm like, "Yeah, that's where the real work comes in." And so many times when we are active in change and people make a decision to give up power instead of connecting to their loved ones and connecting to their community and fighting through it with them and helping them understand that process, they only hang out with the people who have decided to give up power. So now you wanna come and sit with me at Thanksgiving, I'm like, "Don't sit with me and talk to me at Thanksgiving about racism. Talk to your uncle, who's been wearing the red hat and who literally thinks that QAnon is bringing truth to the world." Until folks learn how to wrestle at home and wrestle outside of the choir, giving up power in ways that are kind of like comfortable, not gonna happen. But I think it's little bits, and it takes all types to actually do that kind of work.
CW: Alex, what do you think?
AR: I 100% agree with that. I think... To go... This is about incrementalism. I think this is... I think you start small... You can't into a room and be like, "You have to give up all your power or else we're not leaving." But you can, I think, start these conversations. And so I think it is thinking about what is the tiny leverage point I have in this room or this conversation. And so the way I think about it sometimes in... When I have the opportunity to have a bunch of people in a room, I try to expand who that room sees as experts. Like "Can we invite three more people in that were not on their list and position them as experts in this room and just make that network a little bit bigger so that they're getting called the next time." Right? And that's something I can do without upsetting people usually. And so little stuff like that. And then I think the other piece is when you hear like your neighbor, or... For my dad, saying things like, "What is... " What's the one question that I can ask him that's gonna make him think a little bit harder and next time maybe he'll have a slightly different view on things? And so I think take taking the tiny opportunities. And I don't know, that didn't feel very cogent, but that's my thoughts.
CW: Yeah, very interesting. Kennedy, what do you think?
KT: Yeah, I completely agree with what has been said before, and I do like the idea of thinking about it terms of expansion and helping people to understand how to build larger tables and add one seat at a time and things like that, rather than... Even though what we really wanna do is dismantle the table and build a new one. But people don't... Won't always be ready for that. So thinking about ways to sort of get people to think in terms of expanding access rather than taking access from one to another are some of the things that come to mind. But I really like the way that L'Heureux and Alex put it as well.
CW: And I love this exchange, L'Heureux and Alex between the two of you in the chat. Because what you're highlighting is something that we haven't talked about as much on this panel that's... But so important, in terms of the networking that happens in a PhD program. The fact that the people that you're learning with now are gonna be the people that you're calling on later to help you move mountains in various institutions. So I am so grateful for that exchange. So with that, we have reached time in our panel, and I... Please join me in thanking these amazing, amazing panelists, Dr. Kennedy Turner, Dr. Alex Resch and Dr. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy. Please unmute yourselves and clap or do a little emoji just to let them know how appreciative we are of what they have offered us today, 'cause it has truly been enriching. Again, I am Celeste Watkins-Hayes, it's been my pleasure to be your moderator for this afternoon. With that, I'm gonna turn it over to Elizabeth, who has the next feature of our program. Thanks so much, everyone.
KD: Thanks Celeste. We're gonna move into breakout rooms here in a minute. And I'm gonna automatically move you in there, so just stay tuned. And then again, as I mentioned in the chat, you can continue the conversation, ask questions about the PhD program or network with each others. So just stay tuned, and I'm gonna split you up here.