Category Archives: Guest Posts

Surviving Postponement: Facing Fears During the Journey to PHinisheD

by Chantae Still

Three is typically my favorite number. I pledged a sorority and was the “Tre,” I am the first of my mother’s three children, and I grew up feeling comforted by the Holy Trinity (father, son, and holy ghost). However, this semester, entering the third year of the doctoral program and still completing coursework, felt oppressive. In 2016 I started this degree feeling confident that I could exceed expectations and do the four-year program in three. At the very least, I planned to graduate in December and complete it in three in a half. I registered for a full-time load every semester and probably could have finished my coursework in two years had I not picked up a graduate certificate that required an extra four classes. Either way, I was planning to finish my coursework the summer after my second year and take my exam in the Fall. Before life happened.

I was one of the doctoral students whose marriage didn’t survive. Even worse than experiencing a major breakup, a dissolution of marriage that I have to say was pretty amicable, my mother passed suddenly in the summer of 2017. Within one month I had suffered two major losses. One was legally gone with the banging of a judge’s gavel, and the other ended with a phone call that changed my life.

During the last conversation I had with my mother she asked me how school was going. “So when you finish they will call you doctor right?” The week after she passed, as my sisters and I picked up her ashes from the crematorium, I thought back to that conversation and realized I had to finish. It was the last thing she knew that I was doing. I was going to be the first in my grandmother’s bloodline to obtain a doctoral degree; quitting was not an option.

Despite advisement from close friends and relatives, I didn’t take any time off. I believed that even the smallest break would result in me becoming another statistic: the failing fifty percent of doctoral students that dropout, often before doctoral candidacy. I continued taking a full-time load while working forty plus hours a week to support myself as a commuter student who lived over an hour away from campus. When things got too challenging I quit my job and relocated closer to my university to make sure that school remained a priority. I was dead-set on finishing by any means necessary.

This August I met with a committee member to discuss the qual question that I would be given for the qualifying exam and my fueled freight train was forced into an emergency halt. “To be honest, based on what I am seeing, I don’t think you’re ready.” In a fourteen-word sentence, my confidence was hit with a figurative bullet and one of my academic fears was realized. I almost didn’t make it out of the office and to the ladies room. It took me digging my nails into my thighs and looking away to prevent a premature breakdown. Initially, I couldn’t tell if it was anger or sadness, but part of me wanted to flip a desk over while another part of me wanted to crawl under a table and lay in fetal position. I entered a stall and began to cry with a convulsing pain. I have never before experienced a panic attack, but this may be the best way to describe what I was going through. Looking back, I think I cried the tears that I suppressed for my failed marriage and the children we didn’t stay together long enough to have. I cried the tears that I stifled after my mom passed before I could experience a healthy mother daughter relationship or make her a grandmother. I cried the tears that I generally concealed when I felt insecure about, unsure with, or unworthy of the opportunity to enter this graduate school journey. I cried with intensity for eighty minutes straight without an ability to talk without hyperventilating.

I survived that day.

After a lot of face-washing in the College of Education bathroom I even attended a campus event that I previously committed to and went to class that evening. In bed that evening I reflected heavily, as what I identify as Imposter Syndrome related thoughts, crept in my mind.

I was raised by a bipolar single mother in Los Angeles, California so I knew how to survive and exist; but, I wanted to obtain this degree and the tools necessary to confidently declare that I was a researcher. I want to stand at the intersections of all my margins, covered by the shadows of people’s suspicion of my aptness, and remain feverently undisturbed or distracted. To do that, existing wouldn’t cut it. Doctoral students need to thrive.

I decided to heed the professor’s advice and postpone taking my Qualifying exams to the next semester even though doing so would push back the anticipated graduation date I worked so hard to maintain. Several times I considered taking the exam anyway to show that my abilities should not be doubted. I concluded it was just too big a risk, and not worth the appeal process that would be necessary if I took them and failed.

I had not told many people, but at the beginning of that third year I was so full of anxiety that I did begin seeing a counselor. Sessions had been sporadic due to my busy work schedule; but the day after this breakdown, I quickly made an appointment and committed to consistent visits with my counselor. I also made an appointment with a previous professor who I admired. She was a well published Minority Scholar whose class I thoroughly enjoyed. I emailed and informed her that I was in need of a “come to Jesus meeting.” When I took her class, she encouraged me to perfect my craft and made me feel that my work would be a valuable contribution once published. I was in need of the morale boosting that she supplied. The following week I went to the church I had been visiting and decided that I would join. I also began reviewing the course catalog to identify additional research methods courses that could strengthen my research skills. This experience of presenting my work to someone and having them dismiss it due to their doubt about my abilities was actually one of my biggest fears. And I faced it.

I was told by several faculty members that you will receive a lot of “no’s” before you get that one yes that you need. This experience drove home that point for me. The next time someone expresses their disbelief or disinterest in my work, my world won’t fall apart. I have now learned how to navigate after academic rejection by utilizing campus resources and accepting the support my support system has been attempting to provide for the last year and a half. The next time I encounter a person with an opinion like this I plan to encourage them to “say less.” They won’t be the first and they won’t be the last and they won’t be able to knock me off of my journey to PHinisheD.


Chantae Still is a Los Angeles, California native, third year doctoral student, attending a university in the South Eastern United States. She holds a Masters in Adult Education, with a concentration in Counseling, from North Carolina A&T State University and recently obtained a graduate certificate in Evaluation. Chantae has a heart for Qualitative research and is interested in investigating the role of Spoken word venues as contemporary learning environments, Mandated Parent Education classes and parent behavioral change, Protective Factors against Colorism for Black Women and Evaluation as a tool for community improvement.

Twitter: @D_Chantae

Fade to Black: A Black Girl’s Guide to Walking on Water

by Micah Watson

In my Best-Man-esq group text, I’m definitely the most likely to be Harper. Of us classmates-turned-lifelong-friends, I’m the dark skinned writer with glasses and a swagger that transcends decades (okay, maybe that last part is Taye-specific). The important and illusive part in that is “writer” (even if I don’t plan on writing a tell-all novel). It’s an identity that I’m learning to claim but has always marked my journey as an artist. My dear friend posed a question to the group, “What do you think you’ll be doing at 35?” Some responded with jokes. Almost all responded with plans of children, jobs, and places they would call home. But for me, in the first days of attending the grad school of my prayers, my attempt to hold back guttural tears while watching this conversation was almost comical.

You see, all I know is that I’m supposed to be a writer. I have desires of being married with kids, repping a city that lets me flourish with my people, and rocking an afro the size of Wakanda. And I know that if I actively love the Lord, he wants to give me the desires of my heart. But the only promise that I’m certain of is that I’m going to tell stories. So far, being an artist is the only thing my heart wants that also seems to align with God’s will. All I want to do is let His promise be enough.

But sometimes I’m really bad at it.

Now that I’m here at NYU, the task of actually writing feels daunting. The pass/fail structure of this magically rigorous course load means that I don’t get praised for being the smartest or the Blackest; my work will have to stand on its own. That’s like learning to love your naked body. Now that I’m here in Manhattan, the task of walking home from my favorite soy chai spot before sunset is frustrating. Singleness is an annoying gift, particularly when I haven’t found a new community to walk and laugh with me through it all. Now that I’m becoming a real adult, I don’t have the external surety that my friends have.

Suffice it to say, I did not succeed in holding back the water works. But somewhere on the floor of my studio, God met me once again in the form of a Kings Kaleidoscope track and a recollection of Truth and reminded me that He’s all the surety I need.

With wavy faith, peppered with facetiousness, I responded that at 35 “I will be somewhere writing and making things, holding on to God’s promise and a dream. Probably somewhere in the US. Learning to walk at Christ’s pace and better at it than I was 12 years ago.”

And yet, I still walk on water like fat-legged toddler.

With my new mantra, courtesy of Transformation Church’s Michael Todd, I’m learning how to “stride” instead of “strive,” meaning that I’ve got to walk at the steady pace that Christ has planned out for my life, instead of strenuously running to make my own moves. The thing about striding, though, is that I have to walk. Like actually keep moving. For someone whose default settings are hyperactive-creative-energizer-bunny and in-my-feelings-debilitated-procrastinator, walking at a steady pace is easier said than done. It takes a particular trust that just because I’m not exerting concerning amounts of energy, doesn’t mean that God ever stopped working on my behalf, stopped loving me, or stopped being the noun good himself. I’m learning how to move within His grace with diligence and even more trust. I spend my days plotting and perfecting scripts—stories of people’s lives and actions towards a greater goal—so sometimes it’s hard not to look at God sideways when he tells me that I don’t get to plot my own. While I’d like to know every turn of my life, the only direction He’s given is “follow me.” He says, “come.” That’s my cue to respond, “yes.” I’m not really an actor anymore, but before these two years are over, I’ll be off book.

And I’m on my way.

Years, maybe even months ago, a text like that, this blow of uncertainty and lie of inadequacy would have kept me down for a few days, if not in my room, at least in my head. The blessing here is that I got up, started my homework (which may or may not have included watching Insecure), woke up the next day, analyzed another TV show, caught up with a college friend (who’s been the blessing that I didn’t know I even needed), wrote a couple of movie pitches, and took a meeting. And not once did I feel like I was out of breath. I didn’t drown.

I finished the day in Sabbath, by taking some time to read from my first Intellectual Lover, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Even in the midst of very real uncertainty, God not only gifted me with a moment of restful floating, but also with cerebral rejuvenation. What I learned from Coates is that writers write, and they read and they stumble. And being the writer that honors my ancestors is going to take curiosity, discipline, and a daily commitment to facing the fears that cause me to question my purpose. I will have to work at articulating my inspiration; that is the joy of the craft. I’m learning that this piece of my journey is about learning how to listen to God, and I mean really listen.

So many times I’ve made fun of Hillsong’s “Oceans” as a white nondenominational cliché. But when they sang “spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever you may call me” at the church around the corner, I felt that thang. As a young Black woman, the fear of new waters is as real as it was for my ancestors who were crushed by them. Being “twice as good” is and will be a part of my new challenge, but it can’t be the heart of it. Somewhere in the lies of systemic racism, we were told that our value is contingent upon our external success and that our worth comes from proving that we’re not the women that stereotypes say that we are. The weight of that makes it feel like constantly running to shore is the only way that we’ll keep from drowning in a world that doesn’t see us for the complicated gems that we really are. But running is tiring and sea salt was never good for our edges. Walking on water is much more efficient, and peaceful, and scary, and Instagram-worthy, and new. The core of who I am becoming—as a writer, as an artist, as a Black Girl—must be about working towards something that I cannot quantify and cannot see. Walking (not running, sometimes grinding) towards Freedom is mad abstract, but it rests in my soul like an unsettling spiritual. And if it’s true that I wade the same waters as generations of ancestors, then enduring those waters is just as vital. I am committing to letting the Lord shape me into something new, something smelted, something faithful, something fearless, something whole, something ready, through this Atlantic I’m calling New York City.

I’m out of the boat now. Assignments aren’t always easy, because I’m doing things that I’ve never done (literally the whole point), but I know, I mean really know, that I’m meant to do it. In just four weeks, I see my work growing and I feel like I’m closer to hitting my stride. I’m working on a project that feels like a promise and praying for continued sparks of inspiration. I’m approaching my calling as “artist” with specificity, learning how to don my purpose as “writer” with the same internal fierceness as my braided bob.

Now this being a writer thing isn’t just a Dream. It’s the promise that I hold onto as I workshop scripts and eat takeout curry alone. Besides my necessary commitment to paying off these student loans I’m accruing, the real commitment is going to be staying out here in these waters, knowing God wouldn’t put me here without purpose and provision. I’m looking upward and forward, not inward—for His strength is made perfect in my weakness (flex one time God!) I don’t know where the heck I’ll be at 35, but I know that I will have an MFA from NYU and be inside of God’s will and the dreams of my ancestors.

So, how do you walk on water? Girl, I don’t even know. But I’m learning how to trust the One who does.

Balancing Being While Becoming

by Arriana Covington

Transformative would be the word I’d use to describe my graduate school experience thus far. I find it amazing to acknowledge that everything I am evolving into and learning is what I asked the universe to give me. Prior to graduate school, I asked for a challenge and an opportunity to be able to discover who I am. I knew that I needed to be away from my home, and the familiarity of my loved ones, in order to have time to dedicate time to myself. Little did I know, this journey would be nothing short of easy. On the first night of me being completely alone in my new state, I kneeled down beside my bed and simply just prayed. I prayed for protection, discernment and patience as I began my new journey in an unfamiliar place.

When I asked for a challenge, I knew my experience wouldn’t be easy; but, I knew that this sacrifice would be worth it in the end. Obviously, I had a lot of faith; but, I needed to really trust myself. Within my first four months of my first semester of graduate school….I survived the challenge. Unlike my undergrad experience, graduate school required me to really tune into myself. Some days I enjoyed exploring and being in a new space, while other days I wanted to be alone to simply just cry. I spent a lot of my time feeling as if I was missing out on everything going on back home. The hardest part for me was having to acknowledge that I placed myself in this new space and that I had chosen to be here. I questioned myself and my abilities (especially when my grades didn’t match my peers), when there was knowledge I didn’t know, and when I was in spaces surrounded by people who didn’t look like me. Managing being a student, while also learning how to be a professional, is a whole journey in itself. Self-reflection, phone calls with my loved ones and making new friends is what really got me through my rough moments.

Completing my first semester of graduate school was a relief and the achievement I needed to confirm that I am capable of getting through this. During my second semester, I turned all of my negative energy into opportunities. Instead of aiming to go home at any chance I had, I became a part of opportunities that would keep my mind busy. I still missed home, but I learned how to cope. It’s hard to be in a new place and not really give it a chance, so I kept an open mind. My mind was so open that I accepted a summer internship opportunity that was further away from my home than my graduate school was. I was more at ease with the thought of being across the country during the summer because I knew the experience was not nearly as long as my time in graduate school. During my summer, I managed my homesickness a lot better and I was even a lot more open than my prior experience.

Now I am in my second and final year of graduate school and I am in a weird space. A weird space because I am now aware of how fast time flies. All of my worries about being in this new space are now nearly coming to an end. In less than eight months, I will obtain my Master’s Degree, yet I still have mixed feelings about what’s next. In this time of uncertainty, I have honed in the mantra, “I already am, the woman that I aspire to be.’’ My constant urge to figure out what happens next defines why I enjoy having complete control of my journey. I am learning that this desire to have control is what will get the best of me. I am learning to just be and to acknowledge my accomplishments, while being confident that my destiny is literally within me. The future me needs the current me to focus on today; and this is how I continue to learn how to balance being, while becoming and just letting things be.


IMG_7793 2Arriana Covington is a North Carolina native, but is currently pursuing her Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, with an emphasis on College Student Affairs, at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Arriana received her B.A. in Organizational Communications and Africana Studies. She aspires to use the knowledge from her degrees to contribute to the field of Higher Education by focusing on access for students of marginalized identities. In her free time, Arriana enjoys podcasts, naps, cookies and working out.