On the Genius and Creativity of Our Students and Early Career Scholars: A Love Letter
by Mia A. Smith-Bynum, Ph.D., Chair, SRCD Black Caucus
When I received the email about the VERZUZ-inspired grad school playlist battle from Dr. Shakiera Causey, and that Early Career scholars wanted me to be first up to battle my young colleague, Dr. Chauncey Smith, I laughed out loud with delight. I loved the idea! What a way to celebrate Black culture and fellowship. I knew our members and anyone who loves Black people and Black music would love it. The event was a huge success! Over 170 people logged on for the night of fun, music, story telling, and “free therapy” as some called it on Twitter. Dr. Shawn Jones and Dr. Causey served as our hosts, setting the mood with great throwback tunes Summertime (D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince) and Outstanding (The Gap Band). For almost 5 hours, we rocked out to hits from the 1990s, 2010s while telling stories from our grad school years. We also celebrated with some iconic tunes from other decades as well, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Frankie Beveryley and Maze, Teena Marie, the Commodores, and Rolls Royce few from other decades as well. It was pure Black Joy, an event I will never forget.
The VERZUZ-inspired grad school playlist battle was the most recent of four events the Black Caucus has sponsored since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US. Unable to fellowship at the March 2020 meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA), Dr. Fantasy Lozada, member-at-large and early career scholar, came up with the idea to do a virtual conference via a Twitter chat to coincide with the dates of the cancelled meeting. That morning, I watched Twitter for posts with our hashtag #. It was looking quiet, so I decided to post a thread on racial socialization. I tagged all the young scholars with whom I’d planned to present the SRA meeting and waited. Little did I know, young scholars were preparing Twitter presentations with all the fervor of a formal national meeting. Over the course of the day, I saw so many innovations on the conventions of research presentations. It was so fun to watch and interact with all of the presenters. This Gen-Xer realized she had to up the game! The scholarship and the style was “on point” as we say in Black culture—excellence and brilliance on display. The pandemic was only about 2 weeks old at that point. We were all still adjusting to social distancing. For me, this was the first bright spot in a very stressful time.
The Twitter conference was followed by two virtual writing events led by Amber Stansberry, M.Ed. and Dr. Michelle Desir. One event supported academic writing and one focused on writing for emotional healing. Both events filled critical needs for our students, early career professionals, and more senior scholars. Attendees shared with me how helpful these events were and were impressed with how polished they were.
These events are all direct results of expanding our leadership structure to include more students and early career members. As the Caucus Chair and a professor with 20 years in this academic game, I keep a keen eye on these young scholars. I want to ensure that they are able to stay focused on their career goals while they serve. I never want them to be spread too thin because of their love of the Caucus and that communal spirit of obligation to others that is deeply reflective of Black culture. What I have learned is that these young scholars want to participate in creating spaces that support their resilience and capacity to thrive. Their contributions to Black Caucus programming have broken us out of our conventional modes of thinking in terms of ways to support our members and care for them. I am in awe of what they have created in such a short, incredibly stressful, traumatic time.
Students and Early Career scholars are natives of the digital universe. As experts in the African American experience, we know that young Black scholars “flip scripts.” That is, they innovate on existing paradigms and expanding them in bold and creative ways. Our Students and Early Career scholars are no exception. Even prior to the pandemic, they have been creating new digital paradigms to engage in academic scholarship, to disseminate vital information about our work to the public; these paradigms need to be recognized and validated. And institutions that truly want to be progressive and antiracist need to recognize that innovations on these academic contributions and social events like our friendly grad school playlist battle are vital to diversifying and retaining Black scholars developmental sciences and the professoriate.
We are going to be doing more to offer opportunities for affirmation and self-care to Caucus members in the future during the pandemic, and after we transition into yet another new normal when the virus is under control. In closing this inaugural blog post, I offer up a virtual hat tip and a hearty congratulations to our Student and Early Career Subcommittee. You all amaze me. The future of our profession is in good hands. And I can’t wait to swag surf with you and all of our members and friends again on Zoom.
With Love and Appreciation “For the Culture”