Welcome to GradLife 601: Research & Beyond, a podcast supported by West Virginia University’s Provost Office of Graduate Education and Life. I’m your host, Dr. Nancy Caronia, a teaching associate professor with the department of English at WVU. Today. I’ll be speaking with Dariane Drake, who is in the doctoral program in higher education with WVU College of Education and Human Services.

She also serves as the diversity coordinator and is a visiting lecture with a John Chambers college of business and economics, her research, interests, concern, access and representation. Welcome Darien. I’m thrilled to have you here today at GradLife 601. Thank you so much. I’m very happy to be here.

Well, let’s dive right in. Okay. Your research stands at the intersections of access and representation in higher education. Could you talk a bit about this research and how you came to your topic? Yeah, of course. So every time I talk about kind of what led me to my research area, I have to give you a little bit of a background.

Because that’s really where, where my, my, my love for what I’m doing came from. It was it was a Christmas dinner actually a few, few years ago, probably a year or so into my actual doctoral program, while I’m starting to think about what what it really is that I’m interested about higher education.

And, and we were talking at Christmas dinner, my, one of my nieces had just had one of her. Like educational tests that they do when, when you’re going through school, and she didn’t do very well. And she comes from a background of not the best circumstances and a lot of things that just kind of happened with her life.

And, and, and she’s kind of been shafted a little bit if you will. Yeah. And everyone was talking about how, how poorly she’s done on these tests and, oh no. Is she going to be able to do this and do that? And you could just tell that she was getting more and more and more insecure and like, to me, can we move away from this conversation please?

And it broke my heart and my grandmother’s. And then my grandmother is like, you know what, let’s stop this conversation right now because Darian had the same kind of problems. And she is now a PhD student and I just kind of sat there. Everyone kept talking, like we had moved away from that conversation.

Everyone went off. What about whatever it was that they were talking about, but I really just kind of sat there and like looked at my grandmother and I’m like, that’s kind of a huge deal. Yes. Students that go through so much. From any point of their life and they’re still succeeding and they’re still going on.

And, and it really just kinda hit me like, wow, that’s, that’s a big deal. We didn’t the big deal isn’t talking about this. So then I started looking at trauma and crisis and how that’s impacting educational success. And, and what’s that what that does look like. And we are starting to look more at trauma affected students and, and really sort of looking at how it impacts your before you get to college, if you even make it to college, right.

I’m thinking about. So what does that look like when you come to college? Are you, are you even thinking about college? If you’ve suffered certain types of things and then compounded to that is the PR is the fact that I’m, I I’m a BiPAP individual and a woman in, in a field. Well, I’m in higher education now, but my undergrad and my masters were in male dominated.

Oh, wow. So it’s just, it. All of these things came together, and I started to look at specifically how women of color who have experienced some sort of traumatic event. How are you succeeding in these institutions of higher education that were not built to sustain, to sustain women, to sustain people of color to sustain the LGBTQ plus community students with disabilities.

In what does, what does that look like? And I just, I don’t think it’s talked about enough. I’m fascinated by the fact that you were sitting around your family’s dinner table, right? For a holiday, because I have to say as a first gen student, those ideas come to me as well when I’m with my family. And I realized I want to make this more visible because these are the stories that become erased and become visible.

And you’re suggesting that we need to not only make the stories of trauma visible, but we need to, we also need to talk about Survivants right. That idea of not only are people surviving, but they’re thriving. And so. What is happening to allow that to occur. And I, I really, I think it’s fascinating. What have you found in your research so far in terms of that kind of survive and that kinds of success?

Yeah. So in your kind of, you’ve got to look at this from multiple points. So, so coming from my research, I’m coming up from a gender perspective, I’m coming from a racial and ethnic perspective, and I’m also coming from the perspective of, of trauma affected. This, this intersection, and there is research on trauma students as a whole.

And of course, there’s research on women in higher education and there’s research on research on students of color in higher education, but they’re often lumped into this monolithic. And, and, and, and generalized, which is, which is how we do research. Right. But I think what we’re missing is these individual experiences and the fact that a lot of students that don’t fit the mainstream traditional student first off success for them is just getting our foot in the door first off.

It’s true. We don’t really talk about that is that they’re not even here to begin with. I mean, not that they’re not, but not to an extent that traditional students. So, not only is it just, it is just, it is literally success just to get your foot in the door and then feed past your first year. We’re not even talking about grad school.

We’re talking about undergrad. That’s right. We’re talking about retention in the first two years. And then especially when you factor in, did you move away from your family to go to this institution? Do you even have a family helping you. Financial burdens. Are you, are you also working wireless while you’re a student?

Do you have a child there’s so much added in there? That’s not factored into the traditional profile of a student that is impacting every single thing. Can they even make it to class today? Can they meet that deadline on time? Can they do that project that requires them to work with five other students that are traditional students?

So they’ve got time or there might be partying or these other things? The, the. Coming up with a blank right now? No, no, no. You’re not because what’s important. What you’re saying here is that we need to have things in place to help these students like that first step of success to be accepted and then to come here, but there need to be.

Things in place to help those students at every step of the way. And that that idea of retention is so important. And what you triggered for me is the fact that we have more and more students who are not traditional coming to college now, you know I would say WVU still has more traditional first time out of high school.

But I see in my classroom more and more students who are returning students, their jobs have been, let go, they need to come back and get a degree. They, they never went to college and they’ve decided to go to college. And, and the irony is, is that those studies. Maybe white, but they may be underrepresented minority students.

They may be single moms or in one case, I had a student, single dad, all of these things have real important implications for how they’re going to succeed. Then even thinking about. Military affiliated students of West Virginia and our commitment to the GI bill and things like that. We’ve got more military affiliated students graduate and.

But then there, there, there, they have to attend these kind of first year experiences or these first-year classes where they’re asked to do things that are designed for an 18 year old. They’re not an 18 year old anymore. They don’t, they’re not learning the way how you’re teaching them. We need to, we need to reflect the changes of our students and no, we are not going to reach every single student.

That’s impossible, but I think as a whole academia can do better about. Understanding who is in our classrooms, who is teaching their classrooms and how we reach those that we need to reach. Absolutely. So, so what would you say to educators today who want to make sure that their courses represent a wide experience?

You know, how might they approach like curriculum development or teaching style different. I think, and I’m going to kind of add on to what I was just talking about. I think it is really extremely important to just take a moment, to get your, to know your students a little bit. And I understand that class time is valuable and you don’t have enough of it, and you’ll never gonna have enough of it.

But just taking that, taking just a brief moments at the beginning of. Periodically throughout the year to ask them about themselves get involved with their lives as much as are. They will allow you to find out what their preference preferences are. Ask what their pronouns are, ask about their background.

Are they first gen that will help you? Figure out how you need to instruct them because not everyone is the same. And as we’re, as we’re getting into this to a world that’s more, that’s more interconnected and more the impacts of the internet and all of that, all of that stuff. Everyone is coming from a different place.

And taking a second to just get to know your students and let them get to know you too. That’s I think one step toward. Reaching some of our students. And I think it’s especially important after the pandemic because students are more disconnected than ever. But I would also say that instructors are really burnt out and it’s not that instructors are disconnected.

They’re just exhausted. And it, any extra effort. Very difficult right now, but you’re right, because I tell students all the time I’m, first-generation, I’m from Brooklyn and I, and I give them my Brooklyn long island accent and they’re shocked. And I say, I learned how to speak standard American to fit in, you know, That’s how I always speak,

but it helps them understand that they don’t need to be ashamed of their accents of their dialects. And that I do understand more of the experience that they’re having in the classroom. And I don’t understand all of it cause no one, like you said before, no one can understand all of it. Exactly. How do you think that your position is the diversity coordinator with the college of B and E feed into your research in the college of education and human services?

I think they feed on each other very nicely on both sides. So as a student that is always reading something, always learning about something in higher education. I am able to use some of the theories or the case studies or some of these voices that I hear in texts and bring them into my. Yeah, but also on the other side, my job feeds right into my research because I’m trying to do this work every day.

I’m trying to increase the access and success of the marginalized individuals and, and I, and I get to interact with students, faculty, and staff every single day that are telling me their experiences, telling me things that are, that, that we are missing. And I think I can see the, the intersection.

Within higher education that might not be addressed or might not be addressed well. And, and there are inequities in, in higher education because it wasn’t built for the people that are currently enrolling in higher ed today. We have an inherent imbalance of, of this ivory tower that we’re all trying to scale.

And I can see that. And I, and I, and I want to research that and I want to hopefully, maybe fix the system within the system. It makes total unity. Yeah. That makes total sense to me. So how far along in your doctoral program are you? I am collecting data right now. So, and how long will you collect data for.

Until I have enough participants, but just like you said yourself I, students are very unengaged right now in, in it. And trying to get participants has been particularly challenging also to the PO to the fact that my study has a little bit more involved involvement on the participant side. So I’m using something called photo voice, which is where my, my co-researchers will go take photos and then kind of.

Explain what that photo means to them, what it has to do with higher education. What has, what does it have to do with third journey? Things like that. So, and then, and then we meet multiple times through about a two month span. So there’s a lot more involved. But the, the reason why there’s so much to it is because I actually want to capture the voices of the people that are in, in what I’m studying.

So I’m looking at how trauma affected black women succeed in a predominantly white institution. I want them to be able to read my paper and hear their voice. That’s why I have to meet with you so many times so that I can relay exactly what it is that you want me to relay. Cause it’s your story, not my story.

I’m just, I’m just broadcasting it. I’m just giving you the platform to voice it. So, and this is the work of an ethnographer person, right? Ethnographers really have to take time. And in some cases, some projects can take a decade, right? So it makes sense to me that it’s taking you a long time to collect data anyway, but then with the pandemic, it adds an extra layer of, of, okay.

I need to reassess my timeline. That makes total sense to me taking a little bit of time and that’s okay. So let’s take a break for a moment to hear from WV use provost, office of graduate education and life.

Welcome back to grad live 6 0 1 research and beyond I’m your host, Dr. Nancy Caronia. And I’m speaking with Dariane Drake. So let’s change our trajectory a little bit here. Why don’t you talk about what you see as the best part of graduate school for you right now? I think the discussions and the connections that you can make with like-minded individuals.

So in my opinion, Undergraduate in education introduces you to a, to a broad array of areas so that hopefully you can be this well-rounded individual once you graduate. But that also means that some people that are in your, in your classroom do not care about the content that’s being discussed in the classroom.

They just. To be there. That’s not necessarily the case in grad school or, or at least it shouldn’t be because if you’re in a grad program, you’ve decided that this is the content that you want to actually learn about. So the people in your classroom. Are hopefully enjoying that classroom or the content being discussed in that classroom.

And I think it opens to more lively conversations and think when you go to grad school, it’s not necessarily a concrete Aaron answer one plus one equals two it’s. What are other perspectives? What, what what did this author have to say about that? There’s no one concrete answer. Now I’m not talking about everything.

There is concrete answers for certain things. But to be able to have open discussions and, and open your mind to more possibilities, I think, as opposed to this. It, we’re not black and white. It there’s shades of gray and purple and pink and all these other wonderful colors. And I think you get to figure that out.

And you get to figure it out with other folks who want to also figure that out. I think you’re right about in undergraduate program, you’re really learning about a course of study or a subject matter that you might not have any experience with. And you’re getting all of the foundation, but when you’re in graduate school, even if you switch subject matters, you get to really fly a little bit.

So when you came to graduate school, what’s the one thing you wish you had known when you started that? It took either trial and error a little bit of time to figure out don’t rush into it, I think is, is the biggest thing for me. I think some students might be pushed into grad school because maybe they don’t know what to do, or maybe they didn’t land their dream job.

So, oh, well I’ll just go to grad school. And they’ll just pick something and that’s okay. If you’ve got the finances to, to backtrack. Or, or a job that will back that up. But I think when you’re going to grad school and you want to end, you want to spend that, that year or multiple years on something, make sure that it’s actually something that you care about.

And I, and I think ask yourself why, because I, I’m not talking, I love the, the program I’m in now, but I actually got a master’s in something and I wasn’t, once I was in a house, like why, why am I doing? But by the time I figured out why I was doing this, I was already pretty much done. So, wow. So I think don’t rush into it if you’re not absolutely in love with something, you’ve you have time in grad school’s not for everybody and that’s also okay.

And then I think the second piece to that is, is find a mentor. And I think that can be really tricky for those of us in historically marginalized communities. But a great mentor can keep you sane in a mentor. Doesn’t have to be a faculty or staff member. A mentor could be that person sitting right next to you in your classrooms.

Peer mentors are just as great as, as a faculty or staff mentor. It’s just this person that’s in your that’s in your corner and you can talk through things and, and although many people. Might have a family or friends who, who support them unconditionally, but if you’re first gen or you don’t, or, or you one of the few that went on to grad school, some of your faculty, or I’m sorry, some of your friends or family don’t know what grad life is like, so they, they can be there and they can listen to you, but they don’t understand the way how someone that’s in the trenches or has gone through the trenches can understand.

And I think that’s where that, that mentor can come into. So that’s interesting to me, Darien, you’re suggesting that there are different kinds of mentors and that you could have a dissertation director who’s very important to you, but maybe isn’t a mentor in the way that one of your classmates or somebody who’s a year or two ahead of you in your doctoral program can really be your mentor because they’ve learned things and can share their wisdom with you and you, and then maybe it’s a reciprocal peer mentoring where you’re, you’re giving something back to them.

Yes, I think some of the best mentors I’ve ever had, and I didn’t just have one, I had a couple. I’m a handful. It happens sometimes, but now some of the best people I’ve learned from are people in my classes that don’t share similar experiences. As of me was another, it was a woman of color who was a staff member in it and had a completely different degree in a completely different field for me.

And we just happened to connect. I don’t even remember how, and she was just there for me. And, and, and that’s what, it’s all, that’s, all it takes is just a couple of people to, to just be there on your side and can understand what grad life is like. I also think it’s really important for underrepresented students.

We’re marginalized students to understand that it’s important to have those mentors because sometimes there there’s a population of students that will get that support. Unconditionally from the moment they arrive and nobody really, it goes back to that kind of institutional bias that you’re talking about.

It’s embedded in the system and people don’t realize they’re even doing it. Exactly. And so it’s important to recognize like, no, everybody has a mentor, everybody has mentors and that it’s okay to find somebody and say, can I kind of use you as my sounding board? I think that’s such an important point.

Thank you for bringing that up, Darien. I really appreciate it because I do think sometimes that grad students forget that there are other kinds of mentors besides their distractor. They get so steeped in their dissertation, they become myopic and then they don’t have any other options. So now what do you want to do when you finish your PhD?

I would like to be a faculty member doing a teaching and doing research on the access and sex access and success of marginalized communities. I want to be able to raise voices that are, that are not heard all the time in higher education or, or in journals and publications and things like that.

And there’s an inherent problem with that because. Journals and ag education and academia are rent are written for other academics. Well who’s who are the academics, not the people that are listening to these stories. So there is an inherent trickiness to about this. Because we we’ve seen case study after case study of people that are hired to come in and dismantle that I’ve retired.

And then they’re, they’re fired. They’re burnt out, they’re refuse tenure. And they’re UN, or they’re unable to make any waves until they secure tenure. So that’s even more time and potentially more students or faculty or staff that have fallen through the cracks. So it’s tricky. It’s tricky trying to change the structure.

While you’re in the structure. So I, I haven’t completely figured that part out yet. Right. While you’re trying to create credibility and authority in the structure, it’s very difficult. To, to make the kinds of changes that you see as obvious changes. And then sometimes when you get to the place where you can make the changes, you’re just exhausted.

Like you said, it’s like, okay, I’ve, I’ve carved this space out. Let me rest for a little while. Yeah, I totally get it. So where do you, so in five years from now, if I, if we could flash forward to five years, what would your life look like? Do you think. I hopefully faculty on my way to some sort of maybe I’m assistant professor of some sort maybe or something like that.

And, and I think. There, and there’s of course always problems with this, but I, I really love the service side of academia and, and, and, and reaching those that need my help. And that’s really where my heart has specific specifically for students. That’s. Faculty somewhere I would have to do research, but my heart really lives in the service side of things.

That makes a lot of sense. So you’re working really hard, right? You have the positions in BNA, plus you’re working on gathering data right now and you’re working on your dissertation and your, so what do you do for fun?

I think the more accurate answer is that I don’t, and I think my partner will tell you that I don’t. But I do, I love spending time with my family. My partner, my dogs my daughter just turned one. They are the they are the absolute best thing about me. But, but I do all of this for, for, for her, for my nieces and nephews.

In the hopes that academia and in America, in general, we’ll see little black and brown children as worthy and not take away their innocence or their creativity and not question qualifications when they go to graduate admissions or, or tenure decisions, or even becoming a Supreme court justice. Just allowing them to be the way, how you allow white children to be and white individuals to be.

Because at the end of the day, we all are in this environment together and we all have to find some sort of.

We’re all here together into connected whether we want to see that interconnection or not. And it can be disturbing when you watch something like the Supreme court justice hearings, and you recognize that. Still people that don’t want to look at a black woman who has, is probably the most credentialed Supreme court justice ever has someone who has the appropriate conduct credentials.

And you understand that it’s really because of the color of their skin, not their exam. So I get it. How many dogs do you have? I have two, I’ve got little Yorkies. I have a Chihuahua. I spent a lot of time talking with people about dogs lately. We don’t deserve dogs. We do not deserve the unconditional love that dogs give us.

I agree. I love, I love Sammy and I, and she gets me outside hiking in this area because she likes to walk. So I’ve been very fortunate in West Virginia. I don’t know if you have to have just when you need a break. They’ll make you go outside and walk and some nature. Yes. That’s, that’s extremely true. I, unfortunately, one of my, one of my Yorkies is, is getting elderly and she’s she has a lot of neuro disorders.

So we can’t, she can’t get overheated. So we don’t get to do as much as we used to, but, but my other one, we still get him out and active. So that’s. Well, that’s good. Well, it’s been great talking with you Dariane Drake

I really appreciate you taking time to to talk with me today and Good luck with the rest of your data collection.

Thank you. Thank you very much. And thank you for asking me to be here. I enjoyed it. Yeah. And I want to thank GradLife 601 podcast audience. I hope you enjoyed this episode until next time. I’m Dr. Nancy Caronia for GradLife 601: Research & Beyond.

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