Education as an equalizer?

10 years ago


"Stay away from that Ph.D.," my grandmother said.

She was 98 years-old when she held my hand for the last time and repeated this request.

I never thought I'd hear a school teacher from the South offer this as her departing wisdom.

My grandma knew I had lofty ambitions of standing at a pulpit and inspiring a revolution within inquiring minds -- like she did.

Yet she was unabashedly opposed to my attending Stanford University. As a former school teacher in Kentucky during de facto segregation, I couldn't understand why she discouraged me.

"That school is too expensive," she said when I was admitted to their undergraduate degree program.

What she was trying to tell me was that I was borrowing against my future -- enslaving myself to debt -- for what might not yield a promised land of opportunity.

I would never be free as long as I was shackled by that debt -- in my name and in my parents' names.

And she knew something I had yet to come to grips with: the dying of print journalism. As I coped with lost idealism, she offered pragmatism.

Because of these student loans, I have to get an additional job during an industry downturn. That debt challenges my freedom to be who I am -- to become who I could be.

"You're salvageable," the interviewer said before breaking the subsequent awkward silence with laughter. This, of course, after he was asked whether I was interested in spearheading a diversity component to their leadership project at my alma mater. I was told, before moving to the third round of interviewing, that diversity was my "selling point."

What he met in my face was no less than righteous indignation.

Worst yet, despite my work experience coupled with my academic prowess (two degrees), I was reduced to "salvageable" by a job interviewer because I did not have an MBA, which was preferred (by them) but not required for the job (video producer).

"Salvage," in the English language, is used to refer to an object -- property, specifically.

What good does a doctorate do me if I can't even get this man, who spent two years (for an MBA) at my alma mater versus my five, to see me as an equal?

I was still just property.

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