Yessss! On March 7, 2016, I officially and successfully defended my dissertation titled "The Formation of Scholars: Critical narratives of Asian American doctoral students in higher education." While much of it is a blur, I certainly had some favorite moments:
- I got to say things like, "We need to decolonize educational experiences and decenter approaches that only validate Eurocentric viewpoints."
- "I am disruptive. I am radically disruptive. After all this is done, I want to radically disrupt this entire way that we socialize and expect others to fit into this narrow understanding of who we are and who we are meant to be."
- "I am not a counter-narrative. My story is not a counter-narrative. My story IS. My story and the stories of these participants stand on their own, not counter to who you are and what you believe, but because we are and we are what we believe."
- "Our programs must be more inclusive. As practitioners in higher education, I was always asked to do whatever possible for each undergraduate student. Yet, we don't approach doctoral education that way. We don't always approach the 'student' part of the 'doctoral' when in fact we are complex human beings. That part of us is rarely taken into account."
There were so many wonderful things about the actual defense, but none more wonderful than seeing a room of related family and chosen family in there. I intentionally had my three young children come to the defense because, in so many ways, they sacrificed so much for me to get to this point. Far too many times, I had to say, "No, I cannot play with you right now" or "J, can you read a book to your younger siblings" or "You brushed your teeth, right? No, I won't smell your breath, I'm too busy reading." I'm not always proud of the things I said or the events I missed or the times I've yelled out of stress. But, I am proud that we made it through. I'm more proud that my children were there to celebrate along side me (even though they thought it was torture sitting there for 2 hours!).
I am also so grateful for my Cohort Sisters -- my family. They were in the back rows nodding their heads, smiling, waving, and (so I heard) tearing up. They watched me go through the pain of peeling back my own oppression, challenging my belief systems, and emerging as a scholar.
One of my favorite memories of all this was what happened the night prior to my defense. Jorge, my partner and husband, decided that he would re-do my presentation slides to be more engaging and snazzy (thank goodness!). He did an incredible job, but what I am most proud of is that he was the first one to preview the presentation. As with much of my life, Jorge has been the first one to witness all of the biggest occasions in my life. And, this was no exception.
Finally, I'm pasting my acknowledgement section here for all those to read. There are so many people who have influenced my journey, and I am forever grateful. If you are not listed in the actual document, know that you are in my heart always and have been instrumental in my development!
I'll write more later -- mostly about the "post-defense-exhaustion!"
Peace and love,
DR. Liza Talusan (awww yea!!)
Joli Irene, Jada Grace, and Evan Eduardo – I began this journey towards my doctorate while you were learning how to read, write, talk and even walk. There were many nights during which my work seemed to have been more important than your chapter books, juice boxes, and after school activities. For five years, you may have felt as if you were not as important; and, I assure you, you were. In fact, you were the reasons why I saw this journey to the end. Thank you for letting me be a Mama Scholar and for giving me so many “energy hugs.” I wanted you to see that we can achieve beyond our own imagination.
I am thankful for the support and encouragement from my husband, Jorge Luis Vega III, who created space for me to focus on my studies by being an incredible parent. You have always seen me as smart, capable, driven and dedicated to our careers – both separate and together. I realize this was as much of a commitment for you as it was for me.
I have learned that generations tend to exceed the educational achievements of the ones before them, and I have been blessed with two parents who had set the bar so high even given personal and professional challenges of immigrating to a new country and building a life for their family. Mom and Dad, I am forever grateful to you for expecting so much of my siblings and me. Thank you for all the babysitting nights and for letting me write at your dining room table. Yes, I am a “real doctor”, too. Thank you to my sisters, Ate Mary and Ate Grace who served as editors and who gave feedback on the thematic coding of this dissertation. Thank you to my brothers, “the Doctors”, Paul and Jonathan. Thank you to my in-laws John Patrick, Alonso, Kirsten and Jenny; and to my beautiful nieces and nephews who are the future of education. Thank you to Pastors Eva and Jorge Vega, Jr.; Andre and Marie; Pedro and Demisha for all of your encouragement over the years and for keeping me lifted. To my entire family, this is truly a life history dissertation because of all of you.
I am so grateful to my 2011 cohort. Without “The Lovelies”, I never would have made it through the challenges of finding my voice. I am so thankful for your brilliance and your sisterhood in this process. Thank you for pushing me and for picking me up when I needed it. You are my heart. LaDonna, thank you for our writing dates and for all the late night panic sessions. Thank you for holding me accountable and for being my partner, buddy, and go-to. I love you like cake. Tammy and Asabe, as Mamas and Scholars, thank you for being role models for me by bringing your lives as mothers into this journey. Lyssa, thank you for all you are, especially as my Pinay mirror in this journey. Our similar paths in life helped me feel like I belonged and that my experiences were not so different.
To the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Boston Higher Education Program, I stand in awe of your leadership, your commitment to justice and equity, your scholarship and inclusive mentoring of me in this process. Thank you for being my guides and for showing me that positive socialization is the foundation of success. Thank you to my colleagues at Stonehill College who supported me in the early years of this program.
To my committee, Dr. Dwight Giles, Dr. Katalin Szelenyi, and Dr. Samuel Museus -- you helped me to understand who I am as a scholar, leader, and student. With you, I felt affirmed. I felt part of something bigger than my own work. I felt part of a community. You let me follow my heart and soul, and I am forever grateful for your insight into my development as a doctoral student.
Dr. Giles: It is fitting that I begin and end this journey with you. From our early talk over grits to our plentiful Skype dates to our co-teaching and to our dissertation formation sessions, you have been a rock and foundation in my life. “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). Thank you for letting me explore all aspects of my identity, for encouraging me to move forward in ways that have been affirming for me, and for helping me see, through a broad lens, the depth and breadth of what was possible. It has been an honor and privilege to serve as GA#1. Thank you for helping me build the plane as we fly.
Dr. Szelenyi: As you know, much of my life history and storytelling centers around such pivotal points that you created for me. You proactively connected me to other Asian American scholars, taught me to be angry about the lack of Asian Americans in our history books, and encouraged me to explore insider-outsider identity. You also helped me be a mother and a scholar, two identities that, through your guidance, are no longer competing identities. Thank you for your honesty, your compassion, and for letting me learn and teach along side you. Thank you for inviting me along as you interrogate issues of race, justice, equity and practice.
Dr. Museus: I can confidently say that I am where I am because of you, your scholarship, your kindness and your mentoring of me. Often, I sat and re-read your articles and books whenever I felt I was losing my way. During a difficult stage in my dissertation, you wrote, “Liza, you’re doing important work.” And, that was what I needed to keep going. Thank you for allowing me to learn from your journey. Thank you for teaching me all that the history books left out. Thank you for teaching me to think critically about my own community and to embrace it with love and compassion. Thank you for believing that our shared community is important.
Thank you to the many who mentored me along the way during my doctoral student development and socialization. Thank you to Dr. Doris Ching who continues to inspire me to shatter the glass ceiling. Thank you to the NASPA APIKC family, Greg Toya, Daniel Choi, and Joi Torres who took me in when I needed some AAPI love. Thank you to my scholars, practitioners and friends from the GMS APIASF read who were with me early on in my rediscovery of racial and ethnic identity.
And, finally, thank you to my fellow doctoral students in this study. Together, we have built a community and are the foundation and pipeline for identity-conscious development, socialization and practices. I have held your stories close to my heart and am thankful for the ways we, collectively, are moving forward in this work. Thank you to all the scholars along the way – both in paper and in person - who helped me feel visible, valued, and legitimate. There are not many of us, yet too many to name here. And, I expect more to come.