On the Importance of Mattering and the Black Doctorate

by drfelder

Are you interested in what “matters” in social media today?  If so, look for an issue followed by the word matters in a hash tag and you’ll find followers who share a common interest. For folks who care about doctoral degree production for historically marginalized populations, the Facebook group Black Doctorates Matter might be of interest. Its contribution as a social media space is dedicated to disseminating research/evidence-based material focused on raising awareness and understanding how to support the psycho-social experiences of historically marginalized doctoral students. This social media effort is one among many supporting students of color in higher education; and, the issue of mattering is well-known in higher education through the work of Nancy Schlossberg (2006) and her student development research. Schlossberg addresses mattering through four principles: importance, attention, ego-extension, and dependence. The following paragraphs discuss these principles relative to why research about the Black doctorate is significant.


Doctoral degree production continues to be one of our nation’s greatest sources of leadership development. Scholars receiving doctoral degrees contribute greatly to the dissemination of knowledge and practices that serve our country and competing with other nations on a global stage.   The Survey of Earned Doctorates (2015) reports that over the last 30 years attainment of doctoral degrees for Blacks/African Americans has increased about 70%. This progress in degree completion is remarkable but may be misleading in terms of the impact of the degrees. While scholarship efforts on this topic are growing more research in the literature that addresses large-scale empirical qualitative data about the experiences of these students will provide valuable insight about how to support their degree completion and transition into the professoriate.


Paying attention to the experiences of historically marginalized doctoral students is an essential practice in supporting their academic success and degree completion. Previous research has illuminated statistical trends associated degree completion for Black/African American doctoral students.   However, highlighting the doctoral process for students within social media raises new levels of awareness by addressing nuances of student experience not addressed with numbers. The social media platform also allows for students to share their stories and give voice issues that may complicate their academic achievement.


Ego-extension addresses the notion that individuals beyond self are supportive of one’s doctoral student success. It engages community through collective appreciation and stakeholders are committed to supporting Black doctoral students through their successes and failures.   The role of mattering in social media can facilitate community and accountability through the sharing of ideas, participation in activities, acknowledgement of success and challenges during the doctoral process. This includes transitions into doctoral study and beyond it.


Previous research points out that historically marginalized doctoral students often conduct research in areas addressing issues within their own communities. Thus, it’s not surprising that most Black/African American doctoral students pursue doctoral degrees within the area of education. Historically, education has been a source of social uplift for the Black/African American community. In spaces where Black doctoral students have been historically excluded, discussion about why their research matters to them is often not supported; allowing students to fully embrace their research and practical interests in ways that allow them an exchange of dependence within their own communities. The Black Doctorates Matter Facebook page engages participation where dependence among community members is appreciated, encouraged, and celebrated.

Black Doctorates Matter to our communities and future development of leadership. In addition to building community, social media can be a vehicle to addressing much larger systemic issues related to doctoral student attrition (Felder, Parrish, Collier, & Blockett, 2016). The presence of social media groups are emerging to support historically marginalized doctoral students including (but not limited to): Black Doctoral Network PHD Group, Binders Full of Women of Color in Academia and the Birth of an Association for Black Women. For some students who feel like there is a lack of support within their academic spaces, social media can provide important connections for students that allow them to facilitate their own sense of agency and learn from the educational journeys of others.


Felder, P.P., Parrish, W.P., Collier, J.N., & Blockett, R. (2016). Understanding programmatic support of doctoral student socialization via social media. Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 15, 2016, http://www.tcrecord.org, ID Number: 19451.

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2015). Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014. Special Report NSF 16-300. Arlington, VA.

Schlossberg, N. (2006). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. New Directions for Student Services, 1989(48), 5-15.