A Note of Inspiration from Professor Kourtney Senquiz: Earning her Ph.D. and the Importance of Academic Support

Professor Kourtney Senquiz speaks on the academic support she received while completing her Ph.D. as a first-generation college student.

February 18th, what would have been Toni Morrison’s 89th birthday, I defended my dissertation, The African American Gothic Double, and earned my Ph.D. from the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst. My dissertation focuses on the ways African American authors transpose the Gothic idea of race with the use of the Double and use the mixed-race character to blur racial boundaries. Thus, my dissertation demonstrates that whiteness is dependent on blackness to purify illusions of white supremacy and the mixed-race character is not a tragic figure, but one that uses liminality as a source of power.

Thankfully, I had an amazing and supportive committee of five distinguished scholars that encouraged me throughout the entire process. The chair of my committee was James Smethurst. I first met Smethurst in 2001 while working on my B.A. in Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst. From the beginning, he was a supportive advisor and successfully guided me through the completion of my thesis on the role of women and mothers in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Once I was accepted into the Ph.D. program, I knew that I wanted Smethurst to serve as my advisor and the chair of my committee.

Seeking additional support, I reached out to Steven Tracy and Britt Rusert from UMass, Elizabeth Young from Mount Holyoke, and Joyce Hope Scott from Boston University. Although some committees consist of only three members, I couldn’t imagine completing this extensive project without the support of each one of these scholars. Each member offered critical feedback and encouragement throughout the entire process.

As a first-generation college student, completing my Ph.D. was something that I knew would be challenging, but I needed to break down the barrier to show myself, and my three children, that anything is possible if you keep your eyes on the prize. Not only am I my ancestors’ wildest dream, but I hope that I can inspire other students to continue on their educational journey. Keep your eyes on the prize!