Three Black female alumnae received their Ph.D. hoods from three Black female faculty and administrators

By Jesús F. Jiménez, assistant director of digital content

When Valerie Carmichael M.S. ’01, Ph.D. ’14 received her Master of Science in College Student Personnel, she was the only domestic student of color in her group. She was in a similar position 13 years later, when she earned a Ph.D. in Student Affairs in Higher Education.

Dr. Carmichael has worked at Miami University since 2006, so she’s seen the growth – and room for growth – with Miami’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

In August 2021, now the director of Graduate School admissions, Dr. Carmichael participated in a historic ceremony, as three Black female alumnae received their Ph.D. hoods from three Black female faculty and administrators.

  • Dr. Rachel McMillian ’09, MAT ’12, Ph.D. ’21 received her hood from Dr. Denise Taliaferro Baszile
  • Dr. Jaymee Lewis-Flenaugh Ph.D. ’21 received her hood from Dr. Vicka Bell-Robinson Ph.D. ’16
  • Dr. Shana Walker Oates Ph.D. ’21 received her Ph.D. hood from Dr. Carmichael

“I was extremely excited,” Dr. Carmichael said. “I was excited, first because I had worked with and was familiar with all three students who had finished, and they had formed a strong community. They made a decision that they were going to finish together.”

Dr. Carmichael earned her Ph.D. in 2014 and Dr. Bell-Robinson received her Ph.D. from Miami in 2016, making five of the six involved Miami alumnae.

Dr. Lewis-Flenaugh works as the assistant dean of students and deputy Title IX coordinator at Miami. Dr. Oates is an instructor at the University of Southern Mississippi, and her research centers on issues of equity, access and inclusion in higher education for students on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Taliaferro Baszile is the associate dean for student services and diversity and her research focuses on understanding curriculum as racial/gendered text with an emphasis on disrupting traditional modes of knowledge production, validation and representation.

Dr. McMillian received all three of her degrees from Miami, earning a Bachelor of Science in Black World Studies in 2009, a Master of Arts in Teaching in 2013, and her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership last August. She is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois and has also worked as a high school teacher in Cincinnati.

“It was important for me, as a Black female scholar, to have a Black female scholar lead me in this journey and then hood me at the end,” Dr. McMillian said. “Dr. Shana Oates and Dr. Jaymee Lewis-Flenaugh, we were going through the program together, and we decided, ‘Oh you know, it would be cool if we all have Black women, hooding us at the same time.’ So we didn’t necessarily think about the historic value, but we chose Black women who are very important to us during our Ph.D. journey.”

Dr. Bell-Robinson works as the director of residence life at Miami and has worked in higher education for 20 years. When she received her Ph.D., her dissertation focused on self-efficacy and dissent, which made the ceremony extra special.

“One of the ways that self-efficacy is formed is through seeing people who share characteristics with you be successful,” she said.

“It is meaningful to see not only three African American women, receive their Ph.D.s, but to see those three women hooded by three women who have received their Ph.D.s does tell a story of what is possible.”

As a student, Dr. Carmichael said she didn’t necessarily plan to focus on diversity and inclusion. However, as the topic continued to arise, she realized that it was an obvious part of her experience. Her research focused on first-generation African American students’ pathways to graduate education.

Nationwide, there has been an increase in students of color pursuing graduate degrees, and about 14% of Miami’s graduate students are students of color. There’s plenty of room to grow, and in her position, Dr. Carmichael has worked to increase Miami’s multicultural students over the years. The six are committed to helping to open new opportunities for students of color wherever life may take them.

“My role is definitely to increase the pool of applicants, so that more diverse students can potentially be admitted and enroll,”Dr. Carmichael said. “The university has been supportive to diverse graduate students in terms of offering funding, I hope this support continues to ensure more earn their degrees, and their hoods!”