GYRO Spins Hopes, Careers

GYRO Spins Hopes, Careers

Decade-old project helps students of color pursue their scholarly interests

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

For Diana Cruz MA '94, the experience of presenting a scholarly paper as a master's student was heady enough. But then she embarked upon the process of publishing her work.

Doctoral students Diana Cruz MA '94 and Sheldon George (right), contributors to the book In Celebration of Black History: GYRO Colloquium Papers, Volume VI, chat with John Simon Jr., editorial consultant for the publication, during a reception last week at which the new volume of essays on African American history and culture was unveiled. (Photo By Lee Pelligrini)
"This was a whole new concept for me, and it was just amazing," recalled Cruz, who expects to complete a doctoral degree in the English Department next spring. "It was the first time I had to shape something on this scale from oral form to publication form. You always have to think 'article,' not just 'paper,' and that's a big step."

This fall, Cruz has seen her efforts come to fruition with the publication of her article, "On the Bus with Rosa Parks: Translating Generational Differences and the Privilege of Hindsight in the Poetry of Rita Dove," as part of the book In Celebration of Black History: GYRO Colloquium Papers Vol. VI.

Cruz's achievement is one of many made possible through the Boston College GYRO Project, now in its 10th year. GYRO, which stands for "Grow Your Own," offers encouragement and support to graduate students of color in pursuing academic careers. Conceived by the Office for Affirmative Action and co-sponsored by the Office of the Academic Vice President and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, GYRO - which has had nearly 30 participants - organizes regular presentations of papers on black history by BC graduate students that are later published in a bound volume. GYRO also sponsors campus appearances by scholars of African-American descent, such as author and historian Nell Irvin Painter.

On Oct. 24, four of the five latest GYRO authors gathered in the Walsh Hall Function Room with BC administrators and faculty to formally unveil the sixth volume of collected works. Joining Cruz at the event were fellow doctoral candidate in English Sheldon George, Anna Kasafi Perkins, who is pursuing a doctorate in theology, and Alexandra Cornelius, a former New England Board of Higher Education fellow in the BC History Department now completing her doctoral degree at Washington University in St. Louis.

Devonya Havis MA '94, a doctoral candidate in the Philosophy Department, also contributed to the volume, which includes articles by Painter and another distinguished historian, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn.

Opening the reception, GSAS Dean and Associate Vice President for Research Michael Smyer praised the five writers while extending credit to the faculty mentors and advisers who had helped them. "We're here to celebrate not only the authors and the impressive job they have done, but the context which nurtured them."

The four doctoral students reiterated Smyer's commendation in their brief remarks. Cruz offered a public thank-you to her dissertation advisor, Prof. Christopher Wilson (English), who was sitting near her, and added with a laugh, "We've still got a ways to go!"

Director of Affirmative Action Barbara Marshall, a key architect for GYRO, says the project's genesis had implications beyond BC.

"One of the things that motivated us in starting the project," she said in a recent interview, "was the stark under-representation of black PhDs in academia. We envisioned GYRO as a pipeline project, a way to nurture a population.

"GYRO also was a way to focus on black history and culture as a field with tremendous research opportunities. So we've been able to encourage these young men and women to pursue advanced studies, and offer them the opportunity to validate their research in a community of scholars."

Marshall cites the subsequent success of GYRO participants like Lois Brown PhD '93, now a Mt. Holyoke College faculty member who has published a new edition of The Memoir of James Jackson, the first biography ever written by an African American. She said project administrators are seeking to undertake a formal study of how all the GYRO graduates have fared.

"We do know that most who participate do go on to academia and publish almost immediately," she said. "But we'd like to get a more comprehensive view of what the experience has meant to them."


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