Scholar’s Corner: Reflections of a Dissertating Latina Mami

LKC sol

Melissa Abeyta

December 17, 2018

The NASPA Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community (LKC) strives to support the research and share stories of colleagues who are engaged in scholastic work, especially those who focus on Latinx/a/o educational issues. This year, the LKC co-chairs are highlighting the strength, resiliency, and tenacious nature of mujeres in the field who deliberately and wholeheartedly embrace both motherhood and their professional roles as scholars (#LatinaMamiScholar). We would love to feature your story on the NASPA LKC Scholars Corner!   


If you would like to share with our communidad, please contact LKC Research and Scholarship co-chairs Claudia García-Louis ([email protected]) and/or Tracy Arámbula Ballysingh ([email protected]).


Melissa Abeyta is a doctoral candidate in the Community College Leadership Program at San Diego State University (SDSU). She is also a Research Associate for the Community College Equity Assessment Lab (CCEAL), a national research laboratory aimed at supporting community colleges with research, assessment, and training activities that support the success of historically underserved students of color. Melissa’s dissertation work will explore the experiences of formerly incarcerated Latino males in postsecondary education. Specifically, she is interested in better understanding how state and local policies, programs, and services support or hinder academic and social outcomes for this population. Melissa earned her master’s degree in Post-Secondary Educational Leadership at SDSU and double-majored in Communication and Chicana/o Studies as an undergraduate.


As a first-generation transfer student, I felt I had to always take advantage of opportunities to advance my education. When I began my master’s program, my daughter was just seven weeks old. The first time I ever left her with someone was to attend my first class as a graduate student. I remember when I was being interviewed for the program, I was approximately 4 months pregnant and desperately looked for an outfit that did not expose my pregnancy. I was afraid there would be misperceptions about how a new mother could handle the demands of a graduate program. Fast-forward six years later; I am a third-year doctoral candidate and my daughter is a half-way through the first grade. For me, the identities of a Latina-mami-scholar developed simultaneously and continue to grow as I become more established in these identities.

A recent story that highlights how I have navigated both motherhood and the demands of a doctoral candidate/researcher happened last month while at the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Annual Conference in Tampa. It was my first ASHE and I was literally moments from the start of my session when I received a call from back home in California. It was a call from my partner who was having a difficult moment with my daughter. As a mother, I tried to be reassuring from across the country, but my presenting session was going to begin. I had to offer a quick, yet firm, assurance for my daughter who needed to hear my voice and then transition back into researcher mode. In the moment, it was very emotional for me because I recognize my schedule had been demanding and I was feeling ‘mom guilt’ for not being home to comfort her. Simultaneously, I needed to remain in control of my emotions to push through for the presentation, without allowing the situation at home to distract me. The presentation went well, and my daughter went to school content after hearing my voice. It is those moments of navigating motherhood and the role of a doctoral candidate/researcher that frequently occur and yet too often remain unspoken.

The modes of support that promote my persistence and success have been the faculty of color in my program. I think back to our summer courses which are completed during a two-week intensive. This last summer, we were near the end of the intensive but a faculty member checked-in with me because he could tell that I was not engaging as I normally would be. Even though I was reluctant to share that I was missing my daughter, my professor immediately realized that was the issue and invited me to bring my daughter the very next day to the next class session. I later realized how powerful it was to share my doctoral experience by having her in class with me. We know the Latinx community represents a fraction of all the doctoral degree holders, but it was an incredible moment that she and I will always have. Moments like this have been critical in supporting my academic success.

For other Latina-mami-scholars embarking on this journey, I would suggest having a support system in place. When I was applying to the doctoral program I sat down with my partner and my parents, I felt it was a familial decision for me to apply to the program. I needed to know I had their full support. At the beginning of each semester, I check-in with them and provide everyone a calendar. These calendars have both my schedule and my daughter’s schedule; it allows our family to be organized and to not miss important school functions. I am conscious of my traveling schedule for data collection and conferences. Whenever there is a slow week, I try to have lunch with my daughter at her school or attend a school activity. Check-ins with my support team are critical to ensure lines of communication remain open. I also found a way to occasionally remind my support system how appreciative I was for their support as I pursue the doctorate. Lastly, I would advise others to document their journey in some form. I began to do this on Instagram (@academicsoul) because I felt isolated as a mother and long-distance commuter doctoral student (60 miles one-way). It was a platform that allowed me to find community and connected me to other doctoral students across the nation. Hopefully my journey can inspire someone to pursue their dreams and not be held back by social constructs of what it means to be a Latina-mami-scholar.   

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