LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Caps and gowns are in place, and it’s time for 2022 graduation photos.
But behind the festive smiles of these Wildcats, there are stories of perseverance.
Dr. Shericka Smith is a member of the first class of graduates from the University of Kentucky’s Doctor of Social Work, or DSW, program.
“I’m not really supposed to be here,” she said. “According to society, according to statistics, according to what everyone thinks, you know what black women are supposed to be or supposed to look like, or aren’t supposed to be, or aren’t supposed to look like. That’s what makes me most proud. »
Dr. Smith is proud because she and her peers are part of an innovative group. Within their class, there are the highest number of black doctors to have graduated in a single discipline in the UK.
“We literally wrote history,” said Dr. Sharrion Brown. “And it’s not something I’m used to. I am the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college, let alone go this far.
Dr. Brown and Dr. Smith joined some of their fellow graduates at the student center last week to talk to LEX 18 about their accomplishments. We’ve met women like Dr. Marilyn Lucille Sails, Dr. Cerenity Leavell-Barker, Dr. Angela Williams, and Dr. Cynae Adams.
They all graduated from the online program in two years, meaning they went to school full time while working. Many of them are also parents.
“I have two kids, so hopefully one day they can see this and think they’re proud that their mom was a part of it,” said Dr. Brittany Gentry.
According to the UK, 23 of the 72 doctoral students graduating from the program are black, including three black men. According to the professors, her representation will make a difference in a field historically composed of white women.
“It’s hard to become what you don’t see,” said DSW program director Dr. Laura Escobar-Ratliff. “And we give the kids the opportunity to see each other.”
“We deal with diverse communities,” said Dr. Jay Miller, dean of the College of Social Work. “And it’s extremely important that practitioners reflect those communities.”
A 2017 survey by the National Association of Social Workers found that nearly 70% of social workers are white. Dr. Gentry says these disparities are part of the reason she enrolled in the program.
“The need for people of color as therapists, as mentors, as case managers, has increased dramatically,” she told LEX 18.
For many graduates, the title “Dr.” still feels surreal. But they hope the two letters on the front of their name will inspire future students who also want to make a difference.
“We see things on TV, about, ‘Oh this is history, people are making history.’ And to be part of history is once in a lifetime,” said Dr Smith.