IN 1997, SHIREEN LEWIS WAS ANOTHER isolated scholar climbing up the ivory tower, teetering on the brink of that limbo known as ABD (all but dissertation). “Something was going to give,” Lewis remembers, “and it wasn’t going to be me!”
Drawing on her Trinidadian roots, which stress interdependence and education, Lewis created SisterMentors Dissertation Support Groups, her antidote to the academy’s chronic undervaluing of scholarship by and about women of color.
In a space donated by SisterSpace and Books, a Washington, D.C. bookstore, Lewis and four colleagues began to meet, employing an interactive model of goal setting, time management, and peer mentoring.
A year and a half later, all but one have received their Ph.Ds. (Only about half of entering doctoral students ever finish and only 2.5% of those are women of color).
SisterMentors has attracted the praise of the American Association of University Women and, today, boasts three groups totaling 20 women, with an extensive waiting list. Six will graduate this year — among them, the first Tibetan woman to receive an advanced degree outside of Asia.
” My dream is for these groups to change the theory and practice of the academy,” says Lewis, “and create communities of genius.” —R.E.D.