how is she allowed to do this when she's about to fail out?
Intro: "how is she allowed to do this when she is about to fail out". Reader, perhaps others have wondered this question about you. I have friends today who would not be doctors had they listened to the counsel of "advisors" who unloaded their fears on my friends. I have friends who were told they would never achieve their goals of becoming doctors. That they were not smart enough, that their grades were too low, that the statistics were not in their favor. This wickedness was met with triumph for many of my friends. I believe it is because they knew the truth about themselves and had supportive communities that uplifted them and affirmed them. If you are a pre-professional student who has almost had a dream wiped away by an advisor, dean, faculty member etc that did not know the God you served or the resolve of your determination, this very personal essay is for you.
Whether I should thank her or not, I have yet to determine. But one thing I am clear about, is that I have forgiven her. Her blunder became the catapult of my fight. Like many black students in white hallways, I began Columbia with a bit of imposter syndrome. Not a sprinkle, but a hefty portion that would ebb and flow between destructive doubt and hesitation. This scenario proved to be transformative for me.
During one of my most difficult semesters battling an Ivy league medical and dental curriculum simultaneously, I was met with an email from my Dean that was intended for someone else, another faculty member. “why is she allowed to do this when she is about to fail out?”
That sentenced haunted me. If I may tell the truth, it still does. I had to decide how to react, and quickly. Tears falling, anger boiling, edges sweating, I replied. “I understand, thank you.” She responded later, never taking ownership but instead explaining how she was affected. I told my mother, and a friend who was in the library with me at the time I read the email, and no one else. I kept it moving and decided I would prove her wrong. If I reported the incident, and failed out, well, that would only give truth to her fears.
I drove the struggle bus with class. I drove it in Loubs, to be honest. I buckled down and tapped into the intellect I know I had, despite the lies I told myself about what spaces I deserved to occupy. I graduated from Columbia with not only my dental degree but a masters in education, the dual-degree program that this dean was in charge of.
But before I did, I tackled this microaggression head on.
At a final diversity meeting of my classmates, we were tasked to go around the table and explain some challenges we had. When it became my turn to share, I could not speak. I could not form words, only tears. My eyes welled and my Black broke. My strength crumbled and I sat in that conference room full of friends, deans and faculty crying and no one but a few close friends and my mentor knew why. I answered, by looking at the dean who tackily gossiped that she was afraid I would fail out, and said to her. “Dr. __ I will speak with you in person about this situation.” The meeting ended and I left.
I emailed her office to schedule a meeting and this is the letter that I read to her aloud.
Someone once asked me to write about how I tackle microagressions. This is how:
Dear Dr. ___,
Perhaps you don’t remember, but my first year in dental school was very difficult for me. It was a tough transition having just graduated from college. I had failed two exams when I came to see you for advice and was given the contact for two tutors. At a follow up meeting you told me I was making excellent progress and would be just fine. Later I emailed you because I was tasked with asking you for an interview for the ASDA Newsletter. You replied to my email: “how is she allowed to do this when she is about to fail out”
I was in the library when I received the email. I re-read it and immediately burst into tears. Another student had to comfort me. You cannot imagine what it is like to be told to your face you are doing well and to keep it up (because I was working very hard at the time to maintain), only to be met with the very raw reality that the individual who just told you this secretly believed you would fail out and even more so, was sharing this with others. I felt so weak, hurt and betrayed at this moment.
I have since learned that I was dealing with the imposter syndrome. As a black woman in an Ivy league institution, I often wondered in my first year if I was truly meant to be there. I wondered if my two exam grades were going to be predictive of my later performance. As a white woman, you hold a certain privilege and perhaps have never dealt with micro-agressions that constantly force you to be self-aware of the space you occupy.
When you made that most unfortunate email blunder, I wiped my eyes, and chose to respond to the email informing you that I would let ____, then ASDA Newsletter editor, know to give the assignment to someone else. You then responded that when students are not doing well, it reflects poorly on you. I could not believe that at this time, you chose to make this situation about you. As the Dean of Student Affairs (of all students, not just your favorites) I could not believe how insensitive you could be.
I decided not to share this situation with anyone. After all, I had failed two exams, you were the Dean, and I did not want any backlash, or worse, and special treatment afterwards to be reflective of this. I decided I would work harder than I have ever worked, and aim to help others in a way that you did not help me. I went on to re-take Head and Neck Anatomy at NYU (now no longer requires students to take the practical by themselves) and passed and Honored all of my subsequent classes. I went on to become the National Recording Secretary and then National Vice President for SNDA. I went on to become president of Xi Psi Phi International Dental Fraternity. I went on to complete a dual-degree, earning a 4.0 GPA in my Masters from Teachers College (despite your initial hesitation to even allow me into the program). I went on to complete all my requirements with a total 85% encounter (which we know doesn’t mean anything really, but still).
I did all these things, never hearing an apology from you. Perhaps I should thank you for your candor. Your email blunder pushed me to prove you wrong. I look forward to accepting my degree from you next week. Aren’t you glad I didn’t fail out like you thought?
Please, do not let a situation like this happen to another student. Not everyone will channel your candor and make lemonade from the lemon. Please remember to support all students, we are the life blood of this fabulous institution and like you said at the Diversity meeting, we make the school better.
Lt. Dr. Elizabeth Fadoju, DDS, MA