LMJ: About the history of me writing my dissertation. Everybody knew about all that crap that I went through. I was here one day in January. It was between New Year's and Martin Luther King's birthday. I came over here and I was sitting in my lab in this building on the first floor. It was snowing outside and it was on a Friday night and it was three o'clock in the morning. I was the only one in that lab. I sat down and a poem came to me. I just started writing how I was feeling. I was talking about being an experimental cat-rat and the change swirling around and around in that vertabout trying to get out the top of that bottle. And I made a decision right then that I was going to get my PhD in June and I was going to have a graduation.
But in that process of going through all that junk, between January and the June date, I don't even know what kept me going. I was kind of religious then, but I was young. But I said to God, I remember talking to Him every day--I mean, a serious conversation--I said, "The only thing I want to do is take this information and give it to another black person so they do not have to go through what I went through. If I could teach them what they need to know before they get here, when they get here they won't have as hard of a time as I had." That was the only motivation to staying up those nights and doing those hundred figures over. To get through was to make sure that one day I was going to see one small black child do the same, that I could say this is how you do it before they get into the arena. Somebody had to do it for me.
CGW: That's really understanding and courageous.
LMJ: People say the thing. I couldn't sit up there. I have to have me some black around here, because that's me. It's true because you have to love you.
CGW: If you don't, who else is there?
LMJ: Nobody will, nobody will. I have some post-docs. A post-doc woman who I'm kind of mentoring here now, a couple of sisters and young girls, sometimes you tire too. But even if you're tired and you're going through your stuff, when you see their face, your stuff seems insignificant because you are above them in years. That means you have made it longer, and no matter how difficult the thing is that you're going through now, they can learn from you.
CGW: The 19th of February and I'm here with Dr. Lynda Jordan. Lynda, I want you to talk a little bit about your experience as a student here and just, when you reflect back on it, what comes to mind and what you think about that kind of experience here and how it relates to even your experience coming back here as a visiting Martin Luther King Scholar?
LMJ: When I go back and think about my experience as a student, I think that there are a couple of things that we need to talk about. Number one is the fact that there was a strong support group of other black students in our department at that time. When I came here, James Mack, Cheryl DeBose, Reynold Verret, Sharon Haynie, and Joseph Francisco were already here. Mark Walters as a post doc came at the same time I came. [...]I know that I would not have survived, especially during those first couple of years, had that system not been in place.
Now the MIT thing, it was difficult because of the fact that this was the first time. I mean, the environment was not one which was an accepting environment. So I had to go back to my support system which was there, who was mandated. [...] The way that the chemistry department had it lined up was that the last person who graduated greeted the next person who came in. So James Mack was my greeter. He had come, he and Cheryl. [...] That is very important to know and to develop a relationship with someone there who can help you out, and I think that's what our students need here.
It was difficult. It was a non-accepting environment here, but the one thing I think why it's important to come here is because of the resources and the infrastructure available so that the student can fully develop their intellectual needs and their intellectual capabilities and have access to the information. Professors didn't know how to deal with you. TA's didn't know how to deal with you. And how has it changed to now since then? Not very much. The professors still don't know how to deal with you because look, this is 1998 and they have never had a black person and particularly a black female. I really do not want to sound as though I'm separating the male and female because I really do not want to. We need the male as the male needs us. But there's nobody here still. I came back to MIT twelve years after I graduated. I was the third woman of African descent in the world to receive a PhD in chemistry from this institution in '85. And for me to come back in 1998 and now I am helping the fourth woman, that is sad. The fourth woman who comes and gets a PhD after me is graduating now, is in the process now.
But this is it. You see what I'm saying? It took that much time, post-doc and ten years of professorship for another one to come through. And so what I'm saying when I look at what is happening, I looked over what's happened over the last six years and I see that there have been several people of African descent who have been accepted into the PhD program here, but they have not successfully matriculated through--especially what has been done to the African American male. There's something that needs to be done just in terms of mentoring. I think that mentoring is very important. Those stereotypical views which are perpetuated on the student have an effect, as it would any student, on their productivity.