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Published May 16, 2023


From theory to practice

GSE doctoral student affirms Black women through research, mentorship

University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education doctoral student Dina Skeffrey recently published an article, “From the Lens of a Light-Skinned ‘Jamerican’ Woman,” in the Teachers College Record. The piece provides a detailed account of the racial injustices Skeffrey has faced in academic and professional settings throughout her life.

The article also calls for creating a culture of acceptance and understanding within educational systems to help young students of color persevere and excel socially, emotionally and academically.

Skeffrey practices what she preaches in her article in every facet of her life. For instance, as an adjunct instructor at New York University, students flock to her business courses because of her creative teaching approach and culturally inclusive coursework. “I don’t think tests speak to who the student is. Some people are just really poor test-takers, so I do multi-modal responses,” she said. “I try to show them that you can understand business in a creative way. Use your creativity and show me who you are through your work.”

She allows students to submit PowerPoint presentations, collections of photographs, or even poetry—the medium for the project doesn’t matter. Instead, students’ unique abilities, needs and goals are most important. “My students always say that I’m present, and I bring that human approach that they don’t usually get in other classes,” she said.

Skeffrey also serves as the administrative director of executive and professional MBA programs at Binghamton University, where she strives to attract and retain diverse cohorts of graduate students by creating and implementing initiatives to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Sometimes her 13-year-old son, Ethan, accompanies her to the office. “I want to show him that you don’t have to be stagnant, you don’t have to be ordered by anyone, and you can do what you want to do,” she said.

Skeffrey leaves letters in his lunch box every day to reinforce this message. “In every letter, there is a crown on the top. I remind my son that he is a prince … and that he has the ability to command all situations by owning who he is and the destiny that is set forth for his life,” she said. “We can never look back at yesterday, but we can be encouraged by what we will do today to make a change in someone’s circumstance.”

She communicates the same encouraging words to the students she teaches. She tells them: “You just have to have the mindset, the desire, the passion—and you can get where you want to be.”

“I love mentoring kids,” Skeffrey said. And it shows. Many students have told her they’ve never felt more cared for by a professor.

Her passion for mentorship, coupled with her professional and personal experiences, led her to pursue GSE’s curriculum, instruction and the science of learning PhD program. As a Black woman, Skeffrey’s expertise and talents have been ignored throughout her career. “Double jeopardy comes in with Black women. You always have to be the best at everything,” she said. “The person next to you may be afforded an opportunity that you may not be just because of the color of your skin and just because you’re a woman.”

Through her research, she explores the experiences of Black women in business and higher education through the lens of critical race theory, intersectionality and Black feminist epistemology. “It’s about understanding where people are … and, through their experiences, what could have bettered their lives. That all ties back to mentoring,” she said.

Skeffrey cites Tiffany Karalis Noel, director of doctoral studies and clinical assistant professor of learning and instruction, as a source of meaningful encouragement and guidance while pursuing her research interests.

“Dr. Tiffany Karalis Noel has been a blessing to me. She listens, she understands and she gets you to where you need to be,” said Skeffrey.

The feeling is mutual. “From my perspective, [Dina] provides the perfect—but hard to achieve—balance of being an advocate, a supporter and a promoter while also keeping it real and fearlessly engaging in difficult discussions to reach outcomes that are beneficial for all involved,” said Karalis Noel. “Although I have mentored her in developing as a qualitative researcher, our relationship is symbiotic, as she has coached me in learning how to use my voice and self-advocate as an early-career professional.”

In 2022, Skeffrey expanded upon her achievements as an author and researcher when she published “Black Women Leaders: Sociopolitical Identity Development as a Pathway to Success,” in New York University’s Voices in Urban Education journal. She also successfully defended her dissertation, “Exploring the Experiences of Black Women Leaders in Business.” Her research examined the intersectionality of race and gender among Black women in order to understand the lived experiences that contribute to their leadership development.

With her dissertation behind her and commencement just around the corner, Skeffrey aspires to continue helping and mentoring others—especially young Black women in Jamaica—through efforts in her consulting business, Renaissance Consultants, LLC.

“I hope to be a change agent and show the kids there that they can get to the next level,” she said. “I want to go in there and entrench them with business to show them how to market themselves efficiently and how to go about doing business outside of their comfort zone.”