Tuesday 29 September, 2020

Joseanne's story of success in the face of COVID-19

Joseanne Cudjoe

Joseanne Cudjoe

As a young girl growing up in Santa Cruz Trinidad, Joseanne was taught that faith, coupled with hard work and sacrifice, were critical to success.

So that’s what she did. She worked hard, studied consistently and made countless sacrifices.

On paper, Joseanne did everything right, but the COVID-19 pandemic almost caused her to miss out on the opportunity to defend her PhD dissertation after eight long years of study and preparation.

She was scheduled to present her final argument on March 25, but as the virus continued to spread, forcing countries to close their borders, Joseanne found herself in a race against time.

Should she stay in New Jersey, even if it meant missing her chance to return home? 

Leaving meant risking everything she had worked long and hard for, but Joseanne decided that safety trumped all.

She returned home on March 13, just one week before Trinidad and Tobago’s bordered were ordered closed.

She told Loop: “I observed as grocery shelves began emptying and panic buying increased. Many believe that our Caribbean nations are subpar, but the reality is access to the health care is far more equitable in our countries. So I knew home and with my family is where I needed to be. Even though my dissertation defense (my final step to earning my degree) was set to take place on March 25th, I quickly decided to return home in mid-March. I made the decision and bought a ticket for the next day, so it was a swift choice which was a great risk because I was required to defend my dissertation before April 1st, if I wanted to meet the deadline for graduation.”

Thankfully, her University facilitated virtual dissertation defences.

Joseanne successfully defended her dissertation from the safety of her family’s home, on March 25.

“I never imagined that I would sit in my family’s study and answer questions about my project. The same study I sat in to study for Common entrance, CXC and A’Levels. It was full circle experience. Unfortunately, Even though I have formally completed the PhD process and earned my degree, all students set to graduate this May like myself will not have a graduation ceremony. Yes it is disappointing as I dreamt of seeing the joy in the faces of my parents and family as I walked the stage and receive my hood. But I am happy that I was still able to successfully complete the process and earned my degree even in the midst of this chaos. Even more watching the joy on the faces of my family that I’m here with them safe, means more to me than anything,” she told Loop.

Joseanne said the journey was long and sometimes tenuous, but it was a labour of love.

Her dissertation explored the digital natural hair movement, which as she explained is basically the increased number of social media platforms and internet sites dedicated to the celebration of black natural hair.

She argued that women use these virtual safe spaces to challenge mainstream ideas that natural hair is ugly, dirty and unprofessional.

“Choosing this topic came organically because I’m passionate about researching the body politics of women of colour to understand how racism and colourism affect the lives of black girls and women. Much of the work I do considers how media messages and the beauty industry have failed to include all black bodies in their beauty standard and the significant social and psychological costs Black women have often had to pay as a result of it,” she said.

Joseanne was one of 13 Doctoral Women of Colour featured in the April 14 issue of Forbes Magazine.

She told Loop it was an honour to be selected.

“Typically I’m a very private person, but I’m pushing myself to share more of my journey in the hopes that others would be inspired. Being featured with other dynamic women is an experience I won’t forget.”

Josanne attributes her success in part, to an unwavering faith in God and the support of family and her closest friends.

Having learnt first-hand that nothing worth having comes easy, she encouraged young people from across the region to carry on fearlessly in pursuit of their dreams, saying “If I can do it, you can too.”

For now, she continues to work as an Assistant Professor at William Patterson University in New Jersey.

She hopes to publish her dissertation in the not too distant future.

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: