On January 20th of this year, Kamala Harris was confirmed as the Vice President of the United States. This was a tremendous occasion for many reasons. One major reason is that the glass ceiling in our government was shattered! This moment allowed Americans to witness history being made and to see a woman obtain the second highest governing position in our country. Along with Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, became our country’s first lady. I stress “Doctor,” because most recently, in an op-ed written by Joseph Epstein, he spewed vitriolic thoughts and unsolicited advice to Dr. Jill Biden regarding her title.
Epstein (2020) begins his piece stating:
Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the “Dr.” before your name? “Dr. Jill Biden” sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title “Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.” A wise man once said that no one should call himself “Dr.” unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.
What gives a man the right to address a grown woman as “kiddo”? How dare he minimize and demean the First Lady’s accomplishments with his opinion that being called Dr. Jill Biden “sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.” Are we not in the 21st century? Although she isn’t a medical doctor, Dr. Biden has gone through the proper channels of education to attain her Doctorate in Education. This specialized doctorate is for experienced practitioners who seek to lead and cause change in their educational settings and workplaces. The main difference between a Ph.D. in Education and an Ed.D. is that a Ph.D. centers on research and teaching. One can still teach with an Ed.D.
What would embolden Epstein to voice such an incendiary, misogynistic, and disrespectful piece? PRIVILEGE—white male privilege! Privilege has permitted far too many people to act out and hurl hateful, depreciating, racist, and sexist speech intended to tear down the people they see as less than—women, people of color, financially unstable, and other minority or marginalized citizens in our country. This privilege is derived from a hegemonic system built on violence, abuse, oppression. What makes it dangerous is the invisible nature of this oppression. Privilege doesn’t have to acknowledge its benefits and the agita it causes the oppressed.
Perhaps we should take a closer look at the information Epstein shared in the piece about himself. He disclosed that while he had not earned a doctorate, he would sometimes be called doctor. Having acquired only a bachelor’s degree, I wonder why he didn’t correct people who erroneously called him Dr. Epstein. Seeing that he didn’t even hold a master’s degree, this “feels fraudulent,” “pathetic,” and “a touch comic” to me. Epstein enjoyed the honor, privilege, and respect of a title he didn’t actually obtain! Taking this into consideration, how much more should Dr. Biden use her title, given the hard work and sacrifice she put forth to meet all of the requirements to earn the degree? Further, Dr. Biden does not hold an honorary doctorate but an actual doctoral degree from the University of Delaware. Why can’t she be both the First Lady and Dr. Biden? It is sexist to imply that she has to choose one title and that she should “settle for the larger thrill of living for the next four years in the best public housing in the world as First Lady Jill Biden.” Would he have leveled such harsh sentiments about Dr. Biden … if she were a man? This form of oppressive expression needs to cease.
What does this mean for me?
Educational access and attainment are already challenging for immigrants, people of color, and poor students. As a second-generation immigrant woman, born of Haitian descent in the inner city of Newark, NJ, my Ed.D. means I have been resilient in attaining a small slice of the promise of the American dream of opportunity and success for all. As a first-generation, Black woman with numerous challenges and barriers, I have persevered in the face of adversity to become an expert, credentialed in my field. That’s what this doctoral degree has done for me. It displays the goodness of the Lord in keeping my mind in the midst of the hardships thrown along my path and His faithfulness to see me through them all. It enables my family and community to stand with heads held high because through my achievements, they too have achieved. Now, I use my doctorate to inform practice and theory and to inspire future generations of women, Haitian, African-American, urban, and often marginalized and disrespected minorities, with my writing. So, no, we won’t just “drop the doc.” We are just getting started!