Jonathan Wesley is a best-selling author of “You Said One Thing; God Said Differently,” professor and serves as an associate dean for Academic Affairs at Southern New Hampshire University. His diverse background in higher education has led him to be an agent of positive change. Currently, he is pursuing his Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies with a focus on Social Foundations and identifies as a queer scholar-activist-practitioner. He also recently presented at the annual Sources Conference.
“I had the honor of presenting at the SOURCES conference at Georgia State University,” he writes. “I presented on an equity audit I performed on Morehouse College. I believe in HBCUs and I am glad that my chair, Dr. J. Esposito compelled me to present. It was great sharing the experience with my fellow doctoral colleagues. Looking forward to more experiences.”
What made you choose Georgia State University and the College of Education & Human Development over other schools in the area/country?
I chose Georgia State because I wanted to obtain my terminal degree from a culturally diverse institution. I received all prior collegiate degrees from United Methodist Private schools. It was time to step out of the conservative space and thrive as the liberal that I am. I was admitted into Georgia State in the Summer of 2017 in the College of Arts and Social Sciences. I started my journey as a Ph.D. student in sociology. After completing one semester I started the spring semester and took ill, which caused me to withdraw. During that time, I had to do some soul-searching. I realized while recovering that the sociology program was not the best fit for me and research interest. As a result, I learned more about the College of Education & Human Development, which was a great fit considering that I am an educator. The Educational Policy Department was so inviting, which made me feel at home. After having some meaningful conversations, I began the application process and I am now a current student in my new program with an anticipated graduation date of Fall 2021. I would not have it any other way.
What fascinates you about research? What has surprised you about what you’re learning/have learned?
What fascinates me about my research is that I am addressing the issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer (LGBQ) faculty and staff at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. As an openly gay, African American clergyman who is also a product of a Claflin University, which is an HBCU in South Carolina, I’ve always found it interesting that those of us who were open about our sexuality were not made to feel as safe nor encouraged to live in our intersectional identities authentically. I hope my research will shine a light on this phenomenon so that HBCUs can create true safe spaces for those who identify as part of the LGBQ community.
What has surprised me the most about what I’m learning is the fact that there is not much literature on the topic. I love that the courses that I am taking are so diverse in the literature selection that it provides me with great resources to situate my writing as a qualitative researcher. Social foundations, thus far, has taught me a lot about the educational system and the major work that is needed to change policies and people to impact lasting change.
Is there a professor you’d like to mention that helped with your studies?
Yes. First and foremost, I must thank my academic dad, Dr. Eric Wright, who is the Chair of the Sociology department at Georgia State. We had some very intense conversations during my first year at Georgia State and he helped me to discern that I had other options outside of sociology. He was always very supportive and has a heart of gold. Thank you, Dr. Wright, for being exactly who you are and most of all, as an influence in my life. While I changed programs, our relationship has not changed. You rock!
I would also like to thank Dr. Kristen Buras and Dr. Jennifer Esposito Norris of the Department of Educational Policy Studies. I spoke with Dr. Buras in Spring 2018 when I was out sick to inquire more about the program. I appreciate her realness and her passion for others as she is a scholar-activist. Dr. Esposito was my first professor in the department during the summer of 2018 for anthropology of education. Being in her class solidified that I made the right choice to apply for the Ph.D. in educational policy studies at Georgia State. We became connected and she opted to take me under her wing. She is now my advisor/dissertation chair and I am thankful for how she pushes me in her own way. You both are a great asset to the department and to my life.
How do you explain what you do (in school or for your profession) to others outside of academia?
I tell people in general that I am an inter-disciplinarian and work to change lives in education, faith spaces and the community at large. I also tell them that I just love school. They typically get it after I make that statement.
What tips can you give a student just starting to help them be successful?
I would tell a new student to find a program and support that you need in order to be successful with obtaining a terminal degree. Pursuing a doctorate is not for the faint of heart. Always check your “why.” If you are passionate about your topic and have the support of your department, you will do well. The journey is a marathon and not a sprint. Be kind to yourself and don’t take on more than you can handle.
Be sure that the department you are seeking to be a part of truly supports and is invested in your holistic development. It is hard to work a job and go to school. Not all have the luxury of obtaining graduate research or graduate teaching assistantships. What we do have the luxury of is enjoying this process of becoming a transformative scholar in our field knowing that it will all be worth it. Education is about helping and shifting our next generation of leaders to be critical thinkers and change agents for our world. You will only be successful in this field if you truly care about the well-being of people.
Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?
“If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain.” –Mahalia Jackson