On a Mission: Crafting a Vision Statement

Last summer, before I transitioned from being a long-time graduate student in Ann Arbor to a full-time working professional in Atlanta, a mentor suggested that I create a vision statement: a written statement that outlines my greater goals and values — a roadmap to my ideal self. I was going through a major shift in my life — I had been a graduate student for eight years where I spent six of those years living in a small college town and I was moving to a brand new city to start a brand new job where I had no family and barely any acquittances.

“The vision statement will help keep you grounded in your values, whats important to you, and purpose,” she said.

I thought it was a brilliant idea. At the time I was also developing a habit of writing out and visualizing my goals. Since I was most concerned about my the trajectory career, I created a professional vision statement. And it was not necessarily oriented towards academia; I purposefully kept it broad, a bit philosophical, and in the present-tense to keep it from being hypothetical.

Each day I learn something new about myself, meet new people, learning new skills, and gaining more insight into what is best for professional me. Life is still in transitioning, but I am surer about my values and purpose than I was last year. My vision statement is a living document. This is the latest version:

As a scholar and researcher, I conduct creative and innovative analyses of public health problems in the United States and possibly the world. My work is interdisciplinary and creative. I use ideas, theories and methods from public health, sociology, demography, psychology, and education to generate questions, theories, and hypotheses to understand and dismantle underlying mechanisms that adversely impact the health and well-being of socially and economically marginalized people.

My frame of research reference is enriched by my voice, which is neither traditonal, conventional, nor dominant in traditional knowledge-making and popular discourae. Black women are often study subjects in social science research — their existence, behaviors, and “patterns” — subject to interpretation by researchers who often operate from a disconnected, misinformed, and sometimes racist frames. This leads to interpretations of research findings that, at its best, misunderstands the existence of Black women and, at its worst, are reiterations of decades-old, stale stereotypes, images, and tropes about the Black women and their bodies. For this reason, it is vital that my work remains grounded in my voice, girded by constant consumption of relevant bodies of work (novels, non-fiction, articles, blogs), visuals (television, film), art, and voices (family, friends, colleagues) that will lead to well-informed interpretations of research findings.

My approach to public health research and scholarship considers social stratification (e.g. racism, sexism, patriarchy, capitalism) to be a fundamental determinant of health patterns. This approach is due to my constellation of interests and ideas that are unified under the goal to bring my voice, rooted in Black womanhood, to my work. I constantly evaluate what my background and social place means for my work, as there is no such thing as neutral or objective description because all interpretation and meaning-making are biased constructions and re-constructions.

I connect with likeminded women to create a web of mutual support and empowerment. My work is not meant to be done alone because the weight of the conventional power structures are heavy. Just look at the numbers of who receives tenure, funding, emeritus status, and status and what this means for the state of knowledge-making.

My life bleeds into my profession. I have no qualms about this truth. I think more social science researchers should admit this and stop pretending objectivity exists in the social science. Instead of fighting my bias, I embrace it because it has been missing for far too long.