It was the mid-1990s and, after a lot of hard work, I was elated to have received my Ed.D. Two weeks later my husband Alan was helping me put the final touches on my new office.
We were finishing arranging books on a shelf when a man, who turned out to be a salesperson for a scholastic magazine company, knocked on the door. I beckoned him to come in.
“I’m here to see Dr. Houghton,” he told me, handing me a card. “Can you please tell him I’m here?”
Before I could correct his mistake, my husband came into the outer office.
“Oh, Dr. Houghton, hello sir, I was just speaking to your secretary,” said the man turning towards Alan.
My husband looked from the man to me and smiled, then said, “She’s not my secretary and I’m not Dr. Houghton. She is.”
The man didn’t lose his composure or feel embarrassed by his mistake. He simply shrugged and said to my husband, “Oh, I just assumed she was the secretary. I’m sure you know how it is. I mean there aren’t a lot of women who have a doctorate today, right?”
Right. It was a common assumption back in the ‘90s. A common assumption and completely sexist.
But that was back in the 1996 academic year. In 1996-1997 Women earned only 17,320 doctoral degrees. Compare that to the academic year of 2019-2020 where 102,799 female students have earned doctoral degrees in various areas. That’s a big difference in less than 25 years.
“It would not surprise me if within three to four years, women will be the majority population among U.S. citizens getting doctoral degrees,” said Allen Sanderson a research scientist and economics lecturer at the University of Chicago.
And he’s right. It wouldn’t surprise me either and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. And that brings me to the strong, positive impact Dr. Jill Biden and her Ed.D. has on women and academia.
I’m proud to have a woman as First Lady who has the same three academic letters behind her name as I do. I’m equally proud that Dr. Jill Biden uses her academic title publicly. She’s earned it, believe me I know. A lot of late nights, sweat, tears, and hard work goes into getting the Ed.D. An enthusiastic colleague of mine, who was going for her doctorate, said that the letters Ed.D. should stand for, “Essential, Determined, Dedicated”. That’s who we are.”
Dr. Biden’s strength, her positive attitude, her loyalty to what she believes is right, her passion for education and the true worth of a community college, makes her a role model of absolute excellence not only for young girls and women but for all women. She is beautiful, she is strong, and she represents all that women can achieve.
When I was in education I remember female students asking me why I had gone for a doctoral degree and why I still worked when I was married? Many of them told me that they just wanted to graduate high school, maybe a year of college, and then get married and let their husbands work.
I tried to explain to them that I considered my education as a gift that kept on giving to me in so many ways. I love teaching, I love learning, I would tell them. Working, for me, was as important as my waking up in the morning. I would imagine that Dr. Biden feels the same way.
Empowering girls to seek graduate studies is something that is not only a noble endeavor but a necessity for economic parity. What better example can we show our young women of what a woman, Dr. Jill Biden—who is also a wife and mother—can accomplish for herself?
I would like to see more women with academic letters attached to their names. I would like to see more—many, more— young girls emulate women like Dr. Biden. To me, she is the hero we need in today’s world. (FYI the word hero has been used correctly in this article. As with other formerly solely gender-specific terms, such as actor, hero is now used to refer to both genders.)
In a world where young girls may see female achievements only through the likes of the Kardashians and YouTube influencers, it’s all the more reason that they have a role model like Dr. Jill Biden.
Education. Come on girls, you’re worth it.
© 2021 copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reserved