About Us

Mission Statement

The African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative provides a scholarly community and educational services for African American doctoral students at the University of Utah. These competitive scholarships are awarded annually to full-time African American doctoral students who demonstrate significant potential for leadership, scholarship, and active engagement in their respective disciplines and who also demonstrate a commitment to understanding Black life, history, and culture in the United States. The Initiative prepares African American doctoral students for academic, industry, and entrepreneurial careers through faculty mentoring, advising and professional development.


Vision Statement

The African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative creates a multidisciplinary, critical mass of African American scholars dedicated to the eradication of institutional and systemic racism and oppression by addressing the inequities endured by African American people. We create thought leaders who tackle substantive issues central to Black life, history, and culture. Graduates of this program conduct research and implement programs and policies that positively impact Black people in the United States.



DenIEce Dortch, Ph.D.

Deniece Dortch joined the University of Utah in the fall of 2016 as postdoc research fellow and the inaugural Program Manager of the African American Doctoral ScholarsInitiative (AADSI). She earned her Ph.D. in Higher & Postsecondary Education Leadership from theUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison, a Master’s of Education degree in Higher & Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and a Master ofArts in Intercultural Service, Leadership & Management from the School for International Training in Vermont.
She uses critical phenomenological approaches to understanding how African American undergraduate and graduate students experience and respond to race and racism at predominantly white institutions of higher education. She is especially interested in how psychological violence is experienced, manifested and reproduced in the academy. Dr. Dortch’s research has been published in the Journal of Negro Education, Teachers College Record, NASPA Journal about Women in Higher Education, New Directions inHigher Education, and the Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in EducationIn support of her work in diversity equity and inclusion, Dortch was recently awarded the Bringing Theory to Practice Grant from the American Association of Colleges and Universities which will focus on a racial justice dialogue series at the University of Utah designed to engage participants in racial justice allyism, advocacy, and community-building beginning this Spring. Her postdoctoral work not only tackles race, but also grapples with systemic oppression across multiple axes. Prior to Dr. Dortch’s postdoctoral work, she served as a program director for Texas A&M University where she is the co-founder of Sista to Sista, a co-curricular leadership development program designed to foster a sense of connectedness amongst Black female college athletes. Deniece is a returned United States Peace Corps Volunteer who served in both Morocco and Jamaica. She is from Holland, MI.


NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education - 13 Jul. 2017 Deniece Dortch & Chirag Patel
Because little work exists on the sense of belonging focusing on just Black undergraduate women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), especially at highly selective predominantly white institutions (PWIs), this study takes a phenomenological approach to understand the lived experiences of Black undergraduate women in STEM by exploring how racial and gendered microaggressions influence how three African American women majoring in the sciences experience sense of belonging at PWIs. A phenomenological inductive analysis was used to compile the research findings, which indicated that racial and gender discrimination, isolation, marginalization, and alienation resulting from microaggressions occurred. Implications for inclusive practices are discussed.
Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education - 06 Mar. 2017 Akilah R. Carter-Francique, Deniece Dortch & Khrystal Carter-Phini
The purpose of this study was to examine Black female college athletes’ perception of power within the context of a “safe cultural space”. Scholars note the ability to discern the notion of power and its dynamics is a key factor towards empowerment. For marginalized populations, addressing topics such as power is best within a safe cultural space, or an environment that is free from surveillance and allows students to freely express themselves (Collins, P. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.). Employing Black feminist thought, eleven (N = 11) Black female collegiate athletes that participated in a culturally relevant program within a historically White institution of higher education were examined utilizing qualitative methods. Findings revealed the women's understanding of power was as a possessive attribute; and, the words and symbols they attributed to power reflected hegemonic examples of power. Hegemonic ideologies pervade college athletics, thus, the creation of “safe cultural spaces” allowed the Black female college athletes to acknowledge their marginalization amongst peers and discern how power dynamics affects their development in sport and society.
This study used a phenomenological approach to analyze the self-efficacy of two African-American women obtaining doctorate degrees at one predominantly white institution in the Midwest United States. Findings from this study suggested that verbal persuasion and vicarious experiences were the strongest predictors of self-efficacy as the two students attributed their success to supportive peers, family, faculty and engaging in welcoming communities. Student challenges to success included feelings of isolation while developing an academic trajectory, compounded by uninvolved or ambivalent faculty, difficult dissertation committee dynamics, and not asking for help. Self-efficacy provided a useful framework to help understand these experiences and the multiple variables impacting academic success in the context of doctoral studies for African American women graduate students in these types of institutions.