Vandyck earned her Ph.D. last month in leadership for the advancement of learning and service in higher education, capping years of trying to prove herself despite her name.
“People make such a big deal out of it, I couldn’t get away from it,” Vandyck told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Her dissertation topic, “Black names in white classrooms: Teacher behaviors and student perceptions,” was borne out of her personal experience as a black student with an uncommon name.
Vandyck told the Sentinel she interviewed black students at her undergrad alma mater, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, “about the effect of their distinctly black names on their treatment by teachers and on their academic achievement.” Many told her how teachers would interrupt attendance to ask them about their unique names.
Vandyck told the publication that she once challenged a professor who did that to her at Whitewater, saying they “didn’t ask anyone else that. Why are you asking me? My name is Marijuana, thank you.”
Still, Vandyck said she has no desire to change her name and rejects nicknames like Mary. The holder of a new doctorate degree credits her mom, who gave her the name in the first place, with making her the woman she is now.
“I’ve grown into my name because I am a strong woman. I’ve had to be,” Vandyck told the “Today” show.
The story of Vandyck’s name and her new degree has since gone viral on social media. While some people were happy to see her achievements get noticed, others piled on with the kinds of jokes Vandyck has been hearing all her life.