For a long time, Washington State University Graduate Student Veneice Guillory-Lacy looked forward to this semester, a time when she would finally complete her long and challenging educational journey. Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit and suddenly everything she had worked for seemed in limbo for a while.

Guillory-Lacy said her family always taught her to keep pushing for her dreams and goals even in the face of adversity and opposition, to pursue hard things, and never let fear and uncertainty stop her.

“I honestly believe this was one of the reasons why I was able to finish writing and defending my dissertation right in the middle of a global pandemic,” she said. “Instead of allowing fear and uncertainty to paralyze me, I used it as motivation to push me to the finish line.”

Guillory-Lacy, a student in the Cultural Studies and Social Thought in Education (CSSTE) program, successfully defended her dissertation in April. She said it feels surreal as her graduate studies were sometimes grueling and forced her to tap into skills she never knew she had, such as focusing 12-hours straight while writing her dissertation. This was on top of serving as vice president for the Graduate and Professional Student Association this year.

Her father Jeff Guillory, who retired last year as WSU’s director of diversity education, was raised in Texas during the Jim Crow era. Her mother Connie was raised on the Nez Perce Reservation, the same place Guillory-Lacy calls home. Her parents credit their college educations for changing the trajectory of their lives and they wanted the same for Veneice and her three older brothers Ricky, Raphael, and Justin.

Validating their experiences

Veneice Guillory-Lacy with Siblings
Veneice Guillory-Lacy with Siblings

Before coming to WSU, Guillory-Lacy experienced systemic inequalities in the Idaho district where she served as a high school principal. It inspired her to research whether other women in education fields have similar experiences. She found WSU’s CSSTE in the College of Education to be a perfect match as it is designed to address issues of culture and power in schools and develop scholars and practitioners who will stimulate positive change in the educational systems and communities.

As a black woman with Nez Perce descent, she chose to concentrate her dissertation research on the lived experiences of female black educational leaders in the K-12 system. What she found is that black women experience challenges on the job due to their race and gender. The finding also suggest they use spirituality as a way to combat these challenges.

“The research project validated our experiences and helped me to understand the ways in which leadership practices of women of color can enhance the intellectual and important leadership contributions to any organization,” Guillory-Lacy said.

Earning her Ph.D. will open many new doors in her career and she is excited to explore her options. First, she just wants to relax and spend quality time with her husband Chris and three children Nevaeh, Trinity, and Zion.

Guillory-Lacy has become the third sibling in her family to earn a doctorate at WSU. Her brother Raphael earned his Ph.D. in educational psychology in 2002 and is a full professor at Eastern Washington University. In 2008, Justin received his doctorate in higher education and serves as president of Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash. While her oldest brother Ricky did not attend WSU, he served our nation as a Marine, later becoming a police officer, town mayor, and an employee of the Nez Perce Tribe.

“My parents and brothers trailblazed an educational path for me and I’m forever grateful to them for their love, encouragement and guidance along the way,” she said.