Higher and Higher: L. Hazel Jack G’24 Continues to Elevate Career in Academia Through Doctoral Studies

The path that ultimately led L. Hazel Jack G’24 to Syracuse University to pursue a doctoral degree in higher education from the School of Education was set in motion on Sept. 11, 2001.

Jack was working in the airport advertising field after earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing management and advertising from Pace University. She was responsible for her company’s national sales conference, scheduled in New York City on Sept. 10 and 11 that year, and was at a printing facility in New Jersey when the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center occurred.

Headshot of Hazel Jack“It was this moment that got me thinking, ‘Is this really what I want to do? What’s my purpose?’” Jack recalls. Soon after, she began searching for more meaning within her selected field, ultimately leading to a job in marketing and communications for the City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies.

That ignited her passion for higher education, and she has since held various executive roles related to marketing, communications, special events, advancement, and crisis management with Johns Hopkins University, Howard University, and now Colgate University, where she currently serves as Vice President and Chief of Staff to the President. She has continued to collect advanced degrees along the way, and in fall of 2017, began her pursuit of a Ph.D. from Syracuse to take her expertise to the highest possible level.

An Unexpected, But ‘Easy Choice’

Jack, a first-generation college student, says when she was choosing where to study as an undergraduate, she didn’t consider her current role in higher ed administration as a viable career path. “I didn’t even know this was a thing. I just assumed I would do some kind of corporate communications or advertising. I never anticipated getting this level of education,” she says of attaining an MBA in marketing and a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from Baruch College before moving on to a doctoral degree.

“I often feel like I shouldn’t be here,” Jack says. “When you read about education and who tends to persist and who does well, I don’t exactly fit that mold.” After deciding to attain a Ph.D., she applied to a handful of programs, including the one at the School of Education. She didn’t think she would be admitted. “When I did, I was like, ‘Well that’s an easy decision!’”

She immediately connected with the professors and coursework. “I took a course on organization and administration in higher education, which was immediately applicable to my role at Colgate—looking at various aspects of how different institutions of higher learning are structured and some of the nuances of hierarchies and governance, which was really helpful,” says Jack.

Beyond coursework, she has been grateful to connect with her peers in the program who also work in higher education, helping break down the siloes that can prevail within and across institutions.

DEIA In Theory and In Practice

“Right now there is so much conversation around DEIA and higher ed, especially with affirmative action being struck down … A lot of the conversation hits very close to home, and it’s often taking place in spaces where I’m the only one or one of very few who have a similar experience to me.”

Another favorite course of Jack’s was one she took with Professor Kal Alston on race, representation, and culture. “It instantly gave me language to put to experiences I’ve had that I couldn’t explain before,” Jack says. “We dove into the literature around identity and place within higher education. As a woman of color in higher ed, working mostly at predominantly white institutions, there was always this ‘outsider’ feeling, even as I progressed in my career. Reading literature that described that experience, I realized it was not just in my head; it was real. It helped me make sense of what I’ve experienced in the space and reassured me that I deserve to be in this space.”

Jack plays an integral role in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) work at Colgate and through her association with several professional organizations—including One X League, Chief, the National Council of Negro Women and as a John Roberts Lewis Fellow with the Faith and Politics Institute. She finds herself continuously revisiting and integrating her School of Education coursework into her career and advocating for others in the space who may share her background.

“Right now there is so much conversation around DEIA and higher ed, especially with affirmative action being struck down,” Jack says. “A lot of the conversation hits very close to home, and it’s often taking place in spaces where I’m the only one or one of very few who have a similar experience to me. Considering multiple perspectives is more important now than ever as we’re dealing with such complex issues.”

The Visibility of Black Women Leaders

Jack’s doctoral dissertation explores how Black women college presidents have historically been covered by the press—a topic she selected years ago, but has a certain element of timeliness in the wake of recent high-profile resignations of female college presidents, including the departure of Claudine Gay from Harvard University.

Focusing on eight Black women who led higher education institutes of various types and sizes beginning in the late 1980s, Jack examined national, regional, local, and student press coverage of their tenures. She completed a content and discourse analysis of what was written and how they were written about, resulting in three preliminary findings.

“Up until recently, and I’m talking within the last 20 years, these women were often described physically in the coverage. For example, ‘She had short cropped hair with a beautiful smile and wore a blue suit,’” Jack says. “How often do you see a man written about in these terms? Second, unless they had a controversy or were a ‘first’ of some sort, they weren’t written about at all. A lot of the presidents in the middle of my timeline were basically non-existent in terms of being covered. My third finding is this notion that [Black female presidents] have to be perfect in their role and act in an exemplary way at all times—there is no margin for error.”

Jack anticipates defending her dissertation by the end of the spring 2024 semester. She plans to continue in her role at Colgate and considers a future in teaching, but says she isn’t in a rush to make any big moves or firm plans: “I’ve been working full-time and studying part-time for the better part of the last 20 years,” she says. “Maybe it’s time for a break. Maybe it’s time to come home from work and take a walk for a change. I never would’ve expected that I would be here in the first place, so we’ll see what happens next.”

Re-published from SU News.