ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A woman who has spent her life being mocked and teased for an unusual name has now used that experience to earn a Ph.D. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck has become Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck. The title of her dissertation - "Black Names In White Classrooms: Teacher Behaviors And Student Perceptions." Dr. Vandyck sees her name as something to be proud of and not just an obstacle to overcome. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
MARIJUANA PEPSI VANDYCK: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: Now, you have two sisters named Kimberly and Robin. So how did you end up with this more unusual name?
VANDYCK: That is a great question, one I've asked several times. My mom just shared that she felt a kinship with me, and she felt like this name would take me around the world.
SHAPIRO: Have you always been proud of your name, or was that a journey for you?
VANDYCK: It was a journey. When I was very young, up till about 9 years of age, Marijuana was just a beautiful name. I received, you know, accolades. Oh, your name is so pretty. But then I moved to a new city, and all of a sudden, I was made very aware that Marijuana Pepsi was actually very unusual. And so I've just had to accept it and go forth with it.
SHAPIRO: I understand teachers insisted on calling you Mary (ph), even though that wasn't the nickname you preferred.
VANDYCK: I wouldn't say that they insisted. I have had some amazing teachers and educators over the years, and I think they wanted to make me feel more comfortable. They could see what was happening and see what the other children were doing, and they were trying to smooth the way and make things easier for me.
SHAPIRO: Do you think it shaped your character, dealing with that kind of pushback?
VANDYCK: Oh, most definitely. Growing up with a name like that, I'm an introvert, and I don't like a great deal of attention. I was lonely, isolated. I just wanted to be anywhere but somewhere meeting someone new and hearing all the questions.
SHAPIRO: When you were a student, did both black and white teachers react strongly to your name? Or was it only white teachers?
VANDYCK: At the time, it was only white teachers. And I believe it's because in the black community, we're used to having names that are more cultural. I'll put it this way. One of my research participants said it - white people like things standardized, and that includes names. We are all human. We all hear things that make us look twice. But it's what you do after you recognize that you have this feeling about it, and it's what you act on from that point on. That's the most important part.
SHAPIRO: So what's your advice to a teacher who might be listening, for when they have a kid in their class who has an unusual name and that teacher might have an implicit negative reaction?
VANDYCK: Well, my advice is simply acceptance. I don't want to come off as saying that teachers are doing something wrong. I understand the name Marijuana is unusual. It's not every day you get that. And then you have a student in class called Marijuana Pepsi or maybe Drewshika (ph). And if you're curious about it, feel free to ask, perhaps not in front of the other 25 students. Don't ask who named them in a condescending manner and say, I never would have named my child that. What kind of parents do you have? It's those types of things.
SHAPIRO: Well. Dr. Vandyck, thank you for speaking with us today. And congratulations on your Ph.D.
VANDYCK: I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
SHAPIRO: That's Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck, who just earned her Ph.D. in leadership for the advancement of learning and service in higher education from Wisconsin's Cardinal Stritch University.
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