The Ph.D. who's gone viral: Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck

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Beloit, WI (WIFR) -- When you hear a name like Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck your ears tend to perk up.

“I think it would be crazy for someone to not react to that and to have questions," said the Ph.D. professional from Beloit College. But her name is just one part of her.

"I received my master’s degree in higher education and started working at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater as an academic advisor," said Vandyck,

She recently graduated from Cardinal Stritch University with her Ph.D. in higher education leadership. For her dissertation research, she decided to look into how teacher behaviors and student perceptions can effect a student’s educational outcomes if they have a non-traditional, distinctly black name.

"So it's not so much my name, it's the names of students that have an impact on their academic achievement just because of the implicit biases that sometimes accompany their teachers."

Vandyck says she wanted to study the issue not because of her own name, but because of an experience she had as a new teacher.

“Another teacher came in and said, ‘I get these students every year, my class’s tests score are going to be low,’ and I was confused. I looked down at the class list I had received and all it said was the student’s names and their genders, but the teacher said to me, ‘Look at the names.’ So I said to myself when I get my Ph.D. that is what I’m going to talk about.”

During her research, she spoke to dozens of students, each with unique names. She found students felt disrespected and like they were not given certain opportunities because they were written off just because of their name.

Several said educators would refuse to call them by their name and others said educators would make stereotypical judgments of them and their families based off their name,

"We all have things that we hear and we look sideways at and go, 'okay did I just see that,' and we form those opinions and there's nothing wrong with that, we're human that's what we do,” said Vandyck. “Again it's what we do after that, that makes the difference for our students."

Vandyck says the biggest take away from her research is a message of acceptance.

“I take it all in stride. Thank goodness I learned and grew and did not let it impact me too bad.”