Toniqua Mikell Becomes First Black Person to Earn PhD from USC in Criminology and Criminal Justice


May 5, 2019

When the University of South Carolina holds its 2019 Spring Commencement exercises, Toniqua Mikell will make history as the first Black person in the school’s history to earn a PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

After deciding against law school, Mikell determined pursuing a PhD was the best way to fulfill her purpose. Not only did she want to be in a position to advance social justice for marginalized communities, but she wanted to do it while being a tangible representation for students who look like her.

“In all these years of school I can count on one hand the number of Black teachers I’d had. One in elementary school, one in college, and one in grad school. And only the elementary school one was a Black woman,” Mikell told Because of Them We Can.


Mikell said she was in the second year of her PhD program when she found other Black women with PhDs. She credits women like Dr. Allison Cotton and Dr. Kimya Dennis for connecting her with a village of Black scholars who helped her create a vision for herself.

“Their collective support and inspiration has molded me into the kind of scholar, teacher, and mentor that I want to be. I know how important it is for me to be ‘the face that looks like me’ for the next Black student, especially young Black women. I have the opportunity to be that face this fall!”

Mikell is headed to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth as an Assistant Professor in the Crime and Justice Studies department. Her plan is to prepare her students to be agents of change by challenging them to think beyond themselves and making them consider things like how their privilege or disadvantage, has privileged or disadvantaged others.


“Of course we all hope that our work changes the world. But truthfully, my greatest accomplishment is knowing that other Black women see me and know that a Black woman with natural hair, tattoos, and piercings has a PhD and is a college professor. So why not them?!”

Mikell also plans to focus her research on highlighting injustices the public may not know of while emphasizing others currently on our radar.

“I want my research to complement the work of other intersectional feminist scholars and activists. Making people pay attention. Forcing people to demand better.”


Mikell received her bachelor’s degree from Winthrop University and her master’s degree from USC. 

You can follow her journey via Twitter @drtoniqua.

Congratulations Dr. Mikell!


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