The Other Defiant Ones:Our Students
By MrJeffDess

I watched HBO’s The Defiant Ones the other night and of course, I was thinking about leadership, student affairs and education. The plan was to show how the lessons and inspiration learned from Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine can help in some way. These glamorous stories of struggle and triumph reminded more of the students I work with on a daily basis.

I think about the Defiant first generation student who has statistic after statistic stating their deficiencies. What are you doing as an educator or institution to assist them in their process? Are you making sure these students are taking advantage of your resources? It’s one thing to say, we have a tutoring center or advisement office. The major key is to assure that those students are using them. Don’t simply be a bystander but get in the game of helping students succeed. Jimmy Iovine mentioned that Bruce Springsteen taught him work ethic. We can be the Bruce’s of the moment and show our students the importance of pushing themselves to levels they’ve never achieved before. Let’s introduce new skills to those who might not be prepared.

One of my favorite Defiant students was a 45 year old immigrant mother. English was her fourth language. I hired her as a math tutor and took some heat for that. People were concerned about relatability, others felt that there were going to be language barriers. She also didn’t always get along with her fellow staff members. She had a stellar academic record and during our interview, she said to me that “I will be great no matter what appears in front of me.” She came to this country and people doubted her. She wore a hijab and people gave her side eyes. She defied all odds against her, picked up a bachelor’s then master degree and now is a college professor. The Defiant Non Traditional student is among the strongest you’ll ever meet. In the documentary, Jimmy Iovine took a chance on acts like Gerardo, Primus and Dr. Dre. All of which helped his label become successful. Don’t judge books by their cover. Do son and you’ll end up realizing that you can’t read at all.

There is a Defiant student leader out there who needs our support. They aren’t sure how to articulate their goals to the masses. They want to challenge the institution but are fearful of potential repercussions. We have to be there for them. Students have come into my office ready to be a change agent that leaves a legacy on campus but are clueless to the steps. These are the ones that who are labeled lazy but with potential. Other students have followed them to the party but have not walked with them to the president’s office or marched alongside them within the parade. They have the personality and the want, now it’s our job to provide the guidance and know how that will turn them into leaders of their peers. I love students leaders because so many have the gift but are a bit rough around the edges. To see their growth and eventual transformation into people who are going to potentially change the world or at minimum their campus is a beautiful sight. Never give up on them.

The Defiant recent graduate, was a star to us just 3 months ago. Today, they are nervous about grad school or they hate their first job. Some are unemployed, depressed and look at their degrees as a failure or a piece of paper. As an educator, you have to be there for that person. Dr. Dre started out as a DJ and ended and executive, business owner and rapper. Our recent graduate may not become the next billionaire but we have to be there to push them. Some of my greatest moments have been celebrating the success of my former RA’s or club presidents I’ve advised. The work doesn’t stop after the cap and gown. You know who those defiant ones are and be sure to continue to push them to places they don’t quite see at this point.

There are the defiant students are all around us. They are transgender, black women, military veterans, disabled, Latino, Resident Assistants and athletes. They are those who pulled up that first semester 1.9 GPA to a 3.5 by graduation. The have 3 jobs to support their family all while taking 21 credits as a Bio-Chem major. They are the women, men and people who make our jobs as educators that much more special than so many other professions.

I have no problem with the defiant record execs and musicians but it’s time we push our defiant students to the forefront and towards the legacy they deserve.


IMG_4902MrJeffDess is a the Co Founder of Trill or Not Trill. He’s also a writer, professor, public speaker and emcee of Haitian descent. He is an author of 5 books of poetry, including his latest, Trill Motivation With over ten years of performing and student affairs experience under his belt MrJeffDess continues to strive towards helping students reach their highest potential. For booking information, contact MrJeffDess at or