Black women undergraduates: challenging history to reframe its context in a PWI

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University of Alabama Libraries

This qualitative study explores the experiences of women at South University, a southeastern predominately white institution, as they grappled with the complex intersection of their race and gender, the history of the institution, and academic expectations. Framed within Critical Race Feminism, this study utilizes storytelling to illuminate challenges experienced by Black women in mitigating access to opportunities for leadership, challenging stereotype assumptions from the institution and theirs peers, cultivating cultural capital, and exploring personal constructions of themselves within an educational setting. The individual stories told by women illuminate the knotty terrain that exists between historical context and those doubly bound by both race and gender scripts. Results of the study demonstrate that Black women at South University need both formal and informal systems of support to be successful. Further, experiences of Black women at PWIs are difficult because of both institutional and historical systems of oppression in the way they experience the classroom, adapt representations of themselves within the environment, and in the way that they respond to institutional barriers. Students ultimately believed that they could have a quality education, but felt that current institutional practices failed to acknowledge and represent the challenges that the intersection of their race and gender. This study is important because it examines the impact of the historical and present day context that exists at PWIs in relation to the lived experiences of Black women and challenges institutions to pay attention to the rarely discussed impact of that environment on their educational experience. A primary recommendation of the study is to require institutions marred by negative history to publicly and systematically engage diversity, equity, and inclusion by acknowledging past issues, requiring curriculum and teachings about those challenges, and by establishing formal systems of support through the development of policy, practices, and resource centers to aid in challenging the institution’s culture. Overall, this offers hope that the collective voices of Black women attending SU can provide a catalyst for changing institutional practices and acknowledging the power of historic circumstances.

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Education, Social research