Strength that silences: learning from the experiences of black female college students with mental health concerns at a predominantly white institution

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University of Alabama Libraries

This qualitative study examines first person accounts of college experiences provided by Black female college students with mental health concerns at a predominantly White institution. Utilizing the theoretical frameworks of disability studies and critical race feminism to develop the study and analyze the collected data, this study considers the ways that race, gender, and ability intersect in the lives of the study participants. Data from individual interviews was collected, transcribed, coded and analyzed. Common themes that emerged in the experiences of the study participants are presented. Research findings indicate that systems of domination use race, gender, class, and ability to encourage mentally distressing performances of strength in the study participants. In addition, claims of inferiority that are informed by racism, sexism, classism, and ableism limit the participants' ability to harness their unique identities to circumvent and challenge the discriminatory socio-political conditions that damage their psyche and threaten their academic persistence. The language of the medical model of disability, which informs the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), was found to encourage an internalization of negative self-representations that also contribute to mental distress within the study participants. Implications from this study encourage the application of a critical race feminism and disability theory lens to university policies that impact Black female college students with mental health concerns and reiterate the importance of campus diversity mentoring to mental wellness. Implications for practice and future research are provided and discussed in detail.

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Higher education administration