When and where I enter : a phenomenological study of Black women at a selective predominantly White institution




Tillis, Tiffany Vanese

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Black females are the majority of Black students enrolled at both PWIs and HBCUs. HBCUs award a significant number of degrees to Black students despite the fact that they only educate 11% of all undergraduates enrolled today (Gasman, 2012). Why aren’t we seeing the same completion rates of Black women at PWIs that we see at HBCUs? Studies show that African American women attending PWIs experience greater social and emotional distress than their counterparts attending HBCUs (Fleming, 1984; Watt, 1997). These factors and others tend to depress success for African American women. Furthermore, Black women face challenges just as Black men do when it comes to participation in, graduation from, and overall success in educational institutions compared to their White counterparts (Bush, Chambers & Walpole, 2010). The purpose of this study is to gain an in-depth account of the college-going experience of Black women at a selective predominantly White institution and understand their pathways to graduation. In particular, the hope is that this investigation will provide more insight into the phenomena that contributes to these women’s ability and/or inability to secure degrees. By learning their effective survival tips and success strategies, hearing how they cope, and documenting the skills they have acquired to help them move in the direction of attaining their goal of a college degree, the hope is that this information will have implications for practice in places where attrition is an issue for Black women and in policy making. To understand the phenomena, a qualitative research design is in order and more specifically, a phenomenological approach. This approach will allow for exploring and analyzing these women’s lived experiences at this institution (Creswell, 1998). This study will investigate using the frameworks of both “Black Feminist Theory” and “Intersectionality.” Black Feminist Theory will allow for the opportunity to place Black women’s voices at the center of research in an effort to make visible Black women’s unique experiences and acts of resistance (Robinson, Esquibel, & Rich, 2013) and intersectionality will equip me with the tools to understand and explain the Black woman’s multidimensional experience.


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