• Institutional Factors that Support and Impede Black Female Undergraduates at Predominantly White Institutions

      Pickens, Wanda V; Tift College of Education
      Under the direction of Dr. Olivia Boggs, Ed.D. The study addressed the persistently deficient baccalaureate degree attainment of African American females, documented by a graduation rate of 45%, compared to a national average of 65% for all women. Using phenomenological methodology, the study explored the academic, social, physical, emotional, psychological, and financial experiences of 11 Black female college alumnae who successfully completed their bachelor’s degrees at a [Predominantly White Institution (PWI)]. The depth of the inquiry allowed participants to retrospectively recall and ascribe meaning to their academic and non-academic undergraduate experiences. Each of the subjects provided insights into barriers and hindrances encountered during their undergraduate matriculation. Further, participants described experiences that facilitated, strengthened, and empowered their degree pursuits. Using theories of Black feminist thought along with a second lens of intersectionality, the study was guided by the following research question: What are the shared experiences of Black female undergraduates at predominantly white institutions that defined their lived experiences, the expectations placed upon them, and how they maneuvered through their educational journey? Data were collected through semi-structured interviews and analyzed utilizing a six-phase approach to thematic analysis. Findings revealed four themes: Non-Relatability and Non-Affirmation, Increased Self-Awareness Within PWI Spaces, Lack of Mentorship, and Retention Team. Findings further illustrated positive and negative influences of the participants’ academic, cultural, and social lived experiences. Recommendations were discussed that encompassed specific initiatives. The first initiative promoted the development of an empathetic approach design of support services specifically for Black female undergraduates. The second initiative advocated for equipping faculty and staff members who interface with Black female students regularly with the proper training they need to understand and embrace the African American culture. The third initiative involved utilizing dialogue and other tools to prevent exclusionary behaviors, policies, and stifling structures of power that hinder progress of retaining marginalized student populations. These initiatives aimed to guide university administration, faculty and staff who are committed to a transformative process to increase graduation rates for Black females matriculating at PWIs.
    • Sister Circles: African American Women’s Sense of Community in Online Learning

      Howard-West, Barbara; Tift College of Education
      Despite the higher enrollment rate of African American women in higher education, they have lower graduation and higher attrition rates than any other ethnic group in online higher education doctoral programs. Limited research exists on African American women’s experiences in online learning. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to document any cohesion that supports a sense of community and retention and explore the personal and academic experiences of African American women enrolled in a hybrid doctoral program at a private White institution as they engaged in a sister circle. A social constructivism epistemology informed the frameworks of critical race feminism and McMillan and Chavis’s sense of community, thus forming the foundation for this study. Interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) guided the data analysis process. Nine African American women who self-identified as “Black” participated in a sister circle while matriculating in a hybrid doctoral program. Focus group discussions occurred in an online forum learning management system called Canvas. Interviews were completed via video conferencing using Zoom. The themes of focus on self, focus on feelings, focus on experiences, and focus on connections emerged from the data analysis. The first superordinate theme, focus on self, provided an emotional scrutinizing diagnosis of African American women as they discussed their experiences identifying strategies to persevere in the program. The second superordinate theme, focus on feelings, provided a synopsis of African American women’s feelings related to African American women as a whole, and identify areas that they thought were important. The third superordinate theme, focus on experiences, appeared as the participants discussed their experiences as African American women in the sister circle. The last superordinate theme, focus on connections, arose as the members provided detailed accounts of their connections with one another. Implications for educational policy were to include more counter-spaces for African American women to make meaning of their oppressed and underprivileged experiences. More research is necessary on the effect of sister circles on the experiences of African American women attending private White institutions.