• 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.