Toughing it Out: A Retrospective Constructivist Grounded Theory Study of The Process of Academic Success Among Black Women

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Black girls and women experience gendered racism in their educational contexts that lead to adverse outcomes, including involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems and employment instability. Still, their educational experiences have been overlooked in the social science literature which has contributed to a lack of understanding of how to support them so that they may achieve academic success. The purpose of this qualitative, retrospective, constructivist grounded theory study was to construct a theory to explain the process of academic success among Black women with doctoral degrees. Thus, through 2-hour intensive interviews, this study examined the academic experiences of 12 purposively recruited Black women with doctoral degrees from diverse institutional (HBCUs, PWIs, private, public), and field backgrounds (medical, social work, psychology, education, etc.). This study asked participants to discuss their experiences across multiple stages of education, with specific attention paid to how participants persisted to achieve academic and social success, despite institutional, social, and personal barriers experienced. Previous literature, including learning perspectives such as Tinto (1975), Freire, and hooks, were reviewed to provide a foundational understanding of present learning models. Furthermore, a summary of Black Feminist Thought and Social Work Empowerment Theory were presented to provide the researcher and audience a better understanding of the lived experiences of women in this demographic group. Data analysis focused on exploring qualitative information collected from interviews, field notes, and memos. Three categories emerged to explain how the participants conceptualized academic success. Ten major categories emerged from the data that explained the women’s educational experiences and facilitators of their academic success: parental expectations, parental involvement, parental socialization, collectivism, educational autonomy, interpersonal connections, responsive learning environments, self-efficacy, acceptance, and persistence. Various research, practice, and policy implications arose from this study. These implication may help guide scholars, educators, practitioners, and policymakers interested in supporting the academic success of Black girls and women. Some of these implications include studying kinship and othermothering to determine how formal and informal familial arrangements may be utilized to support academic success, the implementation of cascading and peer mentoring programs to counteract the lack of Black educators in American educational systems, and the need to reform the criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts Black families, and the academic outcomes of Black children.

academic success, Black girls, Black women, constructivist grounded theory