Creating Our Own Stories and Trusting Our Own Voices: Midlife, Black, Female Doctoral Students Navigating the Crossroads of Age, Race and Gender
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Black women have a long history of struggle in the United States, which Collins (2000) referred to as a legacy of struggle. Despite gaining access to higher education hundreds of years after Whites and even over a decade after Black men, Black women attain graduate degrees at a higher rate than White women and Black men. Regardless of this extraordinary accomplishment, there are few studies examining the experiences of Black women in higher education and even fewer that are focused solely on middle aged, Black women in higher education.
Thus, the purpose of this phenomenological study was to examine the experiences of midlife, Black, female doctoral students. The overarching question guiding this study was: What meanings did midlife, Black, female doctoral students attach to their doctoral experiences? Subsidiary questions were a) What motivated study participants to pursue doctoral study at this stage in their lives? b) What challenges and barriers did participants experience as Black, female, midlife doctoral students? c) What factors did study participants perceive as facilitating their persistence? and d) What did study participants perceive as the value of their experiences? Data were collected from nine participants using in-depth semi-structured interviews, artifacts, critical incident reflections and member checks. Participants were selected from various institutions and from a diverse group of programs. Findings were generated using Colaizzi’s phenomenological data analysis method as a guide. Six themes emerged from this analysis a) time is of the essence, b) I cannot do this alone, c) race matters, d) the woman in the mirror, e) is age just a number? and f) it will all be worth it. As this study was concerned with examining the experiences of midlife. Black, female doctoral students and how the intersection of these three locations impacted the doctoral experience, a conceptual framework incorporating Black feminist thought, intersectionality and midlife development was also used in order to analyze the phenomenon. Findings from this study point to the resilience and determination of midlife Black women in doctoral programs. Occupying educational spaces allowed these women to interrupt negative images and perceptions of Blacks in general, and older Black women specifically. Findings from the study will add to the paucity of research focused on older, Black, female doctoral students.