This is how we do it! Black women undergraduates, cultural capital and college success-reworking discourse

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Sari Knopp Biklen


Undergraduates, Cultural capital, Success-reworking discourse, Women students, Intersectionality, Black women

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Higher Education and Teaching | Race and Ethnicity | Women's Studies


This dissertation is a qualitative study of how Black women undergraduates perceive and discuss their academic and social success in college. This work centers the voices of Black women undergraduates as they explore, critique, and explain how they negotiate dominant educational discourses and practices, which often render them academic liabilities, and how this process informs their performance in school. This examination is situated in a race, class, and gender intersectional framework. I argue throughout, that any analysis of Black women undergraduates that does not examine the ways race, class, and gender intersect and the consequences of these intersections in their lives is incomplete.

Data for this study came from 19 Black women undergraduates at 3 U.S. universities and 2 U.S. colleges located in Texas, New York, and California. The women were interviewed over the course of one year and were asked a wide range of questions connected to race, class, gender, and school success. The responses of the participants were analyzed for major themes. Each chapter of this dissertation explores the women's narratives and unearths their insight into the complex challenges Black women undergraduates must navigate as students. The discussions include the ways Black women undergraduates traverse, through talk and action, complications like being traditionally under-prepared academically for college, oppressions in their college classrooms like the stereotype of the angry Black bitch, and finding allies on campus that recognize the multiple ways the intersections of race, class, and gender inform their daily lives as students.

This dissertation expands the theory of cultural capital to include the support systems, strategies, and negotiations the Black women participants presented as crucial factors in their school success. I further contend that the described processes the women engaged are forms of cultural capital that deserve scholarly attention.

This work provides the academy with approaches that foster academic and social success for Black women undergraduates. The factors the participants identified that make success in higher education possible are "food for thought" and more importantly fuel for action in the quest for educational equity.


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