Fly girl in the buttermilk: The graduate experiences at a predominantly White institution of Black women who attended various undergraduate environments

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Julia Loughlin


Minority & ethnic groups, Sociology, Educational sociology, Womens studies, African Americans, Higher education

Subject Categories

Sociology | Women's Studies


Increasing the representation of Blacks in graduate and professional education has long been a policy goal of government agencies, foundations and universities. This is not only useful in helping to create a diverse university culture, but also in providing access to leadership positions (DeFour & Hirsch, 1990). That, in turn, is likely to result in a more diverse faculty who can serve as role models for Black students (DeFour & Hirsch, 1990; Blackwell, 1983; Environments of Support, 1992; Williamson & Fenske, 1992). Unfortunately, the number of Black graduate students remains low. It is estimated that minorities constitute less than seven percent of the total graduate population.

Policies and programs designed to increase the representation of Blacks in higher education have failed to acknowledge the complex range of educational experiences that shape Black students' experience of graduate education. This reflects the failure of past research to make distinctions between the experiences of Black men and women, the differences in experiences with various disciplines and the possible impact of different college environments.

The purpose of this study is to examine the impact of undergraduate experiences in various environments of Black women graduate students at a predominantly white institution, and how they perceive that graduate experience, in order to contribute to the development of future research on persistence. To understand the factors that enable these women to persist in graduate school, interviews from 25 participants, enrolled from Fall 1995 to Spring 1998, were analyzed. The women described stereotypes of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, continuing discrimination in and outside the classroom, inadequate financial aid and support systems, and predominantly white departments that were unable and unwilling to recognize and meet the needs of Black women. Recommendations for further research and immediate changes in higher education are discussed.