Deep from within the well: African-American women living with AIDS

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Marjorie DeVault


Immune deficiency, Minority & ethnic groups, Sociology, Womens studies, Public health, African Americans

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This project developed out of reflection on the increasing statistics and the limited information and attention given to African American women living with HIV/AIDS. The intent of the research was to fully explore the experience of African American women living with HIV/AIDS; to illuminate any coping strategies that are common among the women; and, to provide an understanding of any sources of strength that are drawn upon in response to the demands of this disease.

The qualitative research method of in-depth interviewing was utilized for this project with nine (9) African American women living with HIV/AIDS over the course of a year. The interviews were unstructured, in an effort to gain rapport and to give the women an opportunity to articulate exactly how they experienced living with HIV/AIDS, without prompting. The conceptual paradigm of symbolic interactionism and grounded theory methods were employed to analyze the content of the interviews.

Receiving the news of HIV/AIDS diagnosis sent each of the women interviewed into a process of reconciliation with the disease, themselves, and life itself. This process included basic physical and mental adjustments required for them to incorporate the changes the disease dictated; a psychological/emotional transition from care giver to care receiver; the conversion of shame, associated with the stigma of HIV/AIDS, into dignity, accomplished through the tradition of sharing their knowledge with other women; and a transformation in self perception from that of dying to living with HIV/AIDS. This study documents sources of strength employed while these women moved through this process.


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