"I'm Black, I'm Female, I'm Here": Experiences of Black Women Adjunct Faculty Teaching at Community Colleges

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0009-0009-7175-0507
Woodard, Ashley, Higher Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Steinmetz, Christian, ED-EDLF, University of Virginia

Since the 1970s, community colleges have relied upon adjunct faculty to educate their students. While there is extant literature on the experiences of adjunct community college faculty, there is very little that investigates the experiences of adjunct faculty who possess marginalized identities, specifically being Black and a woman – and how those identities along with their employment status impact their relationships with their students and colleagues. Much of the literature available that explores the experiences of Black women faculty is set in four-year institutions. With Identity Theory, Black Feminist Thought, and Intersectionality as the theoretical framework, I conducted a qualitative study across five institutions within a Mid-Atlantic community college system to learn about the experiences of Black women adjunct faculty, as well as learn how their race and gender identities and employment status impact their relationships with students and colleagues.

I utilized purposeful sampling to solicit participants for this study. Participants were required to meet the following criteria to participate in this study: (a) identified as either Black, African, or African American; (b) identified as women; (c) taught part-time at a community college or multiple community colleges; (d) employed for at least one academic year at their respective institutions; (e) taught in-person or hybrid. A total of nine Black women adjunct faculty participated in the data collection process through semi-structured interviews, two sister circles, and journal entries. Six themes emerged from the data that was collected: (1) “The students are my only reason”, (2) “You do so much to engage the students”, (3) “Microaggressions – all day, every day, 24-7”, (3a), (4) “Feels very lonely and isolated”, (5) “I think a lot about the resources…”, and (6) “Be prepared to be your own cheerleader, your own coach, your own captain.”

The findings from this study underscored the complexity of student-faculty relationships. While the participants appreciated having the opportunity to engage their students in subjects that they were passionate about, they also experienced difficulties keeping some of their students engaged. The findings also underscored the lack of community with colleagues that the participants feel. Most did not have strong connections with their colleagues or supervisors, which was echoed throughout the extant literature about community college adjunct faculty experiences. Finally, the findings of this study revealed that the participants’ race and gender identities impacted their experiences. Some of the participants discussed the ways that they resist assimilating into the culture of White superiority by presenting themselves (e.g. attire, hairstyle) in Afrocentric ways that counter notions of how a professor is supposed to appear. Additionally, participants discussed how they experience racialized and gendered abuse from colleagues and students, and how they are expected to serve as caretakers.

These findings led to several recommendations for practice, including (1) rejecting the Strong Black Woman archetype, (2) creating professional development opportunities, and (3) fostering a culture of inclusivity. Additionally, the findings led to the following suggestions for future research, including (1) conducting a quantitative study in the Mid-Atlantic community college system, (2) interviewing the Black women who left their positions as adjunct faculty in the Mid-Atlantic community college system, (3) conducting a case study, and (4) expanding the study to include Black women adjuncts from more geographical locations.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
adjunct faculty, Black Feminist Thought, Black women, community colleges, Identity Theory
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