Relational Aggression among Female African American Undergraduates: An Intersectional Perspective

Ragsdale, Julie, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Williams, Joanna, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Limited scholarship has focused on the relationally aggressive experiences of women of color and additional information is needed about experiences of relational aggression within college environments. The goals of this study were to discover the experiences of relationally aggressive behaviors experienced by Black female college students, to determine if there were instances of racialized content within relationally aggressive experiences, to examine if the experiences of these women were captured by the existing paradigm on relational aggression among women, and to determine if there is a need for new theorizing on relational aggression that integrates an intersectional perspective. Data collection methods included focus groups and interviews. Data was analyzed using qualitative methods, including Narrative Inquiry (Polkinghorne, 1995) and The Listening Method (Brown & Gilligan, 1993).

Relationally aggressive experiences were occurring for the women in this study and being perceived as harmful. Women were experiencing gossip and exclusion from the Black University community and academic and social exclusion from White students. Racially specific relationally aggressive content such as accusations of “acting White” and stereotypes such as the “angry Black woman” and “strong Black woman” played a role in relationally aggressive experiences. Additional factors such as year in school and small Black community size were also influential.

The existing paradigm of relationally aggressive experiences sufficiently addressed behaviors and relationships in which aggression was experienced, but failed to account for race specific content and contexts of experience. Experience of multiple social identities concurrently and the influence of these identities on each other and on experiences of relationally aggressive behaviors lend support for a need for the integration of an intersectional perspective in future relational aggression research.

This study contributes to a growing body of knowledge on the relationally aggressive experiences of college women. It extends the body of work considering the role of race in relational aggression, and evaluates the need for an intersectional perspective in relational aggression research. Understanding of the experiences discussed in this survey could prove useful for researchers, student affairs professionals, mental health care providers, and Black female undergraduates.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
relational aggression, African American, intersectionality, female, college student
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