Meeting Black Girls on the Moon: A Qualitative Exploration of Black Girls' Experiences in Schools

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Mims, Lauren, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Williams, Joanna, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

This manuscript style dissertation, Meeting Black Girls on the Moon: A Qualitative Exploration of Black Girls’ Experiences in Schools, highlighted the experiences of thirty-one Black girls in middle schools and identified what supported or disrupted their learning and development. Paper 1,“They told me what I was before I could tell them what I was:” Black Girls’ Ethnic-Racial Identity Development Processes within Multiple Worlds, explored the subjective definitions, meanings of race, and specific experiences within the social “worlds” of eleven Black girls from two racially diverse middle schools in the Southeastern United States that shape ethnic-racial identity meaning development. In this study, the multiple worlds of schools and classrooms, family, and peers were connected to racial meaning-making among Black girls. Findings from this study identified potential pathways for the production and reproduction of “damaging” and “controlling” ideologies (i.e. through school curriculum and among peers). Paper 2, “Our Year to Shine:” Exploring How Media Affects Black Girls, explored how media, including #BlackGirlMagic, affected Black girls as they worked to define their self and collective identities in adolescence. Findings indicated that Black girls selected, interpreted and were affected by media in different, multidimensional ways. #BlackGirlMagic, in particular, provided Black girls with a framework for developing an asset-based sense of self and conceptualization of Black girlhood. Paper 3, “I don’t really like, you know, love going to school, but I love learning new things:” Examining the Role of Teachers in Shaping the Educational “Journey” of Black Girls, explored how ongoing practices, assumptions and processes across multiple levels of schooling (e.g., general ecological context, interactions with teachers and administrators) perpetuated racial inequalities or promoted racial equity. In addition to normative, developmentally-appropriate experiences of Black girls in middle schools (e.g. academic related pressures to succeed, “drama” among peers, and bias-based bullying), Black girls perceived that teachers, administrators, and peers held stereotypes about who they were and their capacity to succeed. Both positive and negative feedback from teachers had implications for their reactive coping responses. In culmination, the work in this dissertation suggests that (1) the school ecology (i.e. peers, curriculum, teachers, administrators, broader school culture) is a contentious space that requires Black girls to navigate unique social challenges along their educational journeys, (2) feedback from academic, media and peer environments influences Black girls’ identities and understanding of oppression, and (3) institutions can play an important role in supporting or hindering the success of Black girls. My findings underscore the need to actively support the identity development of Black girls as they navigate educational spaces. Each paper is designed to better equip researchers, policymakers, and practitioners with critical and timely information to meet Black girls on the moon.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Black girls, education, BlackGirlMagic, Black girlhood, identity development, adolescence
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