Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career, and Higher Education

Major Professor

Wilma J. Henry

Keywords

African American Women, Isolation, Marginalization, Professional Development, Student Affairs, Underrepresentation

Abstract

While African American women have been participating in American higher education for more than a century, they remain significantly underrepresented among college and university administrators. Researchers have noted that when these women are able to secure administrative positions, many of them contend with intense isolation and marginalization, which compromises their personal well-being and jeopardizes their professional success. Black feminist scholars have suggested that African American women may be assisted by involving themselves in supportive networks that provide them the opportunity to connect with other African American women. Further, these scholars contend that these activities should be facilitated by African American women.

The African American Women's Summit (AAWS) is a national professional development program that has been developed by and for African American women student affairs professionals. The AAWS is offered during the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators' (NASPA) Annual Conference and provides a venue for African American women student affairs administrators to connect with one another and exchange information related to the successes and struggles they face on their respective campuses. The purpose of the present study was to explore and describe how the AAWS assisted African American women student affairs professionals employed at predominantly White institutions resist challenges related to the underrepresentation, isolation, and marginalization they face as higher education administrators, and contributed to their personal well-being and professional success. This purpose was accomplished by conducting a qualitative case study, which included an analysis of AAWS participant interview data. In addition to themes relevant to the purpose of the study, an in-depth description of the case of interest (i.e., the AAWS) was also constructed, which included the history philosophy, and curriculum of the AAWS as well as 2006-2011 participant demographic data.

The demographic profile of the African American women student affairs professionals who participated in the study closely resembled that of the African American women student affairs professionals who participated in the AAWS between 2006-2011. Findings revealed that there were common ways in which participating in the AAWS assisted the African American women student affairs professionals in this study to resist challenges related to the oppressions they face as higher education administrators at PWIs. Themes related to this research question included the identification and validation of oppressive experiences, the dissemination of strategies to resist oppressions, and the fortification of African American women's standpoint. The three themes that emerged relative to how the AAWS contributed to the personal well-being of the participants (research question #2), focused on the centrality of the participants' own physical, spiritual and interpersonal wellness. Participants' responses in regards to how the AAWS had contributed to their professional success (research question #3) were centered on mentoring and networking opportunities created by the AAWS, as well as encouragement to engage in professional development initiatives.

The findings of this study seem to suggest that African American women student affairs professionals may be able to derive tremendous strength from culturally affirming environments that are created when they assemble in intentionally-designed spaces created by and for themselves. Thus, these women are encouraged to pursue opportunities to develop and participate in professional development opportunities similar to the AAWS. Higher education institutions, as well as student affairs professional associations, that are committed to promoting and facilitating the personal well-being and professional success of African American women student affairs professionals should look to these women to define the types of support they need and then facilitate the creation of programs that have been developed by and for us.

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