African American Women and Higher Education Barriers

Abstract

African American women often experience problems and face challenges in the sphere of higher education that has different origins. Therefore, it is possible to speak about the problem of discussing African American women and higher learning barriers. The action research needs to be conducted in this sphere, and it requires concrete actions to be proposed to improve the situation.

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The importance of the current action research is associated with the opportunity to identify not only barriers but also factors connected with the higher learning and concentrate on the target audience’s perceptions of the problem in order to choose the most effective strategies to address the issue. In this context, the theoretical base for this action research is Critical Race Theory, Social Learning Theory, and the Phenomenological approach.

Introducing Education Paradigms: African American Women and Higher Learning Barriers

Although the situation of African American women’s underrepresentation in higher education has changed positively during recent years, African American females still face significant higher education barriers. In this context, it is important to focus on the education paradigms as the lens through which it is possible to discuss the barriers experienced by the African American females’ regarding their learning and socialization in the higher educational environment.

In their qualitative study based on the use of focus group sessions, Charleston and the other researchers found that the percentage of African American women receiving the higher education increased proportionally to the number of barriers discussed by these women as influencing their higher learning and work at educational institutions (Charleston, George, Jackson, Berhanu, & Amechi, 2014, p. 169).

Such barriers as the challenges of inclusion; bias associated with affirmative action; isolation; lack of support; stereotyping; and victimization were discussed by Museums in the qualitative study based on interviews in 2011 and by Charleston in the qualitative study in 2012 (Charleston, 2012, p. 223; Museus, 2011, p. 148).

The problems are experienced by both female African American students and administrators in predominately white educational organizations, as it is concluded from the interviews conducted by Lutz with the group of researchers in 2013 and from qualitative study conducted by Gardner, Barrett, and Pearson in 2014 (Gardner, Barrett, & Pearson, 2014, p. 239; Lutz, Hassouneh, Akeroyd, & Beckett, 2013, p. 128). Similar barriers are also noted by Pittman in his case study of 2012 (Pittman, 2012).

The additional research needs to be conducted in this field because these identified challenges are often discussed as causes for quitting the higher school and for the further underrepresentation of African American women in academic positions, as it is noted by Wallace, Moore, and Curtis depending on the conducted interviews and analyzed African American women’s narratives (Wallace, Moore, & Curtis, 2014, p. 45).

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In this context, it is important to research what barriers can be discussed as prioritized for the African American women in their higher learning today, what factors are associated with identified barriers, and what actions can be effective to address the problems and change the situation. The current action research project is based on the qualitative research study that is developed to identify the main barriers faced by African American women in the sphere of higher learning.

Importance of the Action Research Project

The Role of the Project for Improve a Current Practice

As a result of the action research project, a series of steps or strategies can be proposed to improve current practice in the sphere of higher education. It is important to determine strategies and steps depending on the results of the research, in which the attitudes and opinions of individual African American women play a crucial role.

In this context, while using the data received as a result of the action research, it is possible to generate solutions that can be efficient to address the identified barriers and challenges as well as to respond to the causes and factors important to influence the appearance of significant social, psychological, ethical, and legal barriers.

In order to improve the conditions in the sphere of higher learning for African American women, it is significant to focus on creating groups of support in educational institutions, to promote collaboration, to support the individuals’ inner culture, to prevent the discriminating practices, and to discuss the practice of mentoring as a possible way to improve the current situation in the sphere.

The Project’s Impact on the Field of Interest

The successful results of the project need to be achieved because of the necessity to attract the public and educational authorities’ attention to the problem of race and gender discrimination in the sphere of higher education while discussing the barriers to higher learning for African American females.

In this context, the completion of the project is important to determine the paths for further work in the area in order to propose concrete programs and strategies necessary to overcome the problem of discrimination in the educational environment.

The successful results of the action research project will help the public focus attention on several perspectives associated with the problem that are the underrepresentation of the African American women in educational institutions as students and specialists and the problem of discrimination and prevention of females from using the equal opportunities in higher education institutions.

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Practical Implications of the Project

The research of higher learning barriers associated with African American women is expected to result in formulating strategies important to change the current situation in the sphere. The practical implications of implementing these steps in educational institutions will lead to creating more comfortable environments for African American women with a focus on the provision of support for discriminated females.

Furthermore, it is possible to expect much focus on the practical role of mentoring in educational institutions to support the representatives of the minority groups. In addition, more attention will be paid to African American women’s culture and gender in the context of promoting equality and support. African American women are expected to feel safe in the higher education environment while referring to the problems of discrimination and victimization (Gardner et al., 2014, p. 239).

Needs Assessment and the Cost-Benefit Analysis

The goal of the current action research project is to study the problem of the African American women’s challenges and barriers associated with higher learning and to bring about change in this sphere while proposing a series of effective actions. Therefore, one of the first steps in the process of developing action research is the assessment of the determined needs in the sphere.

It is important to state that the target population of the research are African American women who are directly involved in the sphere of higher learning in the United States. In this context, the attention can be paid by different groups of African American women in this area, including students and employees in educational institutions.

The needs assessment intended to reflect the African American women’s experiences in higher education is divided into examining such aspects as the nature of African American women’s relations and interactions in the higher educational setting; the barriers identified by African American women as preventing them from performing successfully as learners and professionals; and the attitudes of the African American women toward the experienced challenges and observed situation in the sphere of higher education.

Following the preliminary results on the assessment of African American women’s needs as the target population, it is possible to determine such barriers and challenges as victimization; the isolation because of ignorance and prejudice; the impossibility to ask for help in problematic situations; and the unwillingness to accept the presence of the problem (Charleston et al. 2014, p. 173; Gardner et al., 2014, p. 241). These challenges need to be prioritized in order to determine the focus for further action research in the area.

The action research is based on the qualitative research study on barriers to the field of higher education for African American women. The phenomenological methodology should be applied to this research, and the main instruments used to collect the necessary data are the focus groups, interviews, and observations.

Referring to the cost-benefit analysis, it is important to state that the costs of such method and design are time and accuracy of the collected data when the benefits of the research are the opportunity to compare the subjective and objective data, the opportunity to focus on the individuals’ perception of barriers and prioritized challenges; the opportunity to identify relationships between barriers and the individuals’ attitudes.

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The necessity to conduct the qualitative study based on the time-consuming phenomenological approach can be discussed as a cost, but the benefits of receiving the concrete individuals’ data are more significant in this case.

Theoretical Background for the Project

To introduce the education paradigms associated with the higher learning barriers for African American women, it is important to support the paradigms with such theories as Critical Race Theory and Social Learning Theory, and with the Phenomenological approach as a theoretical perspective and a practical approach.

Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory formulated by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic in 2001 studies the relationship between the concept of race and its discussion in the social and legal environments (Heilig, Brown, & Brown, 2012, p. 408-409).

In this context, the use of Critical Race Theory is appropriate to explain why the racial discrimination is observed in the education sphere today, what role civil rights legislation can have to influence the situation from the legal perspective, and how the racial differentiation can impact the experiences of persons having different ethnic and cultural backgrounds (Ledesma & Calderon, 2015, p. 208).

The barriers faced by the African American women in the sphere of higher education can be studied with references to Critical Race Theory because it is effective to explain why certain races can experience different types of problems in various social and legal spheres (Heilig et al., 2012, p. 408-409). In the institutional setting, Critical Race Theory can explain the factors associated with barriers faced by African American women in educational organizations because of their race.

Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory was formulated by Albert Bandura in the 1970s, and it discusses learning as the interactive process that is highly affected by the social relations, and models made perceived and followed as a result of observation (Hinshaw, Burden, & Shriner, 2012 p. 875). Thus, “modeling is essential to learning in the Social Learning Theory and is described as a process that occurs on four levels: Attention, Retention, Reproduction and Motivation” (Hinshaw et al., 2012, p. 875).

This theory is effective in explaining the aspects of the persons’ socialization in different settings (Dinther, Dochy, & Segers, 2011, p. 97). While applying this theory to the problem of the African American women’s higher learning, it is important to state that the theory provides a range of perspectives from which it is possible to explain the barriers experienced by the women.

The individual perception of observed barriers depends on the previous learning of models typical for the educational institutions. In this context, the behavior of persons who choose to discriminate African American women depends on the previously learned models and patterns of behavior.

Phenomenological Approach

The phenomenological approach is actively used by sociologists, psychologists, and other specialists who intend to conduct the qualitative research study and to examine the perceptions and opinions of individuals on concrete social situations or phenomena (McCoy, 2014, p. 157).

In the context of studying the barriers faced by African American women in higher education, it is important to focus on the individuals’ opinions and life experiences that can serve as the basis to understand what important problems exist in the sphere (McCoy, 2014, p. 157). The phenomenological research assumes the use of interviews and focuses groups in order to examine the required subjective information (Felder & Barker, 2013, p. 4). Therefore, this approach is important to be utilized in current action research.

Conclusion

African American women usually face challenges in the sphere of higher education that need to be addressed with references to the action research project. It is important to identify barriers and factors that are associated with the higher learning area and to choose the most effective steps to overcome the problem.

References

Charleston, L. J. (2012). A qualitative investigation of African Americans’ decision to pursue computing science degrees: Implications for cultivating career choice and aspiration. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 5(1), 222–243.

Charleston, L. J., George, P. L., Jackson, J. F., Berhanu, J., & Amechi, M. (2014). Navigating underrepresented STEM spaces: Experiences of black women in U.S. computing science higher education programs who actualize success. Journal of Diversity in Higher, 7(3), 166–176.

Dinther, M., Dochy, F., & Segers, M. (2011). Factors affecting students’ self-efficacy in higher education. Educational Research Review, 6(1), 95–108.

Felder, P., & Barker, M. (2013). Extending bell’s concept of interest convergence: a framework for understanding the African American doctoral student experience. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8(1), 2-20.

Gardner, L., Barrett, G., & Pearson, C. (2014). African American administrators at PWIs: Enablers of and barriers to career success. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(4), 235-251.

Heilig, J., Brown, K., & Brown, A. (2012). The illusion of inclusion: A critical race theory textual analysis of race and standards. Harvard Educational Review, 82(3), 403-439.

Hinshaw, R., Burden, R., & Shriner, M. (2012). Supporting post-graduates’ skill acquisition using components of constructivism and social learning theory. Creative Education, 3(1), 874-877.

Ledesma, M., & Calderon, D. (2015). Critical Race Theory in education: A review of past literature and a look to the future. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(3), 206-222.

Lutz, K. F., Hassouneh, D., Akeroyd, J., & Beckett, A. K. (2013). Balancing survival and resistance: Experiences of faculty of color in predominantly Euro American schools of nursing. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 6(1), 127–146.

McCoy, D. (2014). A phenomenological approach to understanding first-generation college students’ of color transitions to one “extreme” predominantly white institution. College Student Affairs Journal, 32(1), 155-169.

Museus, S. D. (2011). Generating ethnic minority student success (GEMS): A qualitative analysis of high-performing institutions. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 4(1), 147–162.

Pittman, C. T. (2012). Racial microagressions: The narratives of African American faculty at a predominantly White university. Journal of Negro Education, 81(1), 82–92.

Wallace, S., Moore, S., & Curtis, C. (2014). Black women as scholars and social agents: Standing in the gap. Negro Educational Review, 65(1), 44-62.

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StudyCorgi. (2020, May 16). African American Women and Higher Education Barriers. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/african-american-women-and-higher-education-barriers/

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