IN THE PURSUIT: BLACK WOMEN’S EXPERIENCES IN PWI DOCTORAL PROGRAMS & THE USAGE OF BLACK JOY AS PERSISTENCE
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Out of 104,953 doctoral degrees earned by women within the United States in 2019-2020, Black women obtained 10,576 PhDs across the span of academic disciplines, equating to 11.1%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2021). However, research has not done its due diligence of parsing through the data to understand the stories of the women who make up those 10,576 PhDs granted. This dissertation study explores the lived experiences of Black women who specifically transitioned from their undergraduate institutions into doctoral programs at predominately white institutions (PWIs) and how Black joy may be employed as a persistence mechanism toward degree completion. Because no literature exists to understand this community of doctoral students, this groundbreaking study begins with the question of what are the lived experiences of Black women who transition directly from their undergraduate to doctorate at PWIs? The dissertation continues to push further to then question how Black women in doctoral programs understand, experience, and sustain their joy and in what ways does joy inform persistence and resistance amongst these sista scholars. Utilizing Patricia Hill Collins’ (2000) Black Feminist Thought as a theoretical foundation and Black feminist-womanist storytelling as the chosen methodology, I argue that this specific transition is one that must be deeply explored because of unique components and that Black joy does, in fact, serve as a positive mechanism for persistence. Life stories were collected through two interlocking methods of semi-structured interviews and focus groups amongst 14 Black women spanning 12 different academic fields in PhD programs across the United States. By sharing life narratives of Black women in doctoral programs, in-depth insight is gathered concerning reasons for going to graduate school, academic and socialization transitions, three primary barriers to success - age being a salient identity, mental health challenges, and perceived & real pressure, and, lastly, understanding and experiencing joy through self, community, and work. Through this research project, Black women in doctoral programs created space to critique and disrupt the Ivory Tower while producing joy amongst each other.