Difference Amongst Your Own: The Lived Experiences Of Low-Income African-American Students and Their Encounters With Class Within Elite Historically Black College (HBCU) Environments

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The subtle and deeply impactful nuances of Black intra-racial social class differences that manifest amongst students who attend historically Black colleges (HBCU) has remained untouched and understudied in higher-education scholarship. In this phenomenological study, I explore how low-income African-American students encounter social class within elite HBCU environments. The men and women in this study graduated between the years of 2001 and 2010. Contemporary HBCU student experiences are underscored and reveal great tension between self, community, and place. The philosophical works of Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Edward Casey are joined with the voices of Black scholars including W.E.B. DuBois, Audre Lorde, Frantz Fanon, bell hooks, and Toni Morrison to provide critical context for the phenomenon being studied. Max van Manen’s key phenomenological insights also provide a methodological foundation for the study.

My co-researchers encountered significant shifts and evolved within their oppressed identities during their undergraduate years. During their undergraduate years they felt a difference amongst their own that they still reconcile today. The participants within this study endured feelings of alienation, wonder, and even confusion within their distinct higher education environments. This study concludes with phenomenological insights for myriad educational stakeholders that include higher educational researchers, higher education practitioners, families, and students. I provide pedagogical insights into how elite HBCU environments can not only intercede and provide a more enriching cultural environment for their low-income students, but their families as well. The pedagogical insights that “end” this study also summon the need for future research to continue to explore Black intra-racial differences that are present within both elite HBCU communities and elite PWI institutions as well. Exposure to the pertinent issues that are outlined in this scholarship provide a new entry into critical discourses that must now be had. This dialogue is needed so that students within elite HBCU environments do not continue to suffer in silence within their oppressed identities.