Abstract: Stories of Strength: Young African American Women (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

256P Stories of Strength: Young African American Women

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Jessica Nobile, PhD, MSW, LISW, Assistant Professor, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH
Background and purpose:  There is a lack of scholarship that focuses on how systemic oppression affects the lived experiences of young African American women, across different areas. Due to the structural disadvantages caused by oppression, there is an overrepresentation of African Americans living in poverty.  Social, racial, and economic inequalities establish barriers for a population of young women wishing to attend institutions of higher education, as poverty is correlated with poor educational outcomes. These young women often attend segregated and near-failing public schools characterized by a lack of resources.  It has also been argued that high school teachers are often influenced by pervasively racist and sexist stereotypes. For example, within these educational environments, young African American women often encounter false stereotypes, such as “the loud mouth”, “the jezebel”, or “the pregnant teen”, which leads to higher rates of disciplinary actions, such as suspensions or expulsions.

As such, the purpose of this study was to describe how systemic and intersecting forms of oppression influence higher educational aspiration for young African American women. An additional aim was to identify and define what factors promote resilience for this population.

Methods:  Each of the 12 participants identified as cisgender female and African American.  They were enrolled as either a junior or senior in high school, and their ages ranged from 16-19.  Narrative inquiry was the chosen qualitative research approach. Data collected included 24 in-depth interviews, two with each of the twelve participants. A structured protocol was utilized in both interviews, guided by the categories of self, family, school, and peer relationships.  Additionally, 24 informal observations, five participant diaries, and a researcher journal were collected for the purposes of qualitative data analysis.  In order to deduce themes, all data was analyzed, compared, and contrasted on multiple occasions using ATLAS.ti. 

Results:  Findings that emerged from the data concluded that the intersection of racism, sexism, and classism acted as a risk factor, as these forms of social injustice were omnipresent in the lived experiences of these young women.  Additionally, study subjects identified four factors that increased their own resilience: 1) never giving up, 2) self-definition, 3) grandmother’s support, and 4) staying focused on future goals.  Finally, each of the twelve participants purported higher educational aspiration; five were accepted to their choice college before study completion.

Conclusion and Implications: Social workers should lead advocacy efforts to ensure that youth of color attending informally segregated schools, receive equitable funding and resources to enhance their academic success. Moreover, teachers and other school personnel should be required to pursue education and training on cultural sensitivity, so that they are better able to educate young black women. Finally, there is a growing need for the development of research in schools and communities, to address the multifaceted ways in which race, gender, and class intersect to influence higher educational aspiration for young African American women.