Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Kortegast, Carrie A.

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Counseling and Higher Education (CAHE)


Audre Lorde’s (1984) essay titled “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” is suitable for describing the intent and rationale for this research. My purpose was to use my voice to interpret experiences that assisted in dismantling the master’s house (dominant group) by sharing insights and unraveling the layers (onion peels as a metaphor) of my experiences with race, gender, and age on my academic journey to complete my doctoral degree at a predominantly White university to report a truth that denies the context of power and race in our society.

Higher education continues to wrestle with addressing the successful retention and degree attainment of nontraditional African American women doctoral students. African American women occupy a unique social position as members of two socially marginalized groups— Black and female—in a country that privileges Whiteness (Dubois, 2003). There is limited research that explores implications of nontraditional African American women’s experiences in higher education. Therefore, the purpose of this autoethnographic study was to examine the role of race, gender, and age in mediating my educational journey and trajectory. To highlight my


experiences, the study was viewed through critical race theory, Black feminist theory, and critical race feminism as frameworks using vignettes, narratives, and counterstories.

Examining both pre-college and in-college experiences, this study closely looked at the impact of race, age, gender, persistence, strategies, barriers, and support of a nontraditional African American woman at a predominantly White university. Findings indicated that race, age, and gender were important in shaping experiences related to persistence in college. By using autoethnography as an interpretive story telling process, I owned my story. Black women can speak to the world about their culture if they are allowed to tell their cultural truths in their own language.

Implications for the study highlight the importance of double jeopardy, double consciousness, relationships, and classroom climate in the success of Black women in college as well as the role of counternarratives in coloring African American women’s experiences at predominantly White university campuses. This study explored the importance of the following factors for promoting Black women’s success in doctoral programs: advising; mentoring; faculty diversity; recognition of race, age, and gender; and counterspace development. More specifically, this study adds to the discourse on Black female students and can be used to make recommendations that guide institutional best practices and policy.


220 pages




Northern Illinois University

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