Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Carolyn Cutrona


Research indicates that a significant number of African American women from lower-class statuses work hard to become upwardly mobile. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the interpersonal experiences of upwardly mobile African American women, particularly their interactions with their family and community of origin. The purposefully selected sample was composed of 13 African American women holding various positions at a Midwestern university. To maximize variation of experiences, respondents were graduate students, faculty members, and staff. The primary data collection method was in-depth interviews along with examination of supplemental materials which included respondents' journal entries, e-mail exchanges, field notes, and researcher memos. I analyzed the collected data following the procedures of open, axial, and selective coding. A theory emerged from my interpretation of data gathered to answer the research question "What is the process by which African American women from working-class families manage relationships with members of their family of origin during and/or following the attainment of a graduate degree?" Evidence from this exploratory study suggests that the women develop a bicultural identity out of necessity after being confronted with conflicting experiences and worldviews. The emergent theory highlights the changes that occur in the women's lives and some of the conflicting life experiences they have with their family of origin as they progress through academia. The theory also describes strategies used by the respondents to manage their emerging bicultural identity. The attainment of a bicultural identity allows African American women to function in their life as well-educated women and to retain string ties to their family and community of origin.


Copyright Owner

Danielle Jacqueline Simmons



Date Available


File Format


File Size

165 pages

Included in

Psychology Commons