Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy





First Advisor

Larry Ebbers

Second Advisor

Lyn Brodersen


This study focused on how four Black women described their retention and persistence; how institutional retention efforts support or hinder Black women’s perceptions of their ability to persist; and how institutional programs, processes, and policies can be transformed to support the retention and persistence of Black women attending community college. In 2012, 38 percent of Black women in college were enrolled in community colleges, 60 percent were over the age of 25, and 65.3 percent were considered low income.

Although there has been extensive research conducted on retention and persistence broadly, only two studies were identified that focused specifically on Black female students. Black women are positioned at the intersections of their identities, and thus this study sought to expand the current literature on Black women by using a critical race-gendered theory and epistemology to highlight the nuances of the participants’ experiences.

This qualitative hermeneutic phenomenology was employed as a vehicle to show how the participants individually and collectively described how the community college helped them achieve their educational goals. Hermeneutic phenomenology was utilized, as it describes how Black women, having two minoritized identities, are positioned within society. Heidegger, one of the pioneers of hermeneutic phenomenology, posited that one’s realities are influenced by the world in which one lives or one’s “lifeworld.” A lifeworld can be informed by an individual’s race, political affiliation, and other identities. Hermaneutic phenomenology also suggests that one has situated freedom and the notion that, although Black women can make choices, their freedom has limits. Finally, hermeneutic phenomenology includes the use of expertise and prior knowledge to help shape the phenomena being studied.

Because this research was seen as part of a spiritual, academic, and personal journey, an endarkened feminist epistemology was utilized. Endarkened feminist epistemology is a critical race-gendered epistemology that is informed from and by Black women. Critical race feminism is a critical theory was used in this study, as it speaks to the complex realities of women of color. Four aspects of critical race feminism guided this study: intersectionality, gendered racial microaggressions, experiential knowledge, and praxis.

The findings emerged from data collected through three modes: a biographical questionnaire, semistructured interviews, and a visual counternarrative. Five themes that summarize the study’s findings are presented: (a) establishing rapport with faculty and decision-makers; (b) advising and selecting courses; (c) connecting academics to life; (d) if time is money, why am I wasting both?; and (e) seeing myself in the curriculum. Participants described the opportunities and tensions associated with their retention and persistence within a community college context. Key personnel, such as advisors, faculty, and senior administrators; practices, such as pedagogy; and processes for accountability are also described.

Broadly, the implications of this study provide insights into the need for professional development focused on student learning and inclusive pedagogy; eliminating systemic barriers, such as unnecessary fees and lack of technical assistance for students; and how institutional and federal policies can be transformed to support the retention and persistence of Black women attending community college.


Copyright Owner

Glennda M. Bivens



File Format


File Size

185 pages