Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling Psychology & Community Services

First Advisor

E. Janie Pinterits

Second Advisor

Cindy Juntunen


The purpose of this qualitative study was to develop a grounded theory about the relationship between racial identity statuses and the experience of reflected appraisals in the lives of Black lesbian and bisexual women. Black lesbian and bisexual women were specifically selected in this study due to the unique and multiple issues Black lesbian and bisexual women face as members of multiple marginalized and oppressed groups.

Participants in this study included 13 self-identified Black lesbian and bisexual women. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant. In accordance with grounded theory approaches, follow-up interviews were conducted and enabled participants to provide feedback on the preliminary results of the study. Participants also completed a measure of racial identity, the Black Racial Identity and Attitudes Scale (BRIAS; Helms 1990, 2003). Racial identity profiles were developed from participants responses on the BRIAS. Qualitative data from interviews were analyzed following a social constructivist grounded theory methodology.

Based on the results of the data analysis, a substantive grounded theory of a Sense of Belonging for Black lesbian and bisexual women emerged. This study defined a Sense of Belonging as one's experiences of identifying with a social identity group, feeling that one has a place within the group(s), and feeling that one or more of one's social identities are supported by the group. Sense of Belonging is comprised of the following features: membership, locality, and acceptance. Membership is the identification of an individual to, or with, a social identity group. Locality is how an individual perceives a place and/or space for her racial and/or sexual identity within a social identity group. Finally, acceptance is an individual's sense of receiving validation for her racial and/or sexual identity within a social identity group. Each feature encompasses self and reflected appraisals. Further, each feature is influenced by internal and external contextual factors that dynamically interact with each other. The grounded theory of this study provides clinical utility for mental health professionals to explore multiple dimensions of social group identity across the construct of a sense of belonging for this population.