Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Joshua Cohen


For well over a century, African Americans have fought for equal rights to employment, prosperity, political power and freedom. Earning an education was the way forward. Over time, legislative and institutional policies have created greater access to education for racialized individuals. Yet, African American students remain the most underserved population, and among the lowest in degree attainment across ethnic groups. Decades of research literature places blame on students and families, highlighting student deficiencies. Far fewer explanations in the literature point to institutional barriers that perpetuate practices that place African American students at a disadvantage. Critical Race Theory (CRT) offers a lens to examine ways in which race continues to be a prominent component of inequality throughout education, and allows researchers to critique deficit theorizing that may be limited by the exclusion of voices of people of color. Using CRT as a theoretical framework, and phenomenology as a methodology, this study examines the lived experiences of African American students who have persisted beyond their first year in a predominantly white community college. A student who has persisted has re-enrolled, transferred, or graduated by the second fall or spring term following the initial fall or spring term enrollment. Further, this study illuminates institutional factors that have both supported and hindered their progress. Five themes emerged as a result of in-depth interviews with seven self-identified African American research participants: influential others, high school programs, early choice major and path to the profession, dispelling and overcoming imposed stereotypes, negotiating the PWI using self-identified strengths and strategies. Participants shared the difficulties and triumphs they experienced on the predominantly white community college campus, as well as strengths and strategies they used to work through challenges. An analysis of participant experiences using three of Ladson Billings’ (1998) tenets of critical race theory; exposing racism, counter-stories, and critique of liberalism, is provided, allowing for further explication of the ways race and racism take form and influence outcomes for marginalized students.