Multiple Selves, Marginalised Voices: Exploring Black Female Psychology Students’ Experiences of Constructing Identity in UK Higher Education

Husbands, D. 2019. Multiple Selves, Marginalised Voices: Exploring Black Female Psychology Students’ Experiences of Constructing Identity in UK Higher Education. PhD thesis University of Westminster Psychology

TitleMultiple Selves, Marginalised Voices: Exploring Black Female Psychology Students’ Experiences of Constructing Identity in UK Higher Education
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsHusbands, D.
Abstract

Introduction: What kinds of identity do Black female psychology students construct within higher education? Higher education research in the US and UK points to integration and attainment issues for Black and Minority Ethnic students. Black female students’ experiences are not fully explored among accounts of university experience. As an under-researched group, their ‘stories’ risk being lost. This research learned from individual and collective voices of Black women enrolled on an undergraduate psychology degree programme at Russell Group and post-1992 London universities. Semi-structured interviews were used to explore how traditional [18-21 years at the point of enrolment] and nontraditional [22 years and above] Black female students construct identity within higher education. Theoretically driven sub-questions explored concepts such as self-efficacy and a sense of belonging.
Method: A pluralistic approach was used to explore experiences. Research was carried out across four phases: in Phase 1, qualitative content analysis was used to explore the experience of nontraditional students. In Phases 2 and 4, interpretative phenomenological analysis was used for traditional students. In Phase 3, a thematic analysis was used for mixed student groups. The research drew on social constructionism and intersectionality to situate students’ experiences. The researcher acknowledged her subjectivity as a mature Black woman when interpreting students’ narratives and used reflexivity to support an authentic exploration.
Findings: The participants constructed multiple identities in their academic environments. Nontraditional students constructed an identity of ‘hyphenated’ selves viewed through lenses of maturity and ethnicity. A sense of belonging was noted as crucial for their experience. Traditional students constructed ‘shifting’ selves in response to vacillating between challenges for transitioning and realising a ‘future’ self. Their multiple identities were complicated by a sense of ‘unbelonging’, social class, perceptions of structural racism, and a lack of culturally responsive support that frustrated their attempts to form interpersonal relationships with staff and students. Different theoretical/methodological approaches appeared to be most useful for understanding the experience of different student groups. Discussion: Identity construction is psychologically taxing for these participants with implications for progression and attainment in higher education. Their experiences and perceptions of constructing identities ‘at the margins’ [that is, places of invisibility/hyper-visibility] shed further light on the complexity of identity construction in Black women. The findings permit reasonable and novel theoretical inferences for the academic experiences of Black female students in these samples.

KeywordsHigher education
Black female students
Intersectionality
Psychology
Social constructionism
Year2019
FunderUniversity of Westminster
Web address (URL)https://westminsterresearch.westminster.ac.uk/item/qyy5w/multiple-selves-marginalised-voices-exploring-black-female-psychology-students-experiences-of-constructing-identity-in-uk-higher-education

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