Negotiating gender, race, and class at boarding schools: the resilience of African-American girls
Smock, Jessica Anne
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This qualitative research study explored the experiences of female African American students at elite boarding schools who were graduates of a Boston nonprofit program called Beacon Academy. Beacon Academy prepares eighth grade public school students for admission and success at independent schools, and the study participants described the social, cultural, and academic preparation with which Beacon equipped them. Using phenomenological research methods, the purpose of this study was to identify the commonalities in these girls' experiences, coping responses, protective factors, and identity changes during their years at boarding school. Using the framework of Spencer's (2001) Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory (PVEST), the analysis of the transcribed interviews resulted in the identification of three common themes from the female African American students' accounts of their experiences as Beacon Academy graduates and as boarding school students. These common themes included the importance of Beacon Academy preparation, racial stressors at boarding school, and coping strategies. Beacon prepared these girls with emotional support, cultural competence, and awareness of the importance of work habits and motivation. All of the girls faced racial microaggressions -- or subtle forms of racism -- as psychological stressors at boarding schools, but learned to cope with them through a set of bicultural coping strategies. Implications for independent schools, nonprofit programs, and diversity issues at all institutions are discussed.
Thesis (Ed.D.)--Boston University