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Black Women, Gender Nonconforming, and Nonbinary Folks’ Resistive and Healing Practices: Making a Way at Traditionally Oppressive Institutions


This work investigates the resistive and healing practices that Black women, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary folks enact in the face of daily racialized and gendered terrors as they navigate higher education. Central to my theorizing of academic spaces is the understanding of schooling as a contested space that reifies identity-based harm. I locate the impact of this reality within both a historical and contemporary context by reckoning with the substantiation of institutions of higher learning made possible by slave holding governing faculties, endowments bolstered by investments in the military and prison industrial complex, enduring racial stratification in the numerical and ideological presence of marginalized peoples, and the maintenance of interlocking systems of domination that undergird school policies. As Black women, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary folks contend with academic spaces rife with systemized difference, they foster alternative relationships to the university that center their well-being. Using Black feminisms and Critical Race Theory, my dissertation captured narratives that explore life histories and capacity to create affirming relations against the backdrop of educational violences within higher education. Undergraduate Black women, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary students were recruited to participate in individual interviews, capturing their life histories inclusive of their educational trajectories, understanding of the impact of race and gender throughout their schooling, and their hopes for the future of education for their community. Findings reveal the significance of informal, student-initiated support spaces to mitigate the impact of daily antiblackness in both academic and social spaces on campus. Dorm rooms, group chats, passing periods, and other such counterspaces significantly combatted the effects of navigating “just the system itself.” Further, archival documents were reviewed using content analysis to explicate the foundations of the research site as a racialized project and identify Black student activists organizing in the 1960s. Both the foundational constructed difference and adamance in maintaining the status quo is a through line that helps to articulate the continued nature of racialized difference within higher education.

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