Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Joyce E. King, Ph.D - Chair

Second Advisor

Layli Phillips, Ph.D

Third Advisor

Janice Fournillier, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Hayward Richardson, Ed.D

Fifth Advisor

Susan Talburt, Ph.D.


ABSTRACT “SURVIVAL IS NOT AN ACADEMIC SKILL”: EXPLORING HOW AFRICAN AMERICAN FEMALE GRADUATES OF A PRIVATE BOARDING SCHOOL CRAFT AN IDENTITY by Tiffany Simpkins Russell This qualitative study explores the private boarding school experiences of eight African American female graduates, the forms of identity they crafted and the survival skills they developed while navigating this unique terrain. A life history methodology grounded in the womanist tradition was used to develop a portrait of the women’s experiences using their personal narratives as well as integrating my own. Data collection methods included archival research of historical documents related to the private school, Personal History Interview of the primary researcher, Individual Life History interviews of each of the women, and a Group Conversation with the participants. Narrative analysis (Labov, 1997) and Brown and Gilligan’s Listener’s Guide (1992) were used to analyze the women’s narratives and revealed a set of four significant “creative essences.” A “creative essence” is defined as “a proactive, unique, and individual path to inner fulfillment” (Davis, 1998, p. 493). These essences elucidate the survival skills the women employed at various times in their academic careers to cope with sexism, racism, marginalization and invisibility in an injurious environment. The emergent “creative essences” are: 1) Asserting Blackness; 2) Creating Safe Spaces; 3) Finding Voice and Embracing Loudness; 4) Relying on Sistafriends. These “creative essences” are explored in detail using examples from the female respondents’ narratives, the scholarship on African American women’s strength and resilience and African American literature. Implications for educational practice and future research endeavors are discussed.