Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Cynthia G. Fleming, Tricia McClam, Diana Moyer


This study is a collection of oral personal experience narratives from four self-identified Black female student activists – two from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) (1960-1966) and two from the contemporary movement (2002-2012). I investigate general aspects of their experiences of being Black, female, students and activists within the context of their communities and educational institutions. My research questions are: 1) What were/are the cultural and historical factors that drove/drive each woman to activism? 2) How did/have women develop(ed) ways of knowing about self and community through activism and education? 3) How do Civil Rights activists (1960-1966) and contemporary activists (2002-2012) characterize one another? Specifically, this study utilizes structured narrative analysis to organize and present the stories of Black female student activists. Then I use Black feminist theory as an analytical lens to articulate how Black women develop ways of knowing self, community and society.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was important to the Civil Rights Movement because it engaged a group of young freedom fighters who did not take no for an answer. As systemic inequities and the need for equality persist, who will be the new generation of freedom fighters? How are young people organizing? What are the connections to the civil rights activist? This study called for candid conversations about race, gender and class for Black female student activists within American society. Although separated by 50 or so years, these two generations have many similarities and differences in what motivates their activism, how they have developed a sense of self and community through their activism and how these women communicate, strategize and organize. This study adds to the research about Black women activism and offers a view of the historical and contemporary perspective of Black female student activism in relation to one another. I capture the essences of Black female student activism through narrative representation to be interpreted as both modes of social action and knowledge that is self-proclaiming.

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