Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Katherine H. Greenberg, Mary F. Ziegler

Committee Members

Ralph G. Brockett, Diane A. Klein


This research study provided a descriptive picture of educational experiences of three sets of Black sisters, including the researcher, who grew up in inner-city Knoxville. This study was not designed to be the “voice” of all Black women. It was designed to show the universal essence of the experience of Black inner-city women living in a similar socioeconomic and cultural context.

A qualitative existential-phenomenological research study design was used to derive common themes that represented the universal essence of the participants’ experiences. Individual interviews were conducted for all participants and an existential-phenomenological analysis provided the common meaning underlying the stories we shared about our educational experiences.

The findings derived from the data analysis are presented in themes that provided a descriptive picture of lived-experiences of the participants. This study illuminated the formal and informal learning experiences of Black women and the profound role cultural experiences of family and community play in shaping their learning experiences through adulthood. The common ground of the educational experiences shared by women in the study was “Learning As You Go” which served as a backdrop for the experiences (themes). The three themes are as follows: I Seemed Like a Stupid Little Girl, Again/I Was This Smart Intelligent Woman; Staying in the Box/Stepping Out of the Box; They Taught Us the Values/and You Can’t Let People Keep You Down.

Findings suggest that the educational experiences of Black women influenced our development and our sense of voice, self-esteem, and self-defined achievement and success. These findings dispute adult development theories that suggest learning or development must precede or trail the other.

Recommendations and implications are provided to educators, specifically to adult educators, that might benefit from a deeper understanding about how to provide positive educational experiences for Black females.

Since minimal research on the relationship between adult development and educational experiences of Black women exists with regards to race, culture, gender and class, this study should also help create new integrated theoretical approaches to adult development that go beyond traditional theories, as well as contribute to the practice of adult education.

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