Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Higher Education Administration

Major Professor

Dorian L. McCoy

Committee Members

Dorian L. McCoy, Karen D. Boyd, Jimmy G. Cheek, Ashlee B. Anderson


Title: A Phenomenological Exploration of the Lived Experiences of Second-Year African American Male Students on Predominantly White Campuses through the Lens of Critical Race Theory


The critical nature of the first year has pushed thousands of colleges and universities across the United States to create intentional programs specifically for first-year students. Less understood are the experiences of students during their second year – a different and, at times, even more challenging period. Second-year students face a myriad of issues, including achieving competence, desiring autonomy, establishing identity, and developing purpose, with many experiencing a phenomenon called the sophomore slump. While recent studies analyze both the second year of college and the sophomore slump, few studies delineate the experiences of African American male students who statistically perform at rates that tend to fall below their White peers regarding retention, academic performance, and graduation rates. As such, this study aimed to acquire a better understanding of the lived experiences of African American male second-year students at predominantly White institutions (PWIs), as they navigated barriers commonly associated with the sophomore slump. Phenomenology provided an opportunity to thoroughly analyze the essence of the phenomena through the stories, experiences, and perspectives of participants. In addition, critical race theory was selected as a conceptual lens because this theoretical framework allowed for the examination of racism, inequality, and the inequitable distribution of racialized power and privilege within the structure of a college campus. Open-ended interviews were conducted with nine African American male college seniors at PWIs via Zoom, a cloud-based video communications application. Four themes emerged through a phenomenological analysis: academic confusion, mental health, faculty relations, and maturation. Two additional themes emerged from a critical race analysis: campus hostility/peer engagement and greater representation. Findings from this study provide implications for holistic student development and highlight measures to promote a more equitable and inclusive educational experience for students, particularly African American second-year college students at PWIs.

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