Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 19.2 (Fall/Winter 2018) ISBN 978-1-945001-01-7 ISSN 1559-0151
Honors students are often regarded as the best and brightest at their universities, but the standard definitions of high achievement are not always useful for identifying talented undergraduate Black women. In a qualitative study of Black women in honors inside and outside the classroom at two urban predominantly white universities (PWIs), data derived from the students’ experiences provide insights about the standard labels of high achievement in higher education. The voices of these women expand the discourse on student academic identity. Picture one of these honors students: Anissa wipes her finger through the word “gifted,” which is written on the small dry erase board. Then she erases “smart.” Despite earning admission to honors as an incoming freshman and thriving in her competitive courses, she does not consider herself gifted or smart like her classmates. They confidently answer questions in class and help other people understand the homework. She knows the answers in class but is too shy to speak up. Although Anissa would never refer to herself as smart or gifted, her university might label her that way. Anissa is one of sixteen students who participated in the qualitative study of the experiences of Black women in honors at two urban PWIs. While the literature on students in collegiate honors programs characterizes them as high-achieving or gifted, the reflections of the women in this study on their own identities indicate that some of the labels for their academic identity are not how they would define themselves. Honors educators need to know how underrepresented students in honors perceive their academic identities, and then they can select strategies for adjusting policies and practices with these perceptions in mind. Understanding the experiences of high-achieving Black women is an important yet often overlooked part of fostering student success in college, particularly at PWIs. The most prominent studies in higher education on undergraduates of color over the last fifteen years largely focused on the experiences of Black men of a variety of ability types, expanding the knowledge on that population (Cuyjet; Harper; Harper & Quaye; Pearson & Kohl; Strayhorn). From that body of research came valuable information about how to enhance the academic environment for Black men (Bonner & Bailey), best practices for specific interventions that support the needs of Black men through mentoring or community-building organizations (Bledsoe & Rome; Baker), and patterns and outcomes of their engagement in campus life (Harper; Strayhorn & DeVita; Harper & Quaye). Alternatively, some focus on Black students generally (Solorzano et al.; Fries-Britt & Turner; Mwangi & Fries-Britt). Although these studies offer major contributions, there is limited similar research focusing specifically on Black women high-achievers.