DISSERTATION DEFENSE ANNOUNCEMENT Ed.D. Program: Tamiah N. Brevard-Rodriguez “The Beauty Performances of Black College Women: A Narrative Inquiry Study Exploring the Realities of Race, Respectability, and Beauty Standards on a Historically White Campus”

1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

Beauty is a concept that is socially constructed. Although superficial, beauty is a form of currency that can add value, provide opportunities, increase preferential treatment, infer good impressions, and dictate an expected level of success to its holders. The problem with beauty construction is that it is rooted in hegemonic European beauty ideals that shape perceptions of and ostracize the facial features, body shapes, hair textures, and skin tones of Black women. For Black women and girls to obtain various levels of success, they are expected to confirm or shift their appearances and behaviors to match the mainstream ideals of beauty. This narrative inquiry study is designed to deeply explore Black college women’s beauty pressures and performances while enrolled at a historically White institution.

The purpose of this narrative inquiry study was to learn through their lived experiences how a sample of Black undergraduate women was culturally groomed via respectability politics to navigate racialized White academic spaces. Through these young Black women’s stories, this study highlights the realities of racial and gendered socialization practices associated with respectability politics via beauty performances, as well as beauty performances as a valid navigation tool for survival. This qualitative narrative inquiry study explored the beauty performances of young Black college women enrolled at a historically White university through the lenses of Black Feminist Thought and Critical Race Feminism.

This narrative inquiry study utilized a purposeful sampling and a strict criteria-based screening process that largely contributed to the outlined narrative-based research design in Chapter 3 to ensure the individual storylines gathered narratives that were both accurate and comprehensive accounts of the participant’s collective beauty performance and collegiate experiences. Additionally, the research design required semi-structured interviews, and participant-generated photographs were collected from the 14 Black collegiate women and analyzed using narrative inquiry techniques.

The study aimed to center the diverse subjectivities obscured by a dominant discourse by honoring narrative accounts as valid data reflective of sociohistorical realities. The findings denoted adherence to Eurocentric beauty standards generated both empowerment through affirming identities resistant to erasure, as well as pressures compounding their need to juggle performing for multiple audiences and mental burdens associated with progressing in White academic environments. Navigating predominantly White academic spaces necessitated strategic presentations of self-managing perceptions through hair, dress, and clothing styling.

Over time, participants displayed increased comfort in embracing their authentic selves and dismantling stereotypes through bold acts of self-definition while on this historically White campus. The theoretical frameworks supported surfacing oppression mechanisms like negative feelings of invisibility in the classroom settings while acknowledging exhibited resilience. This research holds implications for broadening institutional diversity initiatives and familial support restructuring to improve obstructions faced disproportionately by Black women scholars. Overall, elevating the participant’s lived experiences through qualitative methodologies rejected monolithic portrayals, further acknowledging full humanity.

To access the Zoom link required to attend, please contact academic.services@gse.rutgers.edu.