The unexpected talented tenth: Black d/Deaf students thriving within the margins

Stapleton, Lissa
Major Professor
Natasha N. Croom
Committee Member
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Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

This study grew out of my own lived experiences working with d/Deaf college students as well as a handful of issues uncovered within the literature, particularly around racist and audist microaggressions on campus. In hopes of gaining insight into these issues, six Black d/Deaf alumni, which I refer to as the Unexpected Talented Tenth, joined me on a strength-based journey to co-construct the answers to three questions: (a) How did they make meaning of their undergraduate experiences? (b) How did they experience racial and audist microaggressions while navigating undergrad? (c) How did they use aspects of Black d/Deaf Community Cultural Wealth to resist racial and audist microaggressions in order to persist to graduation? The literature, which supports and informs this study, is divided into four areas: (a) Historical snapshots of Black d/Deaf education, (b) Black students' college experiences with persistence and resistance as well as an overview of racial microaggressions, (c) d/Deaf students' college experiences with persistence and resistance as well as an overview of audist microaggressions, and (d) Black d/Deaf education today focusing on intersectionality, role models, and the K-12 educational system.

Elements of goodness were used to frame the research design. My assumptions were clearly stated along with the philosophical paradigmatic (constructivism) and epistemological (Deaf epistemology) underpinnings of the study. The theoretical frameworks that shaped this study were Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Critical Deaf Theory (Deaf Crit). Both the theoretical frameworks were congruent with the analytical frameworks, the theory of microaggressions and Black d/Deaf Community Cultural Wealth (BDCCW). Hermeneutic phenomenology, the methodological framework, guided the participant selection, data collection, and data analysis processes. A purposeful sample of six participants was successfully recruited through the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) as well as with the help of Deaf Studies scholars and the d/Deaf community broadly. Data were collected using three methods--participant surveys, videophone meetings, and three semi-structured interviews. Once the data were translated and summary transcriptions written, analysis consisted of four phases: (a) organizing system, (b) identifying meaning units, (c) thematic labeling, and (d) creative synthesis. Using qualitatively appropriate standards of goodness, the five areas of authenticity were used to ensure quality.

In order to protect the participants' privacy and aligned with CRT and Deaf Crit, the findings were re-presented using composite counternarratives in which I weaved the findings together, creating four inverted composite counternarratives. The analytical discussion weaved the inverted counternarratives with the participants' real lives as well as literature to answer the three research questions and address the overarching problems. Five themes were created to answer Question 1. They were based on how the participants experienced college and included (a) Campus environments, (b) Social identity development, (c) Peer and family support, (d) Classroom and faculty experiences, and (e) Vocational Rehabilitation counselors. In Question 2, I asked how the participants had experienced racial and audist microaggressions. Those experiences occurred as distorted expectations, through invisibility within the classroom and campus community at large, by trivialization of their needs, culture, and experiences, as well as the co-opting of their space and talents.

With the last question, I examined how the participants resisted racist and audist microaggressions, specifically by using Black d/Deaf Community Cultural Wealth. The findings show that high stake interactions with specific audiences accounted for difficulties resisting, such as against faculty because of a lack of confidence, or Vocational Rehabilitation counselors for fear of losing funding. Nonetheless, the participants were able to share in greater numbers the ways in which they acquired and used BDCCW to resist racist and audist microaggressions within the classroom, among their peers, and within the larger campus.

Examples of research implications include expanding this study throughout the entire educational pipeline, including Black d/Deaf graduate students; incorporating other intersecting social identities; and examining how other aspects of student development impact Black d/Deaf students' ability to use BDCCW. Broadly, faculty and institution practitioners must develop and commit to social justice praxis regarding their work with all students. Having social justice praxis is the ability to reflect on one's actions and the world, to act on issues of inequity, and to work in collaboration with those who are most oppressed to ensure their liberation. This is what is needed to change current behaviors, curricula, and environments that perpetuate and allow audist and racist microaggressions to exist on campuses today.