Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Howard C. Stevenson


This dissertation analyzes the agency that adolescent Black girls in independent schools use to craft their identities, and describes the particular competencies that they enact as they navigate encounters of race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status within their daily school lives. Through the adoption of developmental, feminist, and critical pedagogy frameworks, this phenomenological study employs a grounded theory methodology and presents an emergent theory that describes the phenomenon of “Black girl critical literacies” when situated in the context of elite, predominantly White independent schools. I define Black girl critical literacies as the phenomenon in which Black girls use particular competencies to recognize, process, and respond to messages that they receive connected to their status as Black adolescent females in U.S. society while simultaneously crafting their own sense of their Black girl identities.

Using weekly discussion groups grounded in critical feminist pedagogy and one-on-one interviews as the main sources of data, this dissertation serves two purposes: 1) it identifies and explores four different components that contribute to the development of Black girl critical literacies in independent schools: school culture, a developing critical consciousness, emotional literacy, and agency and activism; and 2) it analyzes how Black girls communicate the components of Black girl critical literacies to each other. The findings from this study contribute to the fields of education and gender studies and the disciplines of psychology, and sociology by offering a perspective on adolescent development, identity formation, and curriculum development that is infused with feminist and critical pedagogy frameworks.

Specific to education, the dissertation findings contribute to the literature on how to support students of color in independent schools, and point to how affinity group spaces can function as places for the critical consciousness development of adolescents. From a psychological perspective, the findings from this project deepen the literature on adolescent development and particularly highlight the identity development and construction of Black girls. In the sociological tradition and connected to the field of gender studies, my research contributes to the emerging field of Black girlhood studies by presenting how social structures of race, gender, and class function within particular sociocultural contexts.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."