Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career and Higher Education

Major Professor

Wilma J. Henry


Faculty, Professional Success, Underrepresentation, Women


While African American women have been participating in higher education for more than a century, they remain significantly underrepresented among college and university professors in America. This study was pursued in an attempt to address the underrepresentation of African American women faculty at public and private universities within the State of Florida. More importantly, the study aimed to examine the role of the McKnight Doctoral Fellowship program (MDFP) in assisting McKnight Doctoral Fellow alumna in doctoral degree attainment, preparing them for the professoriate and contributing toward their professional success. A phenomenological methodological approach was used for this study, which was informed by doctoral student persistence theory, socialization theory, critical race theory and critical race feminism. These enlightening lenses allowed for the amplification of the lived experiences of McKnight Doctoral Fellow alumna.

The findings from this study seem to suggest that social support received from family and McKnight faculty, as well as financial support via the McKnight Doctoral Fellowship stipend, and academic support offered by the MDFP were the prominent experiences that contributed toward MDFP alumna's persistence in and completion of their doctoral programs. Additionally, participants noted that preparation for the professoriate would not have been possible without the professional development workshops and guidance from McKnight Doctoral Fellowship faculty and alumni who had already navigated the chilly climates at their respective institutions. Finally, participants discussed how informal mentoring relationships with McKnight Doctoral Fellowship faculty and formal mentoring relationships with colleagues on campus were instrumental in contributing toward their professional success.

The African American women faculty in this study are not classified as superwomen, but rather individuals who had the ability and strength to overcome many obstacles and hurdles to succeed academically and in the professoriate. The participants faced exclusion, neglect, racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression within their respective graduate programs and academic environments. However, these African American women, like many others, gained strength from family, McKnight peers and faculty, mentors at their respective institutions and their inner selves to persist throughout their arduous, doctoral journey and professional careers. Many of the women did not receive a "blue print" on how to navigate the doctoral process or the professoriate, but they empowered themselves to seek this pertinent information to achieve success in both arenas. Therefore, this study provided the participants an opportunity to voice, testify, and reflect on their experiences, but, more importantly, the women created new knowledge on the factors that affect doctoral degree attainment as well as the experiences that contribute toward their professional success. To gain a better understanding of how to address the recruitment and retention of African American doctoral students and faculty and aid in their success, graduate departments, higher education administrators and policymakers would do well to take note of the voices and perceptions of these MDFP alumna. Their experiences provide a more accurate portrait for change within academia in the State of Florida and across the nation.