Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education



First Advisor

Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban


Colleges and universities continue to add diversity and internationalization as major components of their strategic planning efforts. Students from various racial, ethnic and national backgrounds are expected to live and work together in an intellectual environment while bringing with them various views of race and culture that are maintained through varying myths and misconceptions. This study looked at the technical and cultural definitions of what it means to be ‘Black’ in the U.S. and the stereotypes of being classified within that racial category.

The goal of this research study was to understand the experience of students from the African Atlantic Diaspora (Africa, Caribbean, the Americas) whose primary way of identifying racially/ethnically is different than the racial classification of ‘Black’ that they are ascribed in a predominately white college setting. The participants have had the experience of being categorized as ‘Black’ based on physical features such as skin color and hair type.

The racial designation of ‘Black’ used in the study is based on the current U.S. legal and cultural definition (Davis, 1991) from the 2010 Census that states, “A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. It includes people who indicated their race(s) as ‘Black, African American, or Negro’ or reported entries such as African American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian”. (Humes et. al, 2011). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the federal government department responsible for maintaining racial categories, states, “The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Contradictions arise from this classification because for a number of people, including the participants in this study, ‘Black’ has a varied meaning depending on ones’ cultural frame of reference (Davis, 1991; Romàn & Flores, 2012).

Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie highlights the experience of race and class in the U.S. and the social implications of being classified as ‘Black’ in her new book Americanah. In a recent radio interview about her award winning novel, Adichie stated, “in Nigeria, race is not a social reality. It is not an identity marker”, because most people are ‘black’. (Adichie, 2014). Like the main character in Adichie’s novel, the participants grappled with the differences between what it meant to be ‘Black’ here in the U.S. and in their home countries/communities.

To understand the essence of their experiences with race, I employed phenomenology. I used the semi-structure format for conducting in-depth phenomenological interviews (Seidman, 2006,) to examine how my participants view their own racial identities (life history) interpret multicultural encounters (contemporary experience), and investigate what they understand being ‘Black’ represents (reflection on meaning). The results were analyzed using a critical race and racial formation theoretical lens.

The findings confirmed that the way in which the participants defined ‘Black’ was in conflict with the cultural definition of ‘Black’ in the U.S. The data yielded information that suggests the participants felt that ‘Black’ in the U.S. had a negative connotation and was synonymous with African-American – an ethnic group they did not identify with and held preconceived notions about.



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