Is Higher Education a lonely experience for black women?

It is quite ironic how we can cordially speak with each other, share pleasantries and even know each other’s name, children’s names and profession, but not share that we are students.  Why do we keep this element of our life secret, under wraps, disclosed only to a select few?

Could it be a lack of self-worth? Or are we afraid of the criticism we may face as a result of the privilege that comes with Higher Education (HE)?  Or is it the fear of not completing?  Or maybe we are just exhausted by the challenges we have to endure and overcome because of the various ‘isms’? Or are there other reasons?

Our student identity may act as another indicator of ‘us’ not belonging.  Many black women in HE are not afforded full scholarship and therefore work alongside their studies. So being a student is just another element of their multiple identities.

As a black woman with multiple identities, I recognise that no single aspect of my identity exists in isolation from the others, they are overlapping and connected. It is this realisation that piqued my interest in the intersections between race and gender, as these two social characteristics have profoundly impacted my life and account for my privilege and oppression.

The privileges we receive due to our agent-group identities can mitigate the challenges we experience due to our target-group identities[1].  From my own experience of academia, I found that there were many white women in HE and many gender specific associations and events.  So, my gender acted as a means of engagement, but my racial marginality located me on the periphery, because many times I was the only black woman present, and the attendees and participants were generally blasé about my racial marginality because of their colour blindness.

So I am very cognizant of the fact that my gender may be aligned with my position as an academic, as studies have shown that the gender gap is decreasing in academia[2], but racial inequality still made me feel excluded, rejected, and unsupported and quite frankly lonely in my institution.

My loneliness was the driving force which made me determined to focus my research on black women’s unique experience as gendered-racialised subjects, because I realised that we were being silenced and ignored because of gender and racial inequality, and I wanted to change this.

[1] Jones, S. (2009). Constructing identities at the intersections: An auto ethnographic exploration of multiple dimensions of identity. Journal of College Student Development, 50(3), 287–304.

[2] Press Association. “Gender gap in UK degree subjects doubles in eight years, Ucas study finds” The Guardian, 5 January 2016 Accessed online



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