Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Exploring Complexities of Multiple Identities of Lesbians in a Black College Environment

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Exploring Complexities of Multiple Identities of Lesbians in a Black College Environment

Article excerpt

Abstract

Experiences of first year female Black students who self-identified themselves as lesbian and attended a historically Black university are examined. A reconceptualized Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity and the Multidimensional Identity Model were used to establish the framework for this study. Overall the study provided a current identity status for participants which included race, gender, and sexual orientation. Participants were five students who self-identified themselves as lesbian and Black. Each of the five participated individually in a semi-structured interview. Results of data from the interviews revealed coming in, triple consciousness, and sister/outsider as three themes for discussion. Findings revealed how the participants made sense of their identity internally and in relation to external expectations and influences as well as how they negotiated the complexities of their multiple identities in college.

Introduction

In recent years, and mostly from predominately White Institutions (PWIs), the research literature pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students has steadily increased with much of it focusing on leadership development (Renn Sc Bilodeau, 2005) and facilitating campus awareness (Wall, Washington, Evans, & Papish, 2000) as well as student experiences at catholic institutions (Love, 1997) and student retention in college (Sanio, 2004). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students often feel marginalized in higher education. College represents a major developmental transition for all students and may be a time of personal growth and stress (Turner-Musa & Wilson, 2006). In addition to college adjustment, balancing academic responsibilities and grappling with the developmental concerns that all students encounter, LGBT students must also navigate the development of their sexual identities. In doing so, they face challenges such as revealing this aspect of their identity to family and friends, establishing romantic relationships and coping with difference (Evans & Wall, 1991; Savin-Williams, 1998). Noted activist, scholar, and self -proclaimed lesbian feminist, Audre Lorde (1983) wrote Zami: A New Spelling of My Name as the coming-of-age story of a young Black woman who explores and ultimately attains resolve with her lesbian sexual identity. Lorde 's story in many ways is reminiscent of the experiences that many college women endure. Lorde often wrote about the plights of Black women while exploring racism, sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia. She discussed how the manifestations of multiple identities are interpreted by society and how they affect the lives of Black women. When Lorde wrote about Black women she acknowledged that they "have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism" (Lorde, 1984, p. 42). She further contended that "[Black women] have too often been expected to be all things to all people and speak everyone else's position but [their] very own (Lorde, 1984, p. 62). This is not always easy, especially in college campus environments that are not prepared to meet the needs of LGBT students and have not initiated efforts toward assisting them. Such is further compounded by acts of violence and intolerance directed at these students. As Evans (2000) stated, "the negative forces of discrimination and victimization directed toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual people often create roadblocks to successful self -development" (p. 83). Thus, in some college environments LGBT students face an invisible existence or one filled with the threat of violence and fear of persistent prejudice that can lead to a great deal of confusion and feelings of rejection. The consequences of this invisible existence include: student failure, challenges with managing emotions, and retreat from dealing with one's own holistic development.

Considering the aforementioned challenges that these students undergo in general, there are even greater complications when racial identity development is considered. …

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