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The Unchosen Me

Race, Gender, and Identity among Black Women in College

Rachelle Winkle-Wagner

Publication Year: 2009

Racial and gender inequities persist among college students, despite ongoing efforts to combat them. Students of color face alienation, stereotyping, low expectations, and lingering racism even as they actively engage in the academic and social worlds of college life. The Unchosen Me examines the experiences of African American collegiate women and the identity-related pressures they encounter both on and off campus. Rachelle Winkle-Wagner finds that the predominantly white college environment often denies African American students the chance to determine their own sense of self. Even the very programs and policies developed to promote racial equality may effectively impose “unchosen” identities on underrepresented students. She offers clear evidence of this interactive process, showing how race, gender, and identity are created through interactions among one’s self, others, and society. At the heart of this book are the voices of women who struggle to define and maintain their identities during college. In a unique series of focus groups called “sister circles,” these women could speak freely and openly about the pressures and tensions they faced in school. The Unchosen Me is a rich examination of the underrepresented student experience, offering a new approach to studying identity, race, and gender in higher education.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. ix-xi

The writing of this book initiated, in many ways, an ongoing, transformative process. To the 30 women whose stories are represented in this book, I hope that the sisterhood fostered during the course of this research provided a safe haven, or at the very least a place to speak—a place to harness your own power—because you all have strength and a power that will transform society. ...

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1. The “Problem” of Race and Gender

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pp. 1-24

College was both a dream and a promise for Michelle. At the age of seven, her friend was shot in a senseless drug-related incident in their own urban Chicago neighborhood. She remembers lying in the hospital bed with her friend and making a pact—a promise that they would get out of their neighborhood, and someday they would go to college. ...

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2. The Unchosen Me: The Intersection of Opportunity, Privilege, and Choice

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pp. 25-48

Are all identities created equal? Beverly Tatum (2000) argues that in American society some identities, namely, those associated with Whiteness, are privileged over others. If this is the case, who has the power to determine which identities are privileged? ...

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3. Research across the Color Line: Empowerment, Mutual Learning, and Difficult Decisions

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pp. 49-65

I remember feeling a knot in the pit of my stomach as this research project began. Weeks had passed, and I had been waiting in dorm lounges, coffee shops, pizza places, conference rooms, and the campus union alone with stacks of pizzas, over and over again—waiting for the women to come. ...

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4. Walking in Enemy Territory: Being Black on Campus

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pp. 66-75

To be an African American woman at a predominantly White institution like Midwest University means “isolation,” “alienation,” and navigating “culture shock,” according to the women in this study.1 Once students made the decision to attend college and chose a particular institution, they faced the sometimes arduous process of transitioning into and through the campus environment. ...

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5. Academic Performances: Between the Spotlight and Invisibility

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pp. 76-92

Many of the African American women’s campus experiences alternated between being in the spotlight, representing their entire racial group, and feeling invisible—as if they didn’t exist or stood in the wings. This was particularly the case in academic settings. ...

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6. “Too White” or “Too Ghetto”? The Racial Tug-of-war for Black Women

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pp. 93-113

Michelle, quoted above, was not alone in her sentiment about the imposition of race. Indeed, as demonstrated in chapter 5, Black women repeatedly encountered the imposition of being “spotlighted” or having their identity erased, feeling as if they were “invisible” on campus. Ultimately, “being Black” was something that African American women on campus at Midwest University felt was...

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7. Learning to Be a “Good Woman”: Interpreting Womanhood through Race

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pp. 114-133

Race was gendered, and gender was racialized, as African American women negotiated the predominantly White campus. The categories of race and gender—and arguably class as well, given that the majority of the women self-identified as low-income and/or first-generation college students—intersect so completely that it was not possible for the women to explore their gendered experiences...

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8. The Unchosen Me and the Interactions That Create Race and Gender

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pp. 134-165

Over a century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois (1903/2003) coined the phrase “double consciousness” to describe the tension that many African Americans felt in American society. Du Bois argued that many African Americans had to remember and enact cultural mores and norms from two cultures—their own and the main-stream Eurocentric culture—acting differently in each culture. ...


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pp. 167-194


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pp. 195-206


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pp. 207-221


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pp. 223-227

E-ISBN-13: 9781421402932
E-ISBN-10: 1421402939
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801893544
Print-ISBN-10: 0801893542

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 11 line drawings
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 774849082
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Unchosen Me

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Group identity -- United States.
  • Universities and colleges -- United States -- Sociological aspects.
  • African American women -- Education (Higher).
  • African Americans -- Education (Higher)
  • Women, Black -- Education (Higher) -- United States.
  • College students, Black -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Sex discrimination in higher education -- United States.
  • Blacks -- Education (Higher) -- United States.
  • African American college students -- Social conditions
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