Term of Award

Summer 2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies (Ed.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (restricted to Georgia Southern)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading

Committee Chair

Sabrina N. Ross

Committee Member 1

Ming Fang He

Committee Member 2

Daniel Chapman

Committee Member 3

Meca Williams-Johnson

Committee Member 3 Email



This inquiry explores the experiences of Black women as they navigate through the workplace while embracing their natural hair. Four college-educated, professional, career-oriented Black women who have had natural hair for five or more years served as the catalyst of creating this dissertation by participating in semi-structured interviews.

Theoretically, drawing upon the frameworks of critical race theory, Black Feminist Thought, and Womanism, I examine the trials and victories that each of the participants have endured both in their personal and professional lives as a result of their natural hair. Methodologically, I utilize Black feminist narratives to capture the authentic, unfiltered voices of Palm, Oak, Olive, and Maple, my research participants, in order to construct meaning from each of their experiences.

Three findings and six themes emerged from the research. The three findings include: (1) Empowering self-definitions that each participant achieved occurred within the context of sometimes severe internal and external pressures to confirm to White hegemonic standards of beauty; (2) Parents and significant others played a substantial role in the empowerment of the participants and in the decisions of the participants to maintain natural hairstyles; and (3) Historical mistreatment and negative portrayals of Black women in the U.S. continue to influence present-day perceptions of Black women about themselves and about the beauty of their natural hair. The six emerging themes include: (1) Conflicting definitions of what it means to be ‘natural’; (2) Varying approaches to and attitudes about the transition to natural hair; (3) Exemplary job performance; (4) Power of leadership roles; (5) Hegemonic ideologies about beauty are played out inter-generationally within Black families; and (6) The importance of education for altering negative perceptions about Black women.

By giving voice to these four women, it is my hope that this research will shed light on the obstacles that women of color continue to endure even in the midst of the 21st century and that this research will create a sense of urgency in institutional policy makers to initiate ‘courageous conversations of change’, not only for Black women, but all people of color.

Research Data and Supplementary Material