Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Teacher Education and Teacher Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jeremy Price

Committee Member

Kathryn Herr

Committee Member

Douglas B. Larkin


How does a teaching practice meet structural violence and oppression? And, how do teachers navigate systems they wish to change, in which they are also participating? This study is a qualitative investigation of institutional racism and power in U.S. alternative educational settings, and the knowledge and experiences of six Black women educators working to counteract the problem from the inside. There is a vast literature on preparing teachers for diverse classrooms; however, it has not adequately represented teachers who deploy transformative practices to directly challenge institutional racism in nontraditional educational settings, nor has it addressed the costs associated with doing this work. This study was informed by Black feminist epistemology (Hill-Collins, 2000) and critical bifocality (Weis & Fine, 2012), which account for the macro and micro level phenomena simultaneously influencing Black women’s personal and professional lives. Purposive and snowball sampling were used to recruit Black women educators from established social justice and activist-oriented teacher networks in New York City. Six Black women educators teaching marginalized youth 13-24 years old in New York City alternative educational settings were selected. Data was collected through two phases of in-depth semi-structured interviews using open-ended questions. Findings: first, teachers’ biographies and professional journeys were the frames through which they learned to understand, navigate, and defend against structural violence and oppression. Prior life experiences, family/community, and nontraditional education were more influential in shaping their professional trajectories and teaching them how to be transformative educators than much of their formal teacher preparation. Second, teachers’ knowledges about institutional power and critical ability to recognize its operation in their respective work environments were key factors driving their resilience, navigational creativity, and clarity about the purposes of their activism against forms of institutional racism and structural violence. It was teachers’ critical consciousness (Freire, 1970) and resulting intentionality about dismantling systemic racism that both enabled their work and distinguished their practices from those of other educators. Third, the chosen nontraditional teaching environment of each educator was a powerfully mediating force for transformative work. Participants regularly witnessed trauma, violence, and internalized oppression suffered by students, while also enduring their own feelings of fragmentation and invisibility at the hands of their institutions. Their work was a way to attend to students’ humanity and move them toward liberation, interrupt harmful institutional practices, and also to heal and restore themselves.

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