Hidden, but not hiding : a multiple case study exploring the identity development of Black female collegiate athletes and their participation in predominantly White sports.


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Often, Black female athletes find themselves as the ostracized “other” in various life situations, especially in collegiate sport settings (Currie, 2016; Haynes et al., 2020). Forced to juggle intersecting identities while navigating the negative effects of microaggressions, stereotype threat, and cultural assimilation, Black female athletes are more susceptible to experiencing social and emotional isolation than their non-Black teammates (Cooper & Newton, 2021; Crenshaw, 2015; Francique, 2018). This study explored the lived experiences, stories, and navigational strategies of Black female collegiate athletes at PWIs who have an added identity barrier of participating in a predominantly White sport. This study aimed to add to the existing literature and fill in the gaps for future researchers aiming to understand how identity is impacted from an “us versus them” frame of reference.

This study used a qualitative multiple case study research design which allowed me to holistically look at each participant as their own individual story connected to each other through overarching feelings, emotions, outlooks, and experiences. I applied the theoretical framework of Social Identity Theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1978) to examine how the participants socially categorized, socially identified, and socially compared themselves to those around them. Participants were chosen based on a specific criteria and one-on-one interviews, dyadic interviews, and an identity map drawing exercise were used to capture the lived experiences of the participants. The data analysis approach included thoroughly reviewing case transcriptions and identity maps by looking for keywords and coding overlapping experiences by connecting them to previous literature and SIT (Tajfel & Turner, 1978) mental processes.

The findings from this study showed that identity navigation for Black female athletes participating in predominantly White sports is complex. Feelings of social isolation, comparison, and out-group membership create negative spaces for proper identity development. Although the participants attended differing colleges across the United States, their experiences with exclusion and ostracization significantly impacted their self-esteem. Consequently, the findings of this study indicated the need for more awareness to be placed on fostering positive and healthy identity development strategies and skills.