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Celebration of Scholarship and Creative Activity 2021

Women of Color’s Experiences of Pursuing Higher Education During a Pandemic

Amanda Martinez

Senior, Social Work

Ayak Deng

Senior, Anthropology

Nou Xiong

Senior, Human Services Leadership


Women students of color (WSOC) have shared three primary concerns that influence their discomfort and lack of belonging on campus: 1) feeling like they are always being watched and unsure if it is because of their gender or race or both, 2) constantly being put in a position to educate their White peers on issues related to difference, and 3) feeling pressure to represent their racial group in an empowering manner (Esposito, 2011). While it is widely recognized that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a great impact on people worldwide, especially those within marginalized populations, it is unknown how WSOC are experiencing higher education at Predominantly White Institutions (PWI) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, through the present qualitative study, we seek to answer the question, “How are WSOC experiencing higher education at a PWI during the COVID-19 pandemic?” This project aims to amplify the voices of WSOC through photovoice, a qualitative research methodology. Photovoice allows participants to document, reflect, and share their experiences through photographs. The photographs taken by the participants will represent their student pandemic experience. After photographs are taken, the student researchers, who all identify as WSOC, will conduct semi-structured virtual interviews with the participants to understand how the photos represent the participants’ student pandemic experience. The interviews will be audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. After the transcripts are decoded and member-checked by the participants as a trustworthy measure, all researchers will analyze the data by reading, coding, and thematizing the data. For the purpose of presenting results, the student researchers will select participant images and short narrative image descriptions to convey the final research themes. The presentation will conclude with suggestions for how higher education administrators can use the results to better support women students of color during pandemics.

Project Background 

In the literature review it was found that “many women of color (WOC) students have been silently suffering at Predominantly White Institutions (PWI’s) across the country. A deeper examination suggests these students are doing well academically but struggling to maintain positive wellbeing in campus environments that may feel unwelcoming and at times hostile” (Griffith and Sears, 2019). Furthermore, it was found that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted marginalized populations and that more responsibilities have fallen on women. It is important that higher education professionals understand the consequences that the intersection of identities has on students (Morabito, 2020). As student researchers and women of color, we wanted to conduct this research to provide knowledge about the impacts of COVID-19 on minority groups that are being affected at a higher rate due to their intersections of identity. The creative approach that will be taken is photovoice, which will be used in order to document the experiences of women of color in higher education through photographs. The process of this project began in Fall of 2020 and is still ongoing. We needed to secure finding and IRB approval before recruiting and beginning the interview process. Once this was completed, photographs were collected by the participants and 1.5 hour interviews were conducted. The interviews were transcribed verbatim by the researchers and an iterative data analysis was completed to identify common themes. The images will be printed and put up for display in the Reeve Second Floor Gallery in hopes of increasing awareness and bringing about change within the community. This project aims to amplify the voices of women of color within the campus community and reveal areas of need to support women of color.

What Do You Think? 

We encourage you to leave a respectful note, thought or comment with the presenter(s) below as a means of engaging with them. Your responses are appreciated and the presenter(s) will be participating in the conversation. 


  1. Matthew Ringenberg

    Thank you for your discovery and elaboration of the experiences of WOC on our campus. It is both meaningful and has practical implications. The organization into themes was helpful in understanding the content.

  2. Morgan DiPietro

    I love this project! It’s so important for our community! So many quotes in this project are so beautiful and it seems that you all had some great participants. I also agree that administration should take more action to create a more inclusive environment at UWO. It’s hard to see professors and administrators that lack basic knowledge about POC, LGBTQ+, ect. I would specifically like to see more funding going towards programs and departments that support minority students. Thanks so much for presenting!!

  3. Robbie Wagoner

    Great work. I think that this kind of research into people’s experiences during the pandemic will be of interest for years to come. I hope that you or others will carry out similar projects in years to come as we emerge from the crisis.

  4. Cordelia Bowlus

    Such important qualitative research! The experiences/stories you have collected are an important contribution to help us gain an understanding of the true impact of the pandemic on women. I hope you and others will carry continue with this, maybe asking similar questions of white women students who are neither low-income or first generation and could serve as a control group.

  5. Burgundy Pendragon

    I think you three did a really great job and on an important and under-researched field (Women Students of Color)! You have something important to say with this research, and I think you three have bright futures as researchers/activists/whatever you want to do. I hope, when your research is done, you will be able to get it published in a journal!

  6. Jeremiah Bohr

    Very impressive and important project. Your methodological approach added a lot of depth and let your respondents’ voices shine through. Great organization of the interview data, this is a model of how to present qualitative research like this! The fact that you all collected this data during the pandemic makes it that much more impressive and important, as qualitative research faces so many additional hurdles.


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