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The intersection of race, gender, and class in social transitions: Caribbean immigrant women negotiating United States higher education

McFarlane, Tracy A

Tracy Ann McFarlane

City University of New York





Ann Arbor, United States

Abstract: The experiences of immigrant women of color within US higher education provide a unique opportunity to understand the complex influences of intersecting identities within changing social contexts. This study was designed to determine how the social categories of gender, class, race, and nationality operate in Caribbean immigrant women's experience of being college students. Focus groups and life story interviews were conducted with 27 English-speaking Caribbean-born women attending CUNY undergraduate colleges. The data yielded four main findings: First, Caribbean gender roles and traditions are not homogenous; hence, there is variation in the ways in which these affect women's experiences in the US. Second, nested, overlapping and unrelated social sites shape identity and exclusion for these participants and conversely, their identity determines the social settings and categories of belonging they select. Third, although positive marginality theory explains some of this group's response, it fails to account for members' low levels of participation in any explicitly pan-African activist or advocacy structure. Finally, portraits, based on the life story interviews, confirm the issues raised by the group data, as well as introduce other issues that only become evident in close, individual level analysis. This study of immigrant women of color in higher education has the potential to extend the definition and applications of positive marginality theory, and inform research and practice that addresses on how race, gender and class intersect in social contexts.


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