Dissertation Title and Summary

When Joy Comes in the Morning: An Exploration into the Experiences of Black Female Doctoral Students at Predominantly White Institutions

My qualitative dissertation examines the lived experiences of Black women who transition directly from their undergraduate degree programs into doctoral programs at predominately White institutions (PWI). I argue that this specific transition is unique thus creating a distinct experience that must be deeply explored. Using Black feminist theory and its’ five dimensions as the underlining theoretical framework, positive emotional responses such as joy are specifically analyzed to evaluate how those responses contribute to high resiliency and persistence in graduate programs. 

I am collecting data through two interlocking methods – in-person interviews and focus groups and recruiting between nine to twelve Black women who are enrolled in a doctoral program at an institution within the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. As doctoral programs and the Academy in general look to diversify their populations, this dissertation project not only becomes the foundational literature regarding Black women who directly transition to their doctorates but also challenges academic literature that views Black female women graduate students through a deficit approach.


Christina Sessoms is a doctoral candidate in the American Studies department at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD). Originally from the metropolitan Seattle, Washington area, she generally studies Black women, higher education, and joy as a resilience mechanism.

Christina received her Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Ethnic Studies with a focus on Black Studies and a minor in Political Science from Washington State University in May of 2015 and transitioned directly into her doctoral program.

At UMD, Christina serves as the graduate assistant for The University Career Center & President’s Promise as a co-instructor for a career readiness course. She continues to be her department’s representative for the Dean’s Graduate Student Advisory Board and is an active member of UMD’s Black Graduate Student Union Executive Board. Christina received the President’s Commission on Women’s Issues’ 2019 Women of Influence Award in recognition of her effective involvement in activities that span the spectrum of women’s issues from career advancement to sexual misconduct policies.