In her Own Words: (De)Marginalizing Black Immigrant Girlhood in an Emancipatory Literacy Classroom

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Seraphin, Wideline
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 05, 2019
Committee Members:
  • Jeanine M. Staples , Dissertation Advisor
  • Jeanine M. Staples , Committee Chair
  • Mark Thomas Kissling, Committee Member
  • Dana Lynn Stuchul, Committee Member
  • Esther Susana Prins, Outside Member
  • black immigrant girls
  • immigrant youth literacies
  • Haitian youth
  • literacy studies
  • literacy education
Black Haitian and Haitian American (H/HA) girls exist within multiple intersections that are not adequately addressed in Literacy Studies. This study offers theoretical and pedagogical insights on what it means to teach and study Black girls from transnational communities. The objective was to conceptualize a space which centered the intersectional lives of Black immigrant girls, and create emancipatory learning experiences in reading and writing instruction. The research questions were: How do H/HA girls enrolled in HELP narrate their identities, place, and girlhood in autobiographical writing? In what ways do H/HA girls generate Discourses of race, place, and girlhood through discursive practices in HELP’s classroom? How do the institutional practices of HELP attempt to center the needs and talents of H/HA girls? How does HELP reconfigure learning spaces? This embedded case study examines two units for analysis: the literacies of five H/HA girls, and the institutional practices of the HELP program. New Literacy Studies, Black Feminist Thought, and Critical Literacy construct the conceptual framework of the emancipatory literacy classroom. The methodology blends critical discourse analysis (CDA) and critical race methodology (CRM) for language analysis, and an interdependent model of literacy for curricular design analysis. The methodology queries how Haitian students understand and engage power dynamics in their worlds, as well as how their literacies signal the racial, ethnic, and gendered ideologies they draw on as Black immigrant girls. The girls generated autobiographical texts that mostly reproduced dominant Discourses of place, they negotiated their alignments to dominant Discourses of identities, and situated their girlhood in terms of their talents, agency and relationships. Grappling with race, place, and girlhood produced classroom discussions in which the girls supported each other, challenged their peers to think differently, and exemplified vulnerability when bearing uncomfortable truths of themselves. HELP reconfigured learning spaces by functioning as an independent Black Institution exercising decolonizing pedagogy congruent with the African diasporic traditions of literacy as liberation.