Swimming Upstream: The Case of Black Males in Information Technology (IT) Higher Education

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Cain, Curtis
Graduate Program:
Information Sciences and Technology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
January 13, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Eileen M Trauth, Dissertation Advisor
  • Eileen M Trauth, Committee Chair
  • Lynette Marie Yarger, Committee Member
  • Suzanne Adair, Committee Member
  • Michael Mc Neese, Committee Member
  • Kshiti (K D ) Joshi, Special Member
  • Black males
  • career choice
  • diversity
  • digital inequality
  • ethnicity
  • race
  • IT workforce
  • theory development
The underrepresentation of Black males in Information Technology (IT) is a problem in academia and our society. Information Technology (IT) fields have traditionally been dominated by White and Asian males. Significant research has been conducted to begin to understand the causes that deter women from entering IT. This dissertation employs theory that has been developed to understand women’s underrepresentation in IT and has applied it to the context of Black males in IT. The capacity to use IT enables individuals to participate fully in society. In today’s highly technological and connected world, IT fields can provide an opportunity to engage in a thriving workplace. However, to have a more inclusive workforce it is necessary to understand what challenges face underrepresented minorities and how they navigate around those challenges. In this study, the Individual Differences Theory of Gender and IT (IDTGIT) was used to understand factors that contribute to Black male undergraduate students’ willingness to pursue IT degrees. Qualitative methodology was used to conduct structured interviews with Black males who attended a historically black college or university (HBCU) or who attended a predominantly white institution (PWI). These interviews sought better understanding of the individual, personal, and environmental influences that impact one’s decision to choose and remain in the IT field. Reflexivity was then used as a method to understand the participant responses as well as reflect on the researcher’s own lived experiences. Results relate to each of the three constructs of the theory: 1) Individual Identity (Race/Racial Identity, Age, Gender Identity and Personality/Personal Characteristics); 2) Individual Influences (Role Models, Significant People, Family, IT Identity and coping with Stereotype/Stereotype Threat); and 3) Environmental Influences (Preparation for the IT Field and the Role of Advising). This project adds to the growing body of knowledge about not only race and gender but also how they manifest themselves in the IT field. The research motivation of this dissertation highlights the importance of better understanding Black males at the undergraduate level as a means to develop research and intervention programs related to increased engagement with this underrepresented population.