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Graduate students’ agency and resistance after oppressive experiences

Rosemary J. Perez (School of Education, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA)
L. Wesley Harris, Jr (School of Education, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA)
Claire K. Robbins (School of Education, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)
Cheryl Montgomery (School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 15 January 2020

Issue publication date: 9 April 2020

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to explore how graduate students demonstrated agency after having oppressive or invalidating experiences based on their socially constructed identities during graduate school and the effects of leveraging agency.

Design/methodology/approach

This study used critical constructivist qualitative methods (i.e. interviews and visual methods) to explore how 44 graduate students across an array of disciplines and fields at two public research institutions in the USA demonstrated agency after having oppressive or invalidating experiences targeting one or more of their socially constructed identities.

Findings

In response to oppressive or invalidating experiences related to their socially constructed identity, participants engaged in self-advocacy, sought/created support via community, conserved their psychological and emotional energy and constructed space for identity-conscious scholarship and practice. Although participants leveraged their agency, the strategies they used were often geared toward surviving environments that were not designed to affirm their identities or support their success.

Research limitations/implications

This study highlights the need for additional research to complicate educators’ understandings of how graduate students respond to oppressive or invalidating experiences and the nature of bi-directional socialization processes.

Practical implications

The findings of this study reinforce the need to foster equitable and inclusive graduate education experiences where students may use their agency to thrive rather than to survive.

Originality/value

Few studies examine graduate students’ agency during their socialization to their disciplines and fields. This study adds complexity to researchers’ understandings of bi-directional socialization processes in the context of graduate education.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the College of Human Sciences at the Iowa State University and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech.

Citation

Perez, R.J., Harris, Jr, L.W., Robbins, C.K. and Montgomery, C. (2020), "Graduate students’ agency and resistance after oppressive experiences", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 57-71. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-06-2019-0057

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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