Gray Clouds Over Ivory Towers: Struggles Facing Black, First Generation Social Work Research Doctoral Students

Fussell-Ware / Advances in Social Work / September 2021

Black, first-generation doctoral students can be classified as those who belong to the African diaspora and come from families with parents who do not have bachelor’s degrees. Data shows that over half of Black doctoral degree recipients, across all fields, have first-generation status, and literature has shown that these students experience several challenges during their doctoral journey that their peers do not. This paper details six of these challenges for Black, first-generation research doctoral students in social work programs. These challenges result in educational disparities disfavoring these students, and, as such, social workers are compelled by our Code of Ethics to work against these forms of social injustice. This conceptual discussion uses Critical Race Theory and Social Capital Theory to explain the continued existence of these challenges, followed by recommendations that social work educators, academic institutions, and educational organizations can use to improve conditions for Black, first-generation social work research doctoral students across the country. If social work educators take this critical issue, its associated challenges, and the proposed recommendations seriously, they can begin to create safe and actively anti-racist and anti-classist academic environments that are conducive to the success of this student population.