¡Sí Se Puede!: Understanding the Experiences of Latina Students During Their Doctoral Journey at a Hispanic-Serving Institution

Flor del Rocio Acevedo, University of Texas at El Paso


The existing body of literature on Latinas has mostly been focused on the undergraduate student experience (Hernandez, 2002; Hurtado et al., 1996; Kena et al., 2016; Tinto & Goodsell, 1994; Torres, 2004). Additionally, despite the increasing participation of women in graduate education since the 1980s (Walker et al., 2008), Latinas have been and continue to be underrepresented in doctoral programs and the professorate (Myers, 2016). In spite of recent increases in enrollment, Latinas attained just 8.8 percent of the doctoral degrees awarded from 2018-2019 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2020). As Latinas are projected to account for a third of all women in the United States by the year 2060 (Gándara, 2015), it is crucial to understand their experiences in doctoral programs and how their presence in higher education can disrupt the continuous dissemination of dominant culture and knowledge that reinforces the inequalities and systemic barriers in academia. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the experiences of Latina doctoral students in STEM and non-STEM disciplines at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) on the US-Mexico border. Through the use of Latino Critical Theory (LatCrit) (Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001) as the conceptual framework, combined with Chicana Feminist Epistemology (Anzaldúa, 1987; Delgado Bernal, 1998), intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989), and testimonios, (Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001; Pérez Huber, 2009) the research explored the ways in which the intersections of gender, ethnicity, and race, amongst other salient identities, shape Latina women’s doctoral experiences and the support systems and coping strategies these women utilized during their doctoral study. The findings illustrate how a lack of cultural sensitivity in doctoral programs resulted in various challenges, including micro-aggressions, racism, and other biased behavior, compounded by poor mentorship, stress in balancing academia and home culture, imposter syndrome, and heartbreak. Nevertheless, through the participants’ own agency (Solórzano & Bernal, 2001) and various support systems, such as family, peers, faculty advisors, and mentors, the participants were able to navigate academia and persist through their programs. They used the experiential knowledge (Delgado Bernal, 2002) they gained as doctoral students to strengthen their voices, using their language and culture to resist and decentralize the normative hegemonic ideologies and practices that have been and continue to be detrimental to Women of Color and other minoritized groups. Ultimately, this study showcased the lived experiences of 14 Latina doctoral students from their own perspectives to inform future research, institutional practice and policy.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Womens studies|Higher education|Latin American Studies

Recommended Citation

Acevedo, Flor del Rocio, "¡Sí Se Puede!: Understanding the Experiences of Latina Students During Their Doctoral Journey at a Hispanic-Serving Institution" (2021). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI28865458.