low angle view of cheerful young african american woman holding camera and smiling at camera

Empowering Voices, Challenging Norms: The Photovoice Journey of Black Girls and College Women

Payne, A. N. (2023). A Black feminist youth participatory action research photovoice exploration of Black girls and college women. American Journal of Community Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12694

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

About the Study

Although research provides an outlet to amplify the activism and voices of Black girls and women, few evaluate spaces for Black girls and women to co-participate in photovoice action research spaces. Youth participatory research (YPAR) is a research approach that promotes youth voices and youth-researcher collaborations on studies relevant to their experiences. Given photovoice is a YPAR method that encourages youth to express their identities and experiences through photography, utilizing it alongside YPAR allows Black girls and women to actively engage in the knowledge production of their experiences and advocate for themselves. This YPAR photovoice study evaluated how Black girls (14-17) and women (19-22) in “BlackGirlsResearch” (pseudonym), a YPAR mentoring program, expressed their gendered racial identities & experiences in predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Three main themes emerged from a thematic analysis of the photovoice narratives.

Key Findings:

  • Challenges at PWIs: Although Black girls and women are increasingly pursuing and academically succeeding in higher education compared to the rest of the American population, many still feel isolated, underrepresented, and discriminated against. These issues persist in higher education. While many institutions market themselves as diverse and inclusive, many of their students of color (specifically, Black students) feel like their practices are performative and create a false sense of inclusivity. 
  • Empowerment through Art, Culture, and Breaking Conformity: Many participants expressed their appreciation for music & artwork centered around Black girls & women and how they, in turn, impact their lives. Having positive representations of themselves through music & art encouraged them to embody their favorite artists and musicians and to use their creative potential to depict their goals and futures. Similarly, photovoice provided participants space to challenge stereotypical representations, express their portrayals of their identities, as well as promote diversity and inclusion. 
  • Activism, Inclusion, and Accountability in PWIs: The participants highlighted the activism they’ve been engaged in to push for institutional changes and hold PWIs accountable for upholding diversity and inclusion on their campuses. Despite the prevalence of Black Lives Matter discussions and protests that arose after the death of George Floyd, many Black women and girls still felt like their own perspectives and safety were disregarded, highlighting the need for more intersectional approaches in addressing diversity, inclusion, and accountability.

Implications for Mentoring

The results demonstrate how YPAR spaces encourage individuals to confront and reestablish dominant narratives about underrepresented populations. Photovoice, in combination with YPAR methodologies, allows participants to bolster their self-confidence, challenge stereotypes, construct new representations of themselves, and advocate for change. While this study doesn’t directly focus on mentoring, it provides some implications on how mentoring programs can better support Black women and girls, promote more inclusive positive youth development, and encourage community solutions. 

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