Liberation! The Personal, Professional and Educational Experiences of Three Latina Students in the Winter Garden Doctoral Program




Martinez, Onesimo M., II

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This qualitative case study highlights the lived experiences of Latinas who successfully completed, or will complete, their doctoral program in educational leadership. This study centers on Latina/o students from the Winter Garden educational leadership doctoral program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). This group of Latina graduates and doctoral students represent the Winter Garden, “called so for its arid lands for year-round crop growth” (Niño, Garza, & Rodriguez, 2018, p. 41). The Winter Garden region includes the Texas counties of Dimmit, Frio, La Salle, and Zavala. The combined population of these four counties is about 49,550, which 86.75% Latino (87.5% in Dimmit, 79.2% in Frio, 86.4% in La Salle, and 93.9% in Zavala) (Niño et al., 2018; U.S. Census, 2017).

As of fall 2018, there have been four cohorts; two cohorts of Ed. D., and two cohorts of Ph. D. These doctoral graduates and candidates attended an off-campus rural site located in Uvalde, TX. This study focused on their personal, professional, and educational journeys as they navigated the doctoral program.

This qualitative case study was guided by the following research question: What are the personal, professional and educational experiences of Latina/o students in a rural doctoral program? Three participants were interviewed in two semi-structured interviews, and all interlocutors participated in a focus group. Additionally, the use of autoethnographies were read to gain a deeper insight of the lived experiences of the participants; however, the autoethnographies were not used in the analysis of the dissertation.

Critical race theory (CRT) and Latina(o) critical theory (LatCrit) were used as theoretical frameworks for the study. CRT is rooted in the studies of Bell and Freeman, who argued that the momentum of the civil rights movement had slowed to an unacceptable pace (Garrison-Wade, Diggs, Estrada, & Galindo, 2012). At the center of CRT is the argument that racism is normal and institutionalized in society (Garrison-Wade et al., 2012; Zambrana et al., 2017). The theory of CRT explores and documents how the structures and systems of inequalities operate regarding racism and race (Johnson & Bryan, 2017). LatCrit, which emerged from CRT, is used to better understand how language, culture, immigration, status, and gender intersect with race, racism, and other forms of oppression in affecting the lives of Latinas/os (Delgado, 1989; Ladson-Billings, 1998; Scribner & Fernandez, 2017; Solorzano & Yosso, 2001; Valdes, 1997).

The experiences of Latina/o students in graduate programs needed to be studied using CRT and LatCrit methodology (Murakami-Ramalho, Piert, & Militello, 2008). Findings from this qualitative case study are organized into three major categories, with three supportive categories in each major category: 1) Social Capital (family support, employer support, and cohort Support); 2) Transformational Program (authentic faculty, face-to-face interaction, college proximity); and 3) Finding Liberation (hope, personal growth, and activism). Implications for practice, policy and research are suggested from the findings of this investigation.


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CRT, Doctoral Program, LatCrit, Latina, Rural Setting, Winter Garden



Educational Leadership and Policy Studies