Year of Publication

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Agriculture

Department

Family Studies

First Advisor

Ronald Werner-Wilson

Abstract

The pathways through which individuals learn to appraise and behave in intimate relationships greatly influence the quality and stability of their relationships. Research on intimate relationships among college students guided by a socialization framework focusing on learning and ways of viewing relationships is limited. The purpose of the present exploratory study was to examine the experiences and processes wherein young Black collegiate women learn to approach, maintain, and reflect on their intimate relationships. This topic is particularly salient to Black collegiate women who find themselves navigating unbalanced dating scenes and negotiating love relationships while balancing academic achievement and career aspirations. Ten Black, heterosexual women attending a four-year institution of higher education participated in three in-depth interviews where they shared life experiences which contributed to their understanding of intimate relationships. Using symbolic interactionism as a guiding framework allowed me to discover the multiple descriptions and meanings the participants assign to the interactions in their families, with their peers, and in their symbolic environments. The narratives shared by the women in this study revealed a number of experiences which prompted them to engage in self-reflection, critique, and learning with respect to self-identity and intimate relationships. Hearing messages, observing others, and experiencing relationships for themselves provided these women with a foundation for knowing the importance of preserving self-worth and self-identity, establishing expectations, and communicating thoughts and feelings. Implications for practice include the importance of developing specialized relationship education culturally and socially relevant to Black collegiate women, training campus professionals on the unique needs and concerns of this population, and educating parents on communicating with daughters about intimate relationship development. Future research should devote specific attention to social context, paternal-daughter relationship communication, and parental relationship modeling.

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