Quieted Voices: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Experiences of Black/African-American Collegiate Aviation Students

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Theodore Wesley Johnson


The aviation industry lacks racial and gender diversity. It is White-male dominated, with 94% of professional pilots identifying as White males, only 3.4% identifying as Black Americans, and less than 5% are female. Research focusing on the participation rates and experience(s) of Black Americans in aviation is scant. The purpose of this study was to understand the experience(s) of Black American collegiate aviation students so higher education and aviation industry leaders could make informed policy decisions and rectify inhospitable work environments, respectively. A phenomenological approach was used to capture the phenomenon via semi-structured interviews of 10 participants. The study revealed three major battles Black aviation students fight due to external and/or internal pressures, which significantly impact their collegiate experience(s) and, to a certain degree, retention. Being a Black woman or a “double only” in an underrepresented space yielded an experience that Black males were unaware of and did not experience but made the collegiate experience of a Black woman very different than that of their male counterparts. Additionally, a student’s involvement in a community of support seemed to be a notable difference-maker in one’s collegiate experience(s). These communities provided salient socio-emotional support for students, helping reduce instances of social isolation and assimilation many of the participants described. Pointed recommendations on how to improve the retention of Black students and Black Americans in collegiate aviation programs and the aviation industry, respectively, were furnished to conclude the study, which were aimed at higher education and industry leadership.

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