Theses Doctoral

Proof and Possibility: Emerging Mathematics Conceptions, Self-Efficacy, and Identity in the Stories of Contemporary Black Mathematicians

Morrison, Nasriah

A growing body of literature seeks to challenge the deficit-oriented narratives around Black students in mathematics by exploring the perspectives and experiences of successful Black students and professionals in the field—in doing so, aiming to provide counternarratives to the dominant discourse that center their participants’ voices, as well as to understand the factors that may influence Black students’ decisions to pursue advanced mathematics degrees and careers.

Many such studies highlight racialized mathematics identity as a crucial factor for their participants’ long-term mathematics engagement; such studies seek to identify the sociostructural factors that contribute to its development, but generally do not examine the roles of different psychological factors. Despite evidence of the existence of relationships between mathematics identity development and specific cognitive factors such as mathematics conceptions, as well as affective factors such as mathematics self-efficacy, few studies have examined how these various constructs interact with identity development, and in turn, students’ mathematics engagement and learning outcomes. Fewer have examined these factors’ interactions for Black participants.

A comprehensive understanding of how and why Black students decide to persist in mathematics necessitates an integrated approach that simultaneously examines the connections between participants’ psychological and sociostructural factors. In light of past findings around the significant role of mathematics self-efficacy in shaping students’ long-term mathematics engagement; prior findings around relationships between mathematics self-efficacy and identity; and the influences of mathematics conceptions on other affective mathematics beliefs, I chose for the present study to investigate the contributing factors for and interactions between mathematics self-efficacy, identity, and conceptions throughout the academic trajectories of several contemporary Black mathematicians. In doing so, I hoped to amplify my participants’ perspectives in the broader conversation around how to support Black students and students belonging to other historically excluded groups as they navigate mathematics learning environments that, at times, fail to stimulate, nurture, or uplift them.

Using thematic analysis of several extensive semi-structured interviews, this narrative inquiry investigated these questions through the narratives of five contemporary Black mathematicians who were selected from a prior study on the impacts of sharing diverse mathematicians’ stories with students. Data sources included participants’ extant interview transcripts from both this study and other prior studies; as well as extensive follow-up interviews, online public engagement materials such as lectures and media publications, and my own memos. Data was coded using thematic analysis for both deductive themes related to the conceptual framework for this study, as well as emerging themes suggesting the existence of potential interactions between these constructs.

Findings, which are reported in narrative form, suggest the importance of early and ongoing engagement with open-ended and reasoning-based mathematics tasks as a means of promoting broad conceptions of mathematics, self-efficacy for completing more challenging nonroutine tasks, as well as robust mathematics identities. Additionally, and in contrast to much of the literature around self-efficacy sources, findings from the present study highlight the particular importance of vicarious experiences of success by other Black mathematicians in shaping not only participants’ mathematics self-efficacies but their conceptions of mathematics, and accordingly, their dispositions toward mathematics.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Walker, Erica
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2024