Theses Doctoral

Black Lives Matter in Higher Education: Empowering Student-Scholar Voices

Tobar, Cynthia

My study documents the formation and impact of the student-led movement of Black Lives Matter in Higher Education (BLMHE) that is housed within Teachers College Higher and Postsecondary Education Program (HPSE). This group consists of HPSE students and faculty that have come together to analyze the effects of systemic societal forces on members of the HPSE community and their broader effects on higher education. BLMHE has since come together to show solidarity and support for students of color at TC through demonstrating their general commitment to social justice in the form of an educational seminar program.

This study, which relies on oral history interviews with BLMHE’s three student co-founders, examines the formation and impact of BLMHE, how they analyze the effects of systemic societal forces on members of their community, and their broader effects on higher education. I am interested in learning to what extent BLMHE plays a role in increasing equitable spaces for Black students who identify as scholars on campus because I want to find out how this form of student activism empowers students as agents for change against systemic racism within higher education. This will permit me to understand how this form of student advocacy compares to other forms of advocacy that seeks to address such inequality in higher education.

This exploratory oral history study centers on three themes: student advocacy within the realms of equitable epistemological spaces, how BLMHE is distinctive from the Black Studies and Black Lives Matter movements, and the role of Teachers College in supporting equitable epistemological spaces that can combat racism in higher education. BLMHE applies an alternative mode of viable activism beyond rallies and protests. I am interested in exploring the effect that involvement in student-led groups such as BLMHE have on increasing equitable spaces for these students as critical scholars within higher education scholarship, as well as their impact on TC as an institution. This student group is challenging not just the inequities within institutional infrastructures of higher education, but the thought processes behind what frames higher education scholarship itself, and which types of academic spaces for this scholarship need to be created for people of color. Further, their work demonstrates the degree to which marginalized Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) students are not content to sit on the sidelines.

This study also goes in-depth in discussing how inclusive archiving that accompanies this research can actively support and empower communities in the collective documentation of their own histories. Study findings will portray how these student members of BLMHE perceived social inequities in higher education, along with their experiences and reflections on microaggressions, diversity and inclusion, have informed their forays with activism. Study findings indicate that in order for higher education to better support these students, it is critical to center them in the process of knowledge creation via educational seminars; this, in turn, can inform change in scholarship. This study concludes that inclusive epistemological spaces created by BLMHE challenge dominant views of power in higher education, validating BIPOC-centered methods and theories while providing resources for scholars of color to thrive in the academy.


  • thumnail for Tobar_tc.columbia_0055E_11368.pdf Tobar_tc.columbia_0055E_11368.pdf application/pdf 1.43 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Drezner, Noah D.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2023