Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Zeena Zakharia

Second Advisor

Patricia Krueger-Henney

Third Advisor

Adrian Mims


This study examined how Black males in rigorous mathematics courses at one U.S. urban high school explained the development of their positive mathematics identity. Drawing on students’ own voices, it aimed to provide a counter-narrative to dominant accounts depicting Black males as academic failures and to theories about their underachievement.

The academic achievement gap, specifically in mathematics, between Black students and their White counterparts is well documented by quantitative studies. Researchers have developed several theories to explain the underachievement of Black males in mathematics. These studies position Black males as academically inferior and mathematics as a White male space. As researchers seek to bridge this gap, more nuanced approaches that include the socio-cultural and -political explanations Black males give for their success are essential. This study theorized the multi-dimensionality of Black male math identity and its relationship to the achievement gap. Positive mathematics identity development can account for the success of Black males who oppose the deficit-based rationale for Black male low performance.

Drawing on critical race theory and phenomenological in-depth interview methods, this study documented a set of counter-stories that challenge the majoritarian discourse of racial privilege and explain how Black males develop their mathematics identity. The counter-stories illuminated the synthesis of two domains leading to the development of strong racial and academic identities, in defiance of racist stereotypes: (1) school supports that foster trust cultures in which discriminatory structures are dismantled and “otherness” opposed, and (2) families and community members who actively uphold the value of education.

The findings suggest that the alignment of actions and messages from adults at home and at school can provide a consistent web of support for academic identities to flourish as students mediate their experience of societal racism in tandem with their mathematics achievement. Embedded in this counter-narrative is the intersectionality of race and immigrant identities, further complicating the dominant discourse on both Black males and immigrants and their academic identities. The implications for educators and policymakers wishing to close the achievement gap prompt a rethinking of schools to offer more equitable and humanizing spaces for Black males to learn and thrive.


Free and open access to this Campus Access Dissertation is made available to the UMass Boston community by ScholarWorks at UMass Boston. Those not on campus and those without a UMass Boston campus username and password may gain access to this dissertation through resources like Proquest Dissertations & Theses Global or through Interlibrary Loan. If you have a UMass Boston campus username and password and would like to download this work from off-campus, click on the "Off-Campus UMass Boston Users" link above.