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Darris Means, 2015 Dissertation of the Year

Clearinghouse is pleased to announce that Darris Means has won the Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Student Values Dissertation Award. This award goes to the author of an outstanding doctoral dissertation relevant to the field of college student character and values development.

Darris MeansDr. Darris Means is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services at the University of Georgia. He primarily works with graduate students in the College Student Affairs Administration Programs (M.Ed., Ed.D., and Ph.D. students). Dr. Means’ research and scholarship focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in K-12 and higher education contexts. He has worked in several areas of higher education and student affairs, including college access and success; fraternity and sorority life; and multicultural affairs. He is the recipient of several awards, including the American Association for Blacks in Higher Education First Place Dissertation Award (2014); ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness Research Recognition Award (2014); Elon University’s Young Alumnus of the Year Award (2013); and the Southern Association for College Student Affairs Bobby E. Leach Award (2011). Dr. Means earned his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Political Science from Elon University. He went on to earn his M.Ed. in Counselor Education with a focus in Student Affairs from Clemson University. In 2014, he earned his Ph.D. in Educational Research and Policy Analysis with a focus in Higher Education.


Dissertation Title: Demonized No More: The Spiritual Journeys and Spaces of Black Gay Male College Students at Predominantly White Institutions

Dissertation in Brief: Spirituality plays a significant role in the lives of college students (Astin, Astin, & Lindholm, 2011; Bryant, Choi, & Yasuno, 2003; Chickering, 2006; Parks, 2000). However, Black gay males are uniquely positioned with regards to spirituality given how race, gender, and sexual orientation are generally perceived and experienced in U.S. society. Unfortunately, current research has overall excluded the spiritual experiences of Black gay male college students. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the spiritual journeys and spaces of Black gay male college students who attend predominantly White institutions. This study used Abes’ (2009, 2012) “theoretical borderlands” concept as a framework by employing two theoretical frameworks—constructivism and quare theory—to design the study, collect data, and analyze the data. Data collection involved interviews, field observations, and photovoice. Data were analyzed by first utilizing a constructivism lens, specifically self-authorship. Data were next analyzed by using a quare theory lens. The two theoretical frameworks were then applied to one case study to understand how the two frameworks worked together to inform the spiritual journey and spaces of one Black gay male college student. Major findings included: (a) the students perceived spirituality to be connected with their own religion but also connected to nature, science, and music; (b) the students experienced a spiritual trajectory along epistemological, intrapersonal, and interpersonal dimensions as they became authors of their own spirituality; (c) the students experienced homophobia, racism, sexism, and classism during their spiritual journeys and in spiritual spaces; and (d) several students were able to resist the oppression during their spiritual journey by resisting homophobia and racism in dominant spaces and creating spiritual counterspaces. The significance of the findings have implications for practice, policy, theory, and future research.

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