Date of Award

Spring 4-28-2023

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science and International Affairs

Department Chair or Program Director

Cooperman, Rosalyn

First Advisor

Cooperman, Rosalyn

Major or Concentration

African American Studies


The University of Mary Washington is a liberal arts institution founded in 1908 as a normal and industrial school for women (Our History - About UMW, 2015). Because of its small size, Mary Washington was historically known as Virginia’s “undiscovered gem” (Boyer, 2011). Mary Washington is described as a place built to support the “innovative, passionate, intellectual, and genuine” (Boyer, 2011). However, in 2020, the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade and a racial protest that took place near the college’s campus caused many Black collegiate women at Mary Washington to question if their university was built to support them or exclusively the white women who were first welcomed there. Historically, Black women in predominantly white places have had to protect themselves when their institutions abandoned them. Black women at Mary Washington have had to create spaces for themselves in an environment that was never meant to facilitate their survival. This practice continues to this day. Guided by Jatia Wrighten’s heavy lifter theory and the Black collegiate women before me, I examine the survival strategies that Black women create at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and how those strategies translate into policy solutions. To bind my research, I focus on the University of Mary Washington and the University of Virginia. Through historical analysis, literature review, and data collection from social media accounts, I found that Black collegiate women develop innovative and complex survival strategies to affirm their identity and to make space for Black people and other marginalized groups on campus. These survival strategies inherently embody harm reduction and the liberationist policy-making that serves not just the collegiate space, but the world.