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Dissertation Defense: Michole Washington

May 23, 2024
2:30-4:30 p.m.
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Michole Washington
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"The Space Outside of the Box:  How Does SpaceBox, an Educational Escape Room, Foster a Fugitive Space for Black Girls in STEM?"

Traditional STEM courses often fall short in providing an inclusive environment for Black girls, frequently failing to affirm their intellectual and creative prowess. These girls deserve educational spaces in STEM that appreciate their creativity and freedom to dream, rather than stifling their potential. This dissertation examines how SpaceBox, an educational escape room, establishes a "fugitive space" — a concept recognizing and countering anti-Black practices in education — that allows Black girls to express themselves authentically and cultivate positive self-identities. The research involved playing SpaceBox with a community of Black girls to observe how the gameplay facilitated the flourishing of their identities and joy amidst a STEM challenge.

The study utilized the BlackCreate Framework and Endarkened Storywork for data analysis and interpretation, revealing that it is the “space outside of the box”, rather than the escape room itself, that determines its success as a fugitive space. Data collected through gameplay workshops, including observations, audio recordings, and focus groups, demonstrated the transformative power of supportive communities that respect the autonomy and cultural contributions of Black girls. These communities enhance the girls' confidence and engagement in STEM by celebrating their brilliance and equipping them with the necessary tools to overcome systemic barriers in their education.

This dissertation contributes to educational practices by underscoring the significance of cultural recognition, adult belief systems, and robust support in creating spaces where Black girls can excel in STEM. It also explores innovative applications of Endarkened Storywork in STEM education discussions, marking a preliminary attempt at employing this framework in practical contexts with room for further refinement to fully realize its potential. This research underscores the importance of designing educational environments like escape rooms that do more than entertain; they must also empower and validate the identities of Black girls in STEM.

Dissertation committee is Angela Calabrese Barton (chair), James Holly, Jr. (cognate, College of Engineering), Christopher Quintana, and Natalie S. King