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Forging paths through hostile territory: intersections of women's identities pursuing post-secondary computing education

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This study explores experiences of women as they pursue post-secondary computing education in various contexts. Using in-depth interviews, the current study employs qualitative methods and draws from an intersectional approach

This study explores experiences of women as they pursue post-secondary computing education in various contexts. Using in-depth interviews, the current study employs qualitative methods and draws from an intersectional approach to focus on how the various barriers emerge for women in different types of computing cultures. In-depth interviews with ten participants were conducted over the course of eight months. Analytical frameworks drawn from the digital divide and explorations of the role of hidden curricula in higher education contexts were used to analyze computing experiences in earlier k-12, informal, workplace, and post-secondary educational contexts to understand how barriers to computing emerge for women. Findings suggest several key themes. First, early experiences in formal education contexts are alienating women who develop an interest in computing. Opportunities for self-guided exploration, play, and tinkering help sustain interest in computing for women of color to engage in computing at the post-secondary level. Second, post-secondary computing climates remain hostile places for women, and in particular, for women of color. Thirdly, women employ a combination of different strategies to navigate these post-secondary computing cultures. Some women internalized existing dominant cultures of computing programs. Others chose exclusively online programs in computing to avoid negative interactions based on assumptions about their identity categories. Some women chose to forge their own pathways through computing to help diversify the culture via teaching, creating their own businesses, and through social programs.

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  • 2012