Deficit theory can still haunt the academy, and nowhere is this more prolific than in rhetoric used to explain the position and overall experience, of Black Students in Higher Education. The adoption of a Critical Race Theory (CRT) approach is helpful in illuminating how and why this happens, especially if combined with auto/biographical narrative enquiry. And how, in thought and practice, the academy can be made more inclusive. The study illuminates something more complex and human than theory alone in that the lives of three women (Zara, Gail and Mary the researcher), are redolent with the imprints of family, gender, generational change, migration and cultural richness attesting “community cultural wealth” and a challenge to “cultural capital” narrowly defined. To understand us and our narratives, requires an auto/biographical imagination where there is an inquisitiveness to find out the individual’s historical and social as well as intimate experiences in society and to give meaning to these. Rather than a deficit model, the argument is that black students demonstrate forms of resilience, and that the academy needs to learn, in theory and practice, from what we have to offer.
There is, as part of the above, an interrogation of what being a university is and might be. There can be emptiness in policy statements, as well as avoidance, on the one hand; on the other, it can be a place where difficult issues are addressed, in passionate, reflexive, intellectual yet also humane ways. It identifies our responsibilities and roles as champions of social justice as the very essence of being an academic. It paints a picture of what the more inclusive university might be like, alongside an understanding of how difficult it is for humans to engage with difficulty and complexity, of race, stereotyping and discrimination as it pertains to the academy.