Date of Award


Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

David Sapp

Second Advisor

Marta Baltodano

Third Advisor

Jill Bickett


In California community colleges, students of color reach educational milestones and culminating outcomes disproportionately less often than their peers. In the past decade, the state has committed renewed energy to refining student equity plan regulations requiring individual colleges to identify and develop strategies to close such gaps. This dissertation sought to focus on the intended beneficiaries of these efforts, asking how students themselves define and experience equity. Using semistructured, narrative interviews to explore the experiences of nine students of color at a California community college, this qualitative case was supported by institutional documents, participant observation, and interviews with college personnel. This inquiry was conceptually framed by Dowd and Bensimon’s (2015) insights on equity’s meaning as a standard of justice, California student equity plan success indicators, and Yosso’s (2005) community cultural wealth. Students’ stories wove tapestries of struggles and triumphs. Their engagement with the college and coursework was often mediated by the external circumstances and internal tumult of their lived experiences and hurdles that derived from college’s personnel or processes. Alternately, students found informational, material, social, and motivational resources in their home networks, college programs, relationships with personnel, and their own recognition of personal growth. Students’ experiences with the college denoted equity by its presence and its absence. While affirmatively identifying instances of caring, validation, and growth, less positive experiences revealed the extent to which equity remains aspirational. These findings give voice to the asymmetries between policy/regulatory efforts to redress entrenched educational inequities and the realities of students’ lived experience.