Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Michelle Fine


Tamara R. Buckley

Committee Members

William E. Cross

Justin T. Brown

Alondra Nelson

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Africana Studies | Genetics | Psychology | Social Psychology | Theatre and Performance Studies


genetic ancestry testing, racial identity, racial becoming, encounter events, theater


Racial identity literature has typically focused on identity formation through a series of stages. It also has centered how the experience of negative encounter events informs racial identity formation. With the advent of new genealogical and genomic technology, it is imperative to expand the focus of identity literatures to include encounter events, which participants elect to experience (i.e. self-initiated or agentic encounter events). By using this frame, identity processes become fluid and informed by individual life experiences. In the context of this study, direct to consumer genetic ancestry tests (DTC-GAT) are operationalized as a self-initiated encounter event. Participants were enrolled in an arts-in-education program that connects self-identified Black Americans with their ancestral roots through theater and genetic ancestry tests. The study uses a series of methods: theater performance; critical identity maps; modified life narrative interviews; participant observation; and group interviews to understand how agentic encounter events inform understandings of the self and others. Each of the eight participants took a genetic ancestry test to determine their country of origin. Over the course of three weeks, participants explored their personal histories, while creating theater pieces reflective of their hopes and experiences. Subsequent interviews highlighted how participants internalized the genetic test results in varying ways. Results indicated that similar themes related to self-determination, identity formation, confronting ancestral traumas, concerns about future steps, respect, and feelings of belongingness reverberated across interviews. Overall, this research opens the possibility of integrating new information generated by genetic ancestry tests into an ever-evolving and dynamic self, creating new avenues for exploration within critical social psychology.