Title

African-American student's perceptions of their experiences on a predominantly White campus: A qualitative piece of the persistence puzzle

Date of Award

1996

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Higher Education

Advisor(s)

Joan Netta Burstyn

Keywords

Higher education, Developmental psychology, African Americans, retention

Subject Categories

Higher Education Administration

Abstract

University officials and College administrators at predominantly White institutions of higher education are attempting to respond to the challenge of recruiting, retaining and successfully graduating Black students. However, recent evidence suggests Black college students perceive life on Predominantly White Campuses less than conducive to academic success. A common feeling is that a Black student today will still meet racial discrimination on predominantly White campuses regardless of the appropriateness of his/her behavior. Black college students of the 1980s and 1990s were not prepared for the incidents of racism that happened implicitly and explicitly, however, consistently during their college tenure.

The purpose of this study was to learn from the perceptions of Black/African American students about their experiences at a predominantly White campus. Perceptions included what it meant to them to have a pre-college experience, how they were able to find safe spaces in a "hostile environment" and what it meant to be a Black person in today's world. From the students' responses to open-ended questions, I looked at the negative and positive experiences most often shared. To understand the factors that enabled these students to persist to graduation--during the four year period from Fall 1989 to the end of the year 1993--data from eighteen student participants were analyzed. Reported is what students said comprised a positive, supportive and comfortable climate in contrast to what they found to be negative, painful and disruptive to their academic success. The experience was both positive and negative.

Each student was asked for perceptions of social and academic interactions on campus, their personal experience of the campus social climate and academic environment. Paramount for the Black students was the social environment which supported or hindered their persistence. Accounts in student newspapers and in official university newspaper archives were used to document the campus climate during the five year period 1988--1993.

This study looked at the socialization process and persistence-to-graduation, from the perspective of the Black students who live it. Included are implications for further research and recommendations for ways we might begin to affect changes in the institutional racism which adversely affects the academic success of non-majority students.

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