Support Systems and Services for Diverse Populations: Considering the Intersection of Race, Gender, and the Needs of Black Female Undergraduates: Volume 8

Cover of Support Systems and Services for Diverse Populations: Considering the Intersection of Race, Gender, and the Needs of Black Female Undergraduates

Table of contents

(17 chapters)

More than identity politics, intersectionality regards the inability of institutional structures to remedy discrimination because of the intersection between social dynamics, which are often conceived of discretely (Crenshaw & Dill, 2009). For a set of black women workers in the manufacturing context, the court found that they were not discriminated against on the basis of their race, because black male workers were hired for manufacturing positions. They were not discriminated against because of their gender, but because there were white women hired for the front office. This set of black women workers was caught at the intersections of race and gender discrimination law and left without an effective remedy (Crenshaw, 1989). This intersection metaphor is worth examining in the higher education context as we consider that the majority of students on most campuses are women (Allen, Dean, & Bracken, 2008), an increasing number of these women are not white; yet, most campuses have support services targeted at African-American or multicultural student affairs and women's services. Comparatively, few campuses assess and address the needs of black women students at the intersection of their multiplicative identities (Wing, 2003).

Michelle, a first-generation college student from a predominantly Black urban area, was a senior health and recreation major at Midwest University. Although successful in her health and recreation coursework and an engaged campus student leader, Michelle “often talked about her time on campus as ‘painful’” (Winkle-Wagner, 2009, p. 99):You might get the one person who's like, “Well I don't like Black people,” but, then you have a bunch of other people ganging up on him saying, “That is so old, nobody does that anymore.” And I feel like I am more accepted by White people than I am [by] the Black people. Because they're like, well she doesn't dress a certain way, or … “Why are you listening to that type of music?” (Winkle-Wagner, p. 99)

Research on the socialization experiences, professional development, and success of students and faculty have generally emphasized the importance and role of advisors as the support mechanism for graduate or doctoral students (e.g., Baird, 1995; Bargar & Mayo-Chamberlain, 1983; Gardner, 2009; Golde, 2001; Lovitts, 2001; Tinto, 1993; Zhao, Golde, & McCormick, 2005), rather than the role that mentoring and support can have for undergraduate students. King (2003) defines mentoring as a relationship that “suggests a level of personal interaction, nurture, and guidance that exceeds the requirements of ‘good enough’ research advising” (p. 15). King further states that “rather than being concerned solely with the student's completing the dissertation or developing technical competence, the mentor is concerned with promoting a broader range of psychosocial, intellectual, and professional development” (p. 15). King's definition should not be confined to just students at a doctoral level. If we assume that the decision to attend college occurs for both personal and professional reasons, then it stands to reason that providing a different level of support and mentoring should also enhance both the personal and the professional aspects the academic experience for those involved, regardless of academic level. Thus, the one tool that could have lasting and profound effects for the academic success of African American women that clearly seems to be lacking is mentoring.

I elected to be guided by Alexander Astin's (1984, 1985, 1993) theory of student involvement in examining the experiences of first-generation African-American women in the technology-driven classroom because it is one of the most used and time-tested theory in the college student development literature (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Astin's theory has established that students learn by becoming involved with their peers and instructors in educationally purposeful activities. Given the onslaught of technology-driven teaching and learning practices and the literature that supports the importance of learning through interaction, examining their interactivity with the course content, faculty, and peers is an important topic to research.

In order to review and distill the small pool of relevant scholarship, four foundational concepts must be acknowledged as the crux of this study. First, race and gender are inextricably linked (Collins, 2000; Hull, Scott, & Smith, 1982; Winkle-Wagner, 2009). Second, gender differences among Black students at predominantly White institutions are apparent and unable to be ignored. Third, academic advising literature and academic support programs specifically for undergraduate Black females are scarce. Fourth, deficiency models are antiquated distractions from excellence models such as community cultural wealth, which was used to frame this study (Yosso, 2005).

College is a time of transition and growth for students and their families. Often, college serves as the first foray into adulthood for young adults who leave home and make decisions on their own for the first time. As part of this process, many students encounter new experiences that can either challenge or strengthen their spiritual and other beliefs. Faced with such events, some students turn to churches near their colleges and universities for guidance in this area.

The number of nontraditional students continues to rise on college campuses across the nation, with women outnumbering males. In spite of their growing presence at institutions of higher education, nontraditional students have low retention and graduation rates (Taniguchi & Kaufman, 2005). Since Black women comprise a large part of this population and face a number of the stressors that often serve as deterrents to the successful completion of their undergraduate degrees, this study aims to tell the stories of five selected nontraditional Black female students attending a predominantly White Ivy-league institution by examining the challenges they faced and the factors that contributed to the academic success of these women. For the purpose of this study, academic success is defined as having completed baccalaureate degree requirements and graduated with a B- or higher average or the equivalent 2.75 grade point index (GPA). This chapter hopes to address the question: What is it that enables some Black women to face the daunting challenges in their lives, attend a rigorous Ivy-league school, and still obtain their bachelor's degree? The answers to this question should enable policy makers and school administrators to implement programs and practices that will improve the retention and graduation rates of all nontraditional students.

Research on what leads to or detracts from persistence among Black female students is scant and inconsistent in terms of systematic inquiry. Little is known about these women's perspectives on the specific challenges they face that result in either their persistence or departure. Despite the dearth of information, the extant literature on college students can provide some insight. Our understanding of the phenomenon of persistence among Black female students attending PWIs was informed by a conceptual framework incorporating: (a) Social Integration; (b) Student Involvement; and (c) Black Feminist Epistemologies. Together these paradigms help explain the environmental and psychosocial factors that contribute to understanding Black female involvement in college and provide a framework for situating our study in the larger context of the Black female college experience.

In the book “Shouldering the Third Burden: The Status of African-American Women,” Dr. Julianne Malveaux writes about how African-American women bear a third burden. As an economist and president of Bennett College, one of only two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States whose sole purpose is to nurture and educate black females, Dr. Malveaux has seen the third burden up close. She describes it as a dynamic interplay of race, gender, and class in ways that makes black women's lives and futures inseparable from that of black men.

Of the 105 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), there are 6 that have instituted a campus women's center: three women's research and resource centers including Spelman College (SC) in Georgia, Bennett College (BC) in North Carolina, and Howard University (HU) in Washington, DC; and 3 women's centers including North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, Lincoln University (LU) in Pennsylvania, and Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville. Women's centers at HBCUs are a sphere of community, support, intellectual capital, and critical service for Black women in the United States. According to Ross (2003)The literature acknowledges that black women have had the heaviest burden to bear within the African American community. If we contemplate the history of African American women from the period of slavery, we can easily claim that they have endured the greatest suffering of any group of people in American history. African American women should be studied within the context of their silent suffering and courageous overcoming. (p. 2)

The first community college, Joliet Junior College, was founded in 1901 by William Rainey Harper, an early president of the University of Chicago as a means of providing an associate degree for students (Geller, 2001). As with many higher education institutions of that period, enrollment was limited to a select group. With the introduction of the G. I. Bill after World War II, community colleges began to thrive in the United States as more servicemen began to pursue training. Researchers suggest that community colleges have evolved through various stages: extension of secondary schools, junior colleges, community colleges, comprehensive community colleges, and now learning community colleges (O'Banion, 1997; Tillery & Deegan, 1985). Consistently, the public community college has at the core of its mission a focus on access – open admission regardless of ethnicity, gender, or social economic status. This open admission policy contributes to the attractiveness of community colleges for many students, particularly adults and women. They were designed to meet students at their individual point of entry and help to prepare them for the workforce or transfer to a Baccalaureate degree granting institution (Lanni, 1997). They offer flexible course scheduling, lower educational costs, smaller classroom settings, and more intimate contact with faculty and staff members than many of the larger universities (Lundberg, 2003; Ness, 2003). Additionally, they provide occupational training for individuals seeking to increase employability skills, as well as educational opportunities for underprepared students in a diverse environment.

At the beginning of each academic term, thousands of students respond to community colleges' open-door invitation with the expectation of fulfilling their dreams of a higher education. When students walk through those doors, they are routinely asked to take basic skills tests in math, reading, and writing (Bailey, Jeong, & Cho, 2008). These new community college students soon discover that the results of these assessment tests will direct their pathway into college-level courses or developmental or remedial courses. According to Bailey, Jeong, and Cho, about 60 percent of incoming students are referred to at least one developmental course, and many are referred to multiple levels of developmental education before they can be considered ready for college. McCabe (2000) reported that 20 percent of African-American students enrolled in community colleges have seriously deficient skills, that is, they are placed in developmental reading, writing, and math and assigned to a lower level remedial course in at least one area. Only 5 percent of Caucasian students, however, come to community colleges with seriously deficient skills.

Cover of Support Systems and Services for Diverse Populations: Considering the Intersection of Race, Gender, and the Needs of Black Female Undergraduates
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Diversity in Higher Education
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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