The Impact of Ethnic Identification on Student Learning in the HBCU Classroom

Article excerpt

This study augments immediacy literature in two ways: first, by exploring an Historically Black University (HBCU) as a communication context; and second, by employing a multidimensional measure of Black identity and teacher immediacy in the HBCU classroom. The findings suggest that the Black identity dimensions have an influence on student perceptions of verbal and nonverbal immediacy and learning outcomes with respect to instructor ethnicity. The findings also suggest that African American instructors are more immediate than their Euro-American counterparts. The findings further suggest that African American students have a stronger identification with their African American instructors than they do with their Euro-American instructors in the HBCU classroom.

Numerous studies have found a positive relationship between teacher immediacy and student affective and cognitive learning (c.f., Andersen, Norton & Nussbaum, 1981: Richmond; Rodriguez, Plax, & Kearney, 1996). While scholars have investigated the relationship between teacher immediacy and student learning, they have relied on subjects who are primarily White, middle-class members of the American culture. Few studies have examined how immediate instructors impact student learning in the multicultural classroom (McCroskey, Sallinen, Fayer, Richmond, & Barraclough, 1996; Neuliep, 1995).

Studies examining the multicultural dimension of communication in the classroom are categories of race (e.g., African American, White, Asian American, Mexican American, etc.) in communication education research does not account for the variability, which exists between members of the same cultural group. Cultural identity is a multidimensional construct in which race is one of its defining elements (Sellers, Shelton, Cooke, Chavous, Rowley, & Smith, 1998). Sellers et al. contended that racial identity influences "behavior at the level of the situation (molecular level) and exhibit consistency across situations (molar level)" [p. 80]. However, there is no consensus regarding what behaviors and attitudes and dispositions are typically African American. Thus, existing research on Black identity, teacher immediacy, and student learning is limited in understanding HBCUs as a communication context. In this study, we extend immediacy research by examining the impact of Black identity on perceived teacher immediacy and cognitive and affective student learning.

African American Cultural Identity

Majority of the psychological research has traditionally focused on "attitudes of majority toward minority groups at the expense of ethnic identity (Walsh, 2001, p. 172). A century ago, W. E. Dubois argued that the only way Blacks will develop a healthy self-concept within this society is to reconcile the dual nature of their identity. Dubois's concept of "double consciousness" best explains the struggle African Americans experience in dealing with their feeling of "twoness, an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts ... two warring ideals" (p. 205). Decades of research have since provided contradictory findings on African Americans' attempts to define themselves in relation to race (Hecht & Ribeau, 1987).

Cross's (1978) Model of Psychological Nigrescence was an important attempt to describe the positive nature of racial identity in the lives of African Americans. The model described the development of racial identity as a stage-like process from self-hatred to self-acceptance. For example, the first stage describes the pre-encounter stage where race is not a relevant part of an individual's identity. The second stage describes the encounter stage where individuals are made aware of their racial identity through racially salient situations. These situations may be positive or negative. The third stage, the immersion/emersion stage, is characterized by a strong endorsement of Afrocentric attitudes at the expense of Eurocentric cultural values. …