A Comparison between African-American and White Students Enrolled in an Equal Opportunity Program on Predominantly White College Campuses: Perceptions of the Campus Environment

Article excerpt

This article compares the campus environmental perceptions of African-American and White students enrolled in an equal opportunity program on predominantly White campuses. These are students who are trying to overcome socioeconomic and academic challenges in their quest to become college graduates. The survey instrument measured marginality and mattering perceptions of these students. The results indicated that African-American students did feel marginalized. Conversely, White students were not aware of the different challenges that African-American students were experiencing on campus. It is evident that African-American students within these programs have three major barriers to overcome in this environment including: racial, socioeconomic, and academic issues.

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According to the National Education Association Higher Education Research Center the graduation rate of African-American students within a six-year period at four-year institutions is 45.7 percent in comparison to White students 66.8 percent (Henderickson et al., 2004). This graduation gap further illustrates the fact that the promise of the Brown vs. The Board of Education has a way to go. It has been 50 years since that decision changed the racial landscape of American's education system. While this defining decision worked to dispel the fallacy of the "separate but equal" premise, it created other challenges for many universities. One of theses challenges is to create an environment on predominantly White campus that is inviting to students of color.

It is known that African-American students do not faire as well at historically White institutions (Astin, 1982; Davis, Fleming, 1984). In fact, African-American students have developed social systems and cultural connections to survive on these campuses (Allen, 1992). Students of color experience feelings of loneliness because of the lack of connection within these environments (Loo, & Rolison, 1986). Further, Chavous (2000) suggests African-American students are more apt to reporting a gap when it comes to feeling a connection with their culture and the social and academic areas on a predominantly White campus. In a similar study, Schwitzer, Griffin, Ancis, and Thomas (1999) found that African-American students openly admitted not feeling welcome on their predominantly White campus.

Research shows that students need to make a connection to feel that they matter in this new environment. Rosenberg and McCullough (1981) found tour domains in which a person feels that he or she matters: attention, importance, ego-extension, and dependence. Attention--"one commands the interest or notice of another person" (Rosenberg and McCullough, 1981, p. 164). Importance--"to believe that other person cares about what we want, think, and do, or is concerned with our fate" (Rosenberg and McCullough, 1981, p.164). Ego-extension--"the feeling that other people will be proud of our accomplishments or saddened by our failures" (Rosenberg and McCullough, 1981, p. 164). "Dependence--our behavior is influenced by our dependence on other people ... What is ... more mysterious is why our actions are equally governed by their dependence on us"(Rosenberg and McCullough, 1981, p. 164). Scholessberg (1989) added a fifth to the domain: appreciation, the feeling that an individual's efforts are valued. In essence, expanding the depth of research as it pertains to African-American students' perspectives of the campus environment, especially with equal opportunity programs on predominantly White campuses may help to bridge the gap between the hope and reality of Brown v. the Board of Education.

Procedures

This quantitative compared the perspectives of African-American and White students who participated in an equal opportunity at two state predominantly White four-year public institutions. The researcher's survey instrument examined six areas in the undergraduate environment such as academic advising relationship, administrative climate, classroom climate, faculty interaction, peer interaction, and student services. …