Perceptions of Classroom Belongingness among African American College Students

Article excerpt

Research shows that students of color have college experiences markedly different from their majority peers. The present study examined African American college students' perceptions of their college classrooms as communities. Results of open-ended surveys revealed four predominate themes of instructional style, faculty interpersonal characteristics, affective states of connection, and peer relationships. These themes are discussed in relation to current studies of the African American college student experience.

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In light of stronger outreach and recruiting efforts, the number of African Americans pursuing post-secondary education has steadily increased over the past several decades. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these students attend colleges and universities with predominantly White student and faculty populations (Allen, 1992). The issue of ethnic diversity on college campuses is progressively gaining more attention as educators and students are confronted with obstacles to obtaining such diversity. The purpose of the present study is to explore African American students' perceptions of belongingness and connection to a predominantly white university by way of classroom participation. Specifically, this study will address the following research questions:

1. In what ways do African American students experience a sense of community within the university classroom?

2. In what ways do interactions between African American students and their instructors and classmates influence students' sense of connection in the classroom setting?

Summary of Relevant Literature

African American Students Attending Predominantly White Colleges/Universities

Research shows that African American students enrolled at predominantly White colleges and universities have experiences vastly different from their African American counterparts attending historically Black colleges and universities (Fleming, 1984; Kimbrough, Sherry, & Walton, 1996; Sedlacek, 1999). Specifically, researchers have found that African American students at historically Black institutions report a greater sense of happiness and life satisfaction than African American students enrolled in predominantly White colleges (Constantine & Watt, 2002). In contrast, African American students educated in predominantly White universities have reported feelings of isolation, mistrust, and stress (Sedlacek, 1999). Many of these students give accounts of being harassed, mistreated, and experiencing institutional and individual discrimination (D'augelli & Hershberger, 1993; Jay & D'augelli, 1991). Furthermore, and most troubling, these negative experiences were often as a result of interactions with university administrators, faculty, and classmates.

There are many proffered theoretical bases for the problems of adjustment for African American students at predominantly White institutions. Specifically, Tinto's (1975) four-factor model of college retention includes student family background, high school experiences, campus social interactions, and personal attitudes as predictors of African American student satisfaction with college. In this model, all four factors interact to produce an ecology of college adjustment whereby student perception of social support, positive personal/social interactions, and previous familial experiences serve as antecedents to African American student college success (graduation/retention) or failure (dropping out).

Since Tinto's seminal work, many researchers have found that encouraging classroom interactions between instructors and African American students can also help facilitate positive college adjustment for this population. In a sample of 186 African American college students at six predominantly White universities, Hinderlie and Kenny (2002) established that instructor support was a significant predictor of positive adjustment for this sample of students. …