Previous research has examined the notion that African-Americans tend to have a strong religious orientation. However, studies have ignored the relationship between spirituality and academic performance among African-Americans. In this qualitative study, spirituality among 13 African-American college male students enrolled at a predominately Black institution was investigated. This research replicated a study conducted by Dr. Michael Herndon who analyzed spirituality among African-American college male students at a predominately white institution (PWI). Three major themes emerged that were similar in Herndon's study: prayer is used for guidance and coping, spirituality is used in a social context and social support from religious institutions. These results suggest that if African American males capitalize and embrace their spirituality they may continue their collegiate experience.
Since the early 1900's, there has been an increase interest in the role religion plays in the lives of African-Americans (Taylor et.al. 2004). According to Hill (1999), strong religious commitment is one of the most pervasive cultural strengths of African-Americans. Religion and spirituality continues to provide African-Americans with incredible resolve when facing adversity. Only a few studies have examined the effect religion and spirituality have on African-American students who are attending college.
Some researchers believe that there is a vast difference between spirituality and religion. For instance, Jagers and Smith (1996) suggested that spirituality is a worldview that is central to the cultural expressions found in the African Diaspora. Love and Talbot (1999) maintained that spirituality is a process that involves the pursuit for discovering direction, meaning, and purpose in one's life. Taylor et al. (2004) defines religion as, "an organized system of beliefs, practices, and rituals designed to facilitate closeness to God, whereas spirituality is seen as a personal quest for understanding answers to ultimate questions about life, meaning, and relationships to the sacred." Mattis (2000) states that, "religion is typically associated with organized, institutional activities. It involves the practices and rituals of attendance in worship services, the reading of sacred texts and affiliation with an organized church, mosque, of synagogue." Even though spirituality and religion are used interchangeably there is definitely a disparity between the two.
The purpose of this study was to explore the role of spirituality of African-American college males attending a historically Black university. The research question was how does spirituality among African-American male college students affect their ability to stay in school? This research replicated a study conducted by Dr. Michael K. Herndon. Herndon (2003) researched the role of spirituality in the life of African-American college males at a predominately white institution.
Spirituality and Religion among African-Americans
The notion of spirituality positively affecting the lives of African-Americans is a well known ideology. According to Taylor et.al. (2004), "the topic of religion in the lives of African-Americans has an enduring fascination, partly because of the apparent pervasiveness and persistence of the religious context for this population group. Black religious traditions have persisted over time, geographic location, and social context and circumstance" (p. 1).
Studies have shown that religion tends to play a greater role in blacks than whites. For example, Hunt and Hunt (2001) conducted a comparative study using the General Social Survey to examine how a variety of indicators of religious involvement vary by race and region among blacks and whites. The findings suggested that overall African-Americans are more religious than whites. According to the authors, African Americans exhibit higher overall levels of church attendance, are more strongly subjectively identified with their church, and are more likely to be members of a church-related group.
Ayalon and Young (2005) evaluated the difference between blacks and whites' choice of help-seeking behaviors when managing stress. The participants were 70 black and 66 white community college students who completed the SCL-90-R, the Revised Multidimensional Health Locus of Control, the Symptom Interpretation Questionnaire and a measure of help-seeking behaviors and demographic information. Results showed that black college students played a significantly more important role in their lives than did whites. Whites indicated more psychological or social services as a means finding help.
According to Herndon (2003), African-Americans rely heavily upon spirituality as a coping mechanism to deal with stress. Jang (2004) analyzes data from a national survey of African-American adults and concluded that African-Americans who are religiously committed tend to report lower levels of distress than those who were not. The author postulated that religious African-Americans have less stress because they have a better sense of control and more social support than non-religious African Americans. This study provides an in-depth look at what specially separates religious and non-religious African-Americans when it comes to dealing with stress.
African-American students face many different problems during their academic matriculation which could lead to stress. Lanier (1997) examined the different problems that African-Americans face during their collegiate experience and revealed that the most common and severe source of stress was financial. Money shortages, or problems and worries about money, constituted a major source of stress, which was found to be significantly correlated with emotional stress balance for both men and women. A sample of 200 African-American college students were used to describe emotional life through self-reports. The instrument was used to measure what are the factors that contribute to most of the emotional distress and/or well being of black students. The number of experiences with racial discrimination, financial strain, and optimism-pessimism were measured. In addition, both African-American college males and females reported being less confident, less hopeful, less relaxed, and other negative feelings. These depressive feelings perpetuate poor academic performance for blacks in college.
Herndon (2003) found that African-American college males in majority institutions need academic, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual support in order to have success in college. African-American college male students receive academic support through tutoring services, meetings with professors or academic advisors, mentoring programs, and campus facilities like the library or computer labs. Emotional support is offered through on campus counseling facilities that are used to provide coping skills in times of crisis. Social support comes from friendships and social networks that are established in college. There are numerous examples of social support for African-Americans in college such as: social clubs and organizations, intramural sports, and interactions in residence halls. African-American students may receive financial support for their education through scholarships, Pell grants, fellowships, or even loans. However, African-American college males may need to find other forms of support that academic institutions can not offer. African-American college men mainly may seek out social support in the form of spiritual and religious exercises.
Overall, studies have shown that spirituality has a significant role in helping African-American college students cope with stress at the collegiate level. Phillips (2000) examined how spirituality and religion affects the adjustment period to college life for African-Americans attending predominately white institutions. This study presents trends and contributions of spirituality and religious practices on the adjustment to college of African-American students. A total of 115 respondents participated in the study. Two demographic questionnaires were used in the study (The Index of Core Spiritual Experiences and the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire). Results of this study revealed that spirituality and religious affiliation has some effect on the level of college adjustment. Also, higher levels of college adjustment correlated with better academic success.
Similarly, Walker's (2002) measured if spirituality and religious participation correlates with academic performance among college students. A sample of 192 college students (109 European-Americans, 85 African-Americans) completed a questionnaire created by the research team. The results of the study confirm previous research on the topic. Blacks have higher levels of spiritual beliefs and religious participation than whites. The correlation analyses suggested that spiritual beliefs were more salient among blacks whereas participation was more salient among whites.
Banerjee et al. (2004) used a Life Attitude Profile Survey to measure spirituality among African-American college students. The survey contained 48 questions on spirituality. A total of 430 undergraduate students participated in the study. Approximately, 90% of the participants were African-Americans. The results show that African-Americans scored higher on spirituality than their white counterparts who took the test twenty years ago. African-American males scored higher than African-American females as well. The authors concluded that health educators can possibly help black students decrease their mortality rates by lessening their stress.
Herndon (2003) focused on how spirituality affects African-American college males in predominately white institutions. Thirteen African-American college men from a predominately white institution were interviewed and three themes emerged from those interviews. The three themes were spirituality bolsters resilience, spirituality provides a sense of purpose, and spiritual support is provided by African-American religious institutions. Spirituality bolstering resilience is said to deal with performing certain religious acts that serve as coping mechanisms.
Participants maintained that their abiding acts of spirituality contributed to their ability to remain in school. These acts of spirituality included prayers, church attendance, and reading scriptures or inspirational writings. Spirituality provides a sense of purpose, helping African-American men to stay on the right path as far as accomplishing the goal of graduating college. A respondent remarked, "Spirituality remains the structure of my inner core. Without it, I would have no focus or sense of purpose in life. I feel that it is something that must be developed and appreciated over time." Spiritual social support from black religious institutions gives African-American men a place to have an extended family to lean on when faced with academic adversities. One respondent exclaimed, "It (the church) is essential to my survival as a student. I couldn't have accomplished my academic goals without a place to go. It's only a building, a testament to God, but still a building. The people are a true statement ... They have encouraged me to stay in school and to do well and to put God first ..." All three of these themes suggest that spirituality increases African-American males' persistence in attaining a bachelor's degree.
Thornton (2004) conducted a research study that involves measuring the value preferences of 304 undergraduate students at a historically black college. Previous research reports that this particular sample would choose values dealing with economic and materialistic success. However, the results showed the contrary; most valued preferences centers around religion and family. The respondents valued religion as one of the factors that can ultimately lead them to their career goals.
Moreover, it is evident that religion and spirituality is a key element in the lives of African-Americans. African-Americans rely heavily upon religion and spirituality to cope with stress and other social ills. Only a few studies have examined the role of spirituality among African-American college students. The majority of these studies have been conducted on a predominantly white campus. The purpose of this study is to investigate the role of spirituality among African-American college males attending a historically black university. This study replicates a study that was conducted by Herndon (2003).
To collect data, the researcher conducted two sample selections. First, the researcher selected a historically black university. Next, the researcher chose African-American male students who were enrolled at the selected historically black university at the same time of the study were randomly selected to participate in the study.
The researcher used a replicated protocol. The protocol consisted of two sections. The first section was the demographic questionnaire that each participant had to fill out which included age and years of completed education (Table 1). The second section sought to elicit data related to the research question (Table 2).
Thirteen African-American male students from a predominately black university were selected to participate in this study. The students were between the ages of 19 to 26 years of age. Participants in this study were pursuing degrees in Psychology, Criminal Justice, Sociology, Computer Science and Graphic Design at a historically black university in the southern United States.
The researcher used the grounded theory method for data collection. The grounded theory method is a qualitative technique that was extensively used and permitted for data collection and analysis to occur concurrently. This method allowed for constant change in data collection and analysis and provided researchers the opportunity to make decisions related to analyses based upon individual observations. This procedure is known as the constant comparative method. Using this approach, the researcher permitted the data to produce theory. All interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. Content analysis was used to pull out the major themes of the interviews and to determine the role of spirituality among African-American college male students at a historically black university.
Analysis did occur by open and axial coding. Open coding is the investigation and breaking down of collected data. The data were grouped in categories for any themes that emerged. Axial coding entails the method of arranging themes into groupings and categories while analyzing the meanings and interrelationships among categories.
After using content analysis the research was able to find three major themes that explain the role of spirituality among African-American college male students at a historically black university. The first major theme was the role of prayer which was used for guidance and as a coping mechanism. The second major theme was spirituality which was being used in a social context. The third major theme was social support from religious institutions. There were a few parallel and distinctive themes when this research is compared with Herndon's (2003) study.
The Role of Spirituality
The first theme in the findings disclosed the role of spirituality (Table 3). The participants constantly described how, through prayer, they received a sense of guidance or direction whenever they felt lost during their matriculation through college and life. Participants mentioned that being spiritual helped them to cope with certain academic stressors. These students reported putting their troubles in God's hands when they prayed to relieve stress from school and life. Spirituality assisted them to remain in school. For instance, one student stated how he prayed for guidance:
"... different things, it's things that I want in life but it's also things that I feel I'm destined to have so I pray and ask my spiritual being for guidance through it and if it's not meant for me then it's not meant for me. I need him to show me a way. I pray for things such as my family, people suffering after Hurricane Katrina, I try to pray for everybody".
Another participant stated how he used prayer to cope:
"... spirituality is a very important thing in my life, I grew up going to church believing in God and if you have a problem you should go pray to God and he can help you out with that. So if I'm having a problem I'm going to lock myself in my room and I'm going to get on my knees and pray. If I'm having a problem at the time even when I'm out in the street I just start walking and praying".
Another participant discussed how spirituality helped him to cope:
"Right now I can say spirituality plays a very important role in my life because being in college and having a job can be very stressful. I resort to prayer in order to keep my mind at peace, which is a big aspect for me as far as being spiritual is concerned. Prayer usually keeps me calm from everyday stressors like studying for a test and relationships with other people."
Spirituality in a Social Context
In the second theme, participants described how they used spirituality when it came to social situations. One consistent theme in this study was the notion that African-American men verbally expressed their spirituality to others. This was interesting because previous research had revealed the gender difference among African-Americans when it came to being more spirituality and religiously involved. For example, Taylor, Chatters, Levin (2004) stated, "consistent gender differences in religious involvement indicate that across subjective, organizational, and non-organizational measures of religious participation, black women are more religiously involved than are men. These findings should not be interpreted to mean that black men are not religious, but that black women report higher levels of religious involvement."
This research supported the idea that African-American males were religious and that they are more spiritually involved than earlier research had uncovered. For instance, one question that was asked was: "In what ways does your spirituality assist you as a man of color on a predominately black campus?" The respondent answered by saying, "well I think it helps me being a man of color by being able to reach out to other black men, spirituality. They will listen to me more so than a white person because I' m one of their own so therefore I can reach out to them spirituality." This respondent was able to speak to other black men about spirituality because he was completely enthralled with his spirituality. Another participant stated:
"Well we talk about things such as people that praise atheism, people that praise Wicca, different beliefs that I have and different beliefs that they have. These things would include such as a belief of mine for example is that women shouldn't wear pants to church and other people's beliefs that come as you are, that would be an example."
Also, participants reported that they used spirituality to avoid certain temptations that were present on the college campus. The operational definition of temptation ranged from female students, illicit drugs, alcohol and becoming involved with the wrong crowd. These temptations were seen as potential problems that could interfere with doing well in school and eventually graduating from college. One student reported how spirituality helped him to stay away from drugs on campus. He says, "you know everyday, more like every week somebody I know says to me, 'let's go outside and smoke this right quick man.' I tell them no because I have a nine o'clock class that I have to take in the morning and I already know what drugs gonna do to me." This student refused to do drugs because he knew that drugs would get in the way of his goal of attaining an education. Another participant said he used spirituality to avoid punishment from God. He stated:
"Well we all know right from wrong but spirituality give you a more definite meaning of what right and wrong is. So if you continue to do wrong then you will not be able to have eternal life. So spirituality brings about you wanting to have eternal life therefore you will not want to engage in those types of activities knowing that they are wrong".
This participant used his spirituality to avoid eternal damnation by not taking part in any activities that would eventually put him there.
Social Support from Religious Institutions
In the third theme, social support from religious institutions was described as being an important variable when it came to staying in school. Participants reported that fellow church members gave words of encouragement to stay in school. This type of interaction was viewed as being helpful when it came to making progress in school. For instance, this participant described an example of this type of interaction. He said:
"The people in my church are always telling me to come and talk about what's going on at college and how things are going on as far as my relationships with other college students. They ask me about how work is going and things like that. Usually I have good things to say but if I have any bad or negative things to say then the congregation will try to give me advice and tell me to hang on in there and that things will turn out fine eventually".
Not only did participants receive encouraging words but they internalized those words and used them for motivation. For example, one respondent reported:
"When you say church or the place of worship it's the building but I believe that the church is really the people or the congregation you know so in that aspect they have helped me tremendously. The congregation is so supportive they praise you for going to school and doing well. The support is wonderful, awesome and it keeps me motivated to go on in school and complete school".
This feeling of motivation that came from their congregation also gave them a feeling of not wanting to let their church down by not continuing their education. Another interesting event was the fact that some of the participants actually received financial support from their religious institutions. One participant stated:
"Yes I have a home church and once I graduated from high school I was one of the first recipients of this scholarship that one of my church members whom passed away had left in his name. So whenever I go back home and go to church the people at church always ask me well how you doing in school. That goes back to disappointing everyone at my church, I don't want to tell them I'm sitting out or I didn't make it, I didn't graduate because that would be a disappointment to everyone in church that believes in me. So now I can say coming up in May 2006 I'm going to graduate and just continue to be seen in a positive light".
This participant felt that he had a responsibility to his church to stay in school since he had been given monetary support to continue his education.
Discussion and Limitations
This research discovered parallel and distinctive themes when compared to Herndon's (2003) study. There were three themes that were parallel to Herndon's (2003) study which were: the use of prayer, spirituality providing guidance and social support from churches. There were a couple of distinctive themes in this research that were not reported in Herndon's (2003) research. The first distinctive theme was participants reporting that they expressed their spirituality verbally. The second distinctive theme in this research was the notion that participants had an internal locus of control when it came to having success or failure in school. One student was asked how his faith in God affected his ability to remain in school. The student responded by saying, "It doesn't because I don't see where my faith in God and me being in school have to do with each other because I would have faith in him even if I wasn't in school I mean the only thing keeping me in school is the simple fact that I don't want to go to jail and I don't want to be dead." This student thought that God does not play a role in his academic life. This student believed that there is a God; however, he viewed school and religion as two separate entities that do not interact with one another.
There were limitations to this study. First, this study used qualitative research methods and, as with all qualitative studies, the results were generalizable only to the particular samples within this study. Secondly, it was possible that respondents might have interpreted the questions differently than the researcher intended which may have influenced results. Thirdly, respondents may have given less candid answers because of the researcher's race; participants may have presumed that the researcher knew all about the intricacies of being African-American and how spirituality affected them academically.
There were three conclusions that had been discovered during the investigation of this study. The first conclusion was that this study identified three themes that explained the role of spirituality among African-American college males at a historically black university. The second conclusion was regardless of the racial environment within college African-American college male students may hold on to their spirituality equally. The third conclusion was that if African-American males capitalized and embraced their spirituality the research suggested that they may continue their collegiate experience.
Administrators who deal with the retention and success of African-American males might benefit from the results of this study. Understanding issues of spirituality, as African-American college males perceive them may warrant the design and implementation of new programs to promote the spiritual support of this group of students.
This study examined issues of spirituality among African-American college males attending a historically black university. The examination of spirituality as it relates to gender, race, and institutional type is fertile ground for future research endeavors.
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REGINALD K. RIGGINS
NIMH-COR Honors Program
COSANDRA MCNEAL, PH.D.
Department of Criminal Justice & Sociology
Jackson State University
MICHAEL K. HERNDON, PH.D.
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Virginia Polytechnic & State University
Table 1 Demographic Information Name of Participant-- Institution-- Major-- GPA-- Number of years in college-- Sex-- Age-- Dependent Student Status -- Independent Student Status -- Marital Status -- Number of children -- Ages-- Number of family members living in household Number of family members living outside of household -- Frequency of contact with family -- Kinds of contact -- Distance from family (miles) -- Commuter Student -- Residential Student Mailing Address -- Telephone -- E-mail -- Date of Interview -- Location -- Table 2 Interview Protocol Spirituality and Black Men Q1 Describe the role spirituality plays in your life. Q2. In your opinion, is there a distinction between spirituality and religion? If so, please explain. Q3. Describe the role of spirituality in your academic life. Q4. In what ways does your spirituality assist you as a man of color on a predominately Black campus? Q5. What acts of spirituality do you practice? How often? Q6. How does your faith in God affect your ability to remain in school? Q7. Describe the influence of your house of worship in your ability to remain in school? Q8. Please provide any additional information you wish to share on the topic. Table 3 What Acts of Spirituality Do You Practice? Acts # % n = 13 Prayer 11 85% Read Bible 4 31% Talk With Others 5 38% Church Attendance 3 23%…