African American Students in Counselor Education Programs: Perceptions of Their Experiences

Article excerpt

The authors explored 11 African American doctoral students' perceptions of their experiences in counselor education programs, and their findings are presented. Using a phenomenological methodological framework, the authors investigated the various systems of support that students use as they navigate their respective programs. Human agency was the theoretical framework for this study, and 4 themes emerged from the data: assertiveness, more experienced African American students, race-based organizations, and personal and professional care from advisors. Implications for students and counselor education programs are discussed.

There has been a call for more African American representation among counselor education faculty to better represent society's changing demographics (Bradley & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004). More information is needed to better understand the underrepresentation of African American counselor educators. Although there is a growing body of research related to the experiences of African American counselor educators (Bradley & Holcomb-McCoy, 2004; Holcomb-McCoy & Bradley, 2003), the literature is bereft of information detailing the experiences of African Americans at the beginning of their journey toward the professoriate from counselor education doctoral programs. The present study was designed to help address this void by documenting African American doctoral students' perceptions of their experiences in counselor education programs as told in their own words.

African Americans and Doctoral Education

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 served as the impetus for a new interest in the active recruitment of ethnic minorities into higher education (Skrentny, 2002). As a result of this act, as well as other measures, there has been a rise in the number of African Americans entering doctoral programs (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2009). According to the NSF (2009), for example, the proportion of African Americans earning doctoral degrees has modestly increased from 5% to 7% between 1997 and 2007.

Despite statistics detailing African American students' presence in doctoral programs, literature related to their personal experiences is relatively scant. The small body of research devoted to the topic suggests that African Americans in doctoral programs, particularly those enrolled at predominantly White institutions (PWIs), contend with a variety of issues not encountered by their White peers. For example, researchers interested in the experiences of doctoral-level counselor education students have determined that many students are confronted with issues due to stress and wavering emotions (Hughes & Kleist, 2005) and proper fit between students and their program (Hoskins & Goldberg, 2005). These studies, however, fail to detail the specific experiences of African American students, who have been found to be different from other students, at all points along the educational pipeline (Duckworth-Warner, 2003; Harper & Patton, 2007; Herndon & Hirt, 2004; McClure, 2006).

Indeed, unlike White students enrolled in doctoral programs, African American students attending doctoral programs at PWIs encounter the added pressure of being a numeric minority within these predominantly White learning environments. These African American students identified feelings of intense isolation, marginalization, and oppression (Herzig, 2004; King & Chepyator-Thompson, 1996; Lewis, Ginsberg, Davies, & Smith, 2004; Nicholas & Tanksley, 2004; L. D. Patton, 2009; Shealey, 2009). Specifically, King and Chepyator-Thompson (1996) surveyed 106 African Americans who had received their doctoral degrees in exercise science from a PWI, and 46% of these respondents recalled their doctoral education as being a positive experience because of positive relationships established with peers and faculty, as well as a comfortable racial climate on campus. Yet, 31% described the experience as partially negative, and 18% described their experience as totally negative. …