Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Othermothering as a Framework for Understanding African American Students' Definitions of Student-Centered Faculty

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Othermothering as a Framework for Understanding African American Students' Definitions of Student-Centered Faculty

Article excerpt

Research indicates that faculty/student relationships affect student satisfaction with college (Astin, 1984, 1999), academic achievement (Astin, 1993; Terenzini & Wright, 1987), and retention (DeFour & Hirsch, 1990; Stoecker, Pascarella, & Wolfle, 1988; Tinto, 1993). However, evidence indicates that African American students at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) may not glean the benefits associated with relationships with faculty. Nettles (1991) concluded that Black students attending PWIs had less contact with faculty outside the classroom and were less academically integrated into campus life than were White students. Additionally, Fleming (1984), in her seminal work examining the experiences of Black students at PWIs and at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and Arnold (1993), in a study investigating the college experiences of high school valedictorians, both found that African American students at PWIs experienced difficulty developing positive relationships with White faculty. Their results were supported by other research indicating that students of color were more apt to seek academic help from family, friends, or academic counselors who were minorities than from White faculty (Braddock, 1981; Burrell & Trombley, 1983; Guiffrida, 2003, 2004, 2005; Sanchez, Marder, Berry, & Ross, 1992; Suen, 1983).

Even research that has indicated high levels of out-of-class interaction among African American students and faculty at PWIs raises questions about the quality of these interactions. For example, Eimers and Pike (1996) found that although African American students at PWIs reported higher levels of contact with faculty than White students reported, they indicated less satisfaction with the institutions. Similarly, Mayo, Murguia, and Padilla (1995), in a comprehensive study of over 1200 students, found that Black students demonstrated the strongest positive correlation between frequency of out-of-class contact with professors and grade point average (GPA); however, they also noted that while student satisfaction with faculty contact had a significant impact on GPAs for Whites, Hispanics, and Native Americans, it did not for Black students. Thus, although high-achieving African American students had more out-of-class interactions with faculty, they did not find these interactions as rewarding as other students did. These results support the findings from Nettles, Thoeny, and Gosman (1986), who found that frequency of contact between African American students and faculty was less important than the quality of these interactions. The results also suggest that African American students may have unique expectations regarding their relationships with faculty at PWIs.

In the limited research that has investigated the quality of relationships between faculty and African American students, two primary factors have emerged as influencing these relationships. The first is that Black students may experience difficulty connecting with White faculty because they do not perceive them as realistic role models. Tinto (1993) concluded that while mentor programs are generally effective in increasing college retention for all students, the availability of "like-person role models" was especially important to the success of students of color (p. 186). Research suggests that it is important for Black students to be exposed to and to connect with Blacks who have been successful in higher education (Burrell, 1980; Sedlacek, 1987; Willie & McCord, 1972), as these connections have been linked to increasing their self-efficacy (Gloria & Robinson Kurpius, 1996; Hackett & Byars, 1996).

Second, research indicates that students often perceive faculty at PWIs as culturally insensitive (Fleming, 1984). Using qualitative methodology, Feagin, Vera, and Imani (1996) concluded that African American students attending a PWI perceived White faculty as unapproachable because of their stereotypical comments, insensitivity to African American culture, and generalizations of students' opinions as representing those of all African Americans. …

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