Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Mentoring: Implications for African American College Students

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Mentoring: Implications for African American College Students

Article excerpt

The importance of a college degree in the United States is becoming increasingly apparent. There is an emerging difference in the overall earning potential of those with high school diplomas and those with bachelor's degrees (Mortenson, 2005; Perna, 2003). Despite the importance of higher education being present in the minds of many Americans, poor retention and graduation rates for African American students, particularly males, persist in universities. The nationwide average for African American college graduates in 2000 was 37 percent, compared to 59 percent for White students (Cross & Slater, 2001). According to Cross and Slater (2001) the decrease in the number of African American male university graduates in the past 10 years holds negative implications not only for the African American community and American society as a whole, but it also reflects negatively on universities who want to increase diversity and retention rates.

Acculturative Stress

Acculturative stress has been proposed as one explanation for low academic retention rates among African American students. This theory, as described by Anderson (1991), is the result of an observed threat to one's cultural beliefs and values that creates a unique vulnerability to psychological distress. It stems from the belief that a person must assimilate to the majority culture, while abandoning the values and traditions of his or her own culture. Acculturative stress is associated with depression, low self-esteem, and academic difficulties (Anderson, 1991; Constantine, Ozazaki & Utsey, 2004). In addition, acculturative stress affects an individual's health, motivation, and increases social deviance (Berry, 1998; Pillay, 2005). African Americans are particularly susceptible to experiencing acculturative stress due to their status as an underrepresented ethnicity in the United States.

The act of assimilating leads individuals to experience a feeling of displacement between themselves and the environment. This feeling of incompleteness negatively influences African American student's self-esteem, peer relationships, and success in school (Kimbrough, Molock, & Walton, 1996). As African American students enter the university the accumulation of acculturative stress and stress associated with the college transition becomes a concern. However, it should be noted that research suggests that African American students enrolled at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU's) have been reported as having more Afrocentric values than students enrolled at predominantly White universities (DeCuir-Gunby, 2009). This would lead us to believe that the perception of the need to assimilate among these students would be less pervasive.

Stress Associated with Transitions

The transition from high school to college can be a stressful time in emerging adulthood. Leaving one's home to pursue a degree in a new area, or facing the fear of the unexpected, possibly doubting one's abilities to compete with other students, as well as obtaining financial means to pay for expenses, all contribute to the amount of stress the college student encounters. For many students, attending a university becomes a challenging, new experience. It is an opportunity to restructure oneself as the hierarchies of high school dissolve to reveal a system of individuals working towards the financial independence and responsibility the work force provides. The college student faces the danger of isolation, in addition to the opportunity to create a new identity. In addition to these stressors, African American students may experience discrimination on and off campus as they attempt to obtain a degree (D'Augelli & Hershberger, 1993, Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000). Some students face harassment and discrimination regularly from fellow students, professors, and law enforcement as they leave the campus. Research suggests the events such as these negatively impact a student's perception of the campus and in turn, their academic performance (Aronson, Fried, & Good, 2002; D'Augelli & Hershberger, 1993; Steele & Aronson, 1995). …

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