Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

The African American Student Network: Creating Sanctuaries and Counterspaces for Coping with Racial Microaggressions in Higher Education Settings

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

The African American Student Network: Creating Sanctuaries and Counterspaces for Coping with Racial Microaggressions in Higher Education Settings

Article excerpt

African American college students face a number of race-related stressors on predominantly White campuses. The African American Student Network is described as a potential humanistic counterspace to provide a sanctuary for these students when coping with racial microaggressions. The development and study of future humanistic interventions in this area is recommended.

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Black undergraduates at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) face a number of obstacles and challenges on campus. First, Blacks are still underrepresented in higher education (Thompson, Gorin, Obeidat, & Chen, 2006). According to the American Council on Education, at the turn of the century, only 40% of eligible Black students went to college, with only 46% of the 40% graduating within 6 years (see Astin & Oseguera, 2005). An examination of the Black student experience on a predominantly White campus indicated that these students faced stress related to acceptance or fitting in, cultural conflict, help seeking, coping, lack of resources, mistrust of the institution, racism, social support, and stigma (Watkins, Green, Goodson, Guidry, & Stanley, 2007).

Ancis, Sedlacek, and Mohr (2000) reported that these students experienced more racial conflict, more pressure to conform to stereotypes, and less equitable treatment by faculty, staff, and teaching assistants than their White counterparts. Moreover, Black students tended to experience poorer health and energy and overall lower satisfaction with their universities than White students (D'Augelli & Hershberger, 1993). Hence, creating sanctuaries or safe spaces to help Black students make sense of and cope with their experiences at PWIs is important. In this article, I describe the African American Student Network (or AFAM, as students call it). The AFAM network is a humanistic intervention because it emphasizes addressing the socioemotional needs of students and the development of healthy supportive relationships to provide a people-responsive and growth-promoting college environment. More specifically, AFAM accomplishes these objectives through the creation of counterspaces or sanctuaries where Black students can develop relationships and support for coping with racial microaggressions at a PWI.

A FOCUS ON RACIAL MICROAGGRESSIONS

Several authors have argued that attending to socioemotional as well as intellectual needs is important to the success of Black college students (Ancis et al., 2000; Cabrera, Nora, Terenzini, Pascarella, & Hagedorn, 1999; Davis et al., 2004; Myers, 2003; Sedlacek, 1983; Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, Fitzgerald, & Bylsma, 2003; Watkins et al., 2007). Those authors placed particular emphasis on the development of strong trusting relationships in which students receive encouragement and support that may counter hostility, unfairness, and race-related stress. In fact, these strong, trusting relationships may be viewed as safe spaces for coping with racial microaggressions. For example, in a study by Powell and Jacob Arriola (2003), researchers found that African American students who talked to others about being treated unfairly tended to have a higher grade point average than did those who did not talk with others. In addition, Zea, Jarama, and Trotta Bianchi (1995) identified social support and active coping as significant predictors of college adjustment, and Utsey, Ponterotto, Reynolds, and Cancelli (2000) linked social support to the best potential outcomes for Blacks experiencing race-related stress.

Racial microaggressions create race-related stress and can be described as the everyday, commonplace, and often ambiguous forms of racism faced by people of color. Three examples of racial microaggressions are microinvalidations, microinsults, and microassaults (Sue et al., 2007). Microinvalidations "exclude, negate, and nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of" people of color (Sue et al. …

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