Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

My Rock: Black Women Attending Graduate School at a Southern Predominantly White University

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

My Rock: Black Women Attending Graduate School at a Southern Predominantly White University

Article excerpt

Participants in this phenomenological study were 11 Black women who received an undergraduate degree from a historically Black college or university and were currently attending graduate school at a southern predominantly White university. This study investigated the adjustment experiences of these women to life on a southern predominantly White campus. Through analysis of participant interview transcripts and demographic questionnaires, support systems emerged as a critical factor in each student's experience, with themes focused on mentors, family and friends, and romantic relationships.

Keywords: Black, adjustment, graduate school


A research participant interviewed for this study, a 4th year doctoral student in a social sciences field, commented about her friend, another doctoral student, and her experience at a southern predominantly White university (PWU):

   She has had a difficult time because she's in [program name] and
   she's the only Black student over there now. And she's in a
   master's-to-PhD program so that's extra hard. And she's faced with
   a lot of adversity ... she doesn't have support from her
   supervisors over there. They've made racial comments ... and with
   being a minority [Black and female], you're already still kind of
   outcast to begin with in a predominantly White, good-old-boys

A lot of the literature discusses how support systems affect Black college students' adjustment experiences at PWUs (Cabrera, Nora, Terenzini, Pascarella & Hagedorn, 1999; Guiffrida & Douthit, 2010; Schwartz, Bower, Rice, & Washington, 2003), but most research is limited to undergraduate education. Specifically, an inadequate amount of research exists on Black women's experiences attending graduate school, particularly at PWUs.

Researchers have revealed conflicting data regarding the impact of support systems on the retention of Black students attending PWUs. Nettles and Millett (2006) stated that there is a direct correlation between the constructive impact of socialization and the performance, contentment, and achievement of Black graduate students who are in doctoral programs where Blacks are underrepresented. Furthermore, Nettles and Millett found that the retention rates for Blacks transitioning from undergraduate to graduate studies dropped 50% more than the rates of their Asian peers and 75% more than the rates of their White peers, Tinto (1993) posited that most successful college students become better integrated into the college social and academic environment if they are able to detach themselves from support systems such as family and friends. Conversely, Guiffrida (2005) disclosed findings that suggested that high-achieving Black students attending PWUs were successful because of the emotional, academic, and financial support shown to them by their families. Guiffrida (2005) also reported that Black students' families often encouraged them to concentrate on staying in college, rather than coming home, even if families were in need of the students' financial support. Moreover, Guiffrida (2004) asserted that friends from home were an asset for Black students attending PWUs, especially when they were able to relate common experiences and provide needed emotional support.

Seymour and Hewitt (1997) conducted a study in which Black preengineering majors at a PWU were connected with a faculty mentor, who was available for all activities, during their freshman year of college. Not only did these students successfully complete their freshman year, but they continued their enrollment in the college of engineering and graduated with an engineering degree (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). E. P. Smith and Davidson (1992) asserted that Black master's and doctoral students with mentors were more likely to succeed than their Black counterparts without mentors. Therefore, the support of mentors has played a pivotal role in the success of Black college students attending PWUs. …

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