Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Do Culturally Empowering Courses Matter? an Exploratory Examination of Cultural Identity and Academic Motivation among Black Collegians

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Do Culturally Empowering Courses Matter? an Exploratory Examination of Cultural Identity and Academic Motivation among Black Collegians

Article excerpt


Researchers contend that the creation of culturally empowering learning contexts, including African-centered pedagogy, is paramount to Black students' success. Participation in culturally relevant classes and programs has been associated with salubrious academic outcomes such as increased academic resilience (Belgrave, Chase-Vaughn, Gray, Dixon-Addison & Cherry, 2000), improved academic motivation (Adams, 2005; Bass & Coleman, 1997) and may also serve to debunk long-standing Eurocentric educational hegemony (Bell, 1994; King, 2004). Despite a developing body of literature examining the effects of culture-centered learning contexts on both cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes among Black students, few studies have specifically examined the impact of culturally empowering curriculum on these students' cultural identity development and academic outcomes. Hence, the goals for this study were twofold: 1) to determine group differences in academic and cultural identity outcomes by enrollment in culturally empowering courses (CECs)--courses with a primary content focus on the experiences of African descent people (e.g., Black Studies courses, African and African Diaspora history, etc.)--and, 2) to examine the moderating role of CECs on the relationship between academic motivation and academic performance among Black collegians.

Culturally Empowering Spaces

In recent years, scholars have highlighted the influence of culturally empowering spaces such as culture-centered intervention programs on cultural identity development and academic performance among Black students. Prior scholarship highlights characteristics of culturally empowering spaces, noting these environments: (a) act as a safe space, (b) stimulate a sense of connectedness, (c) provide a source of validation, (d) engender resilience, (e) foster intellectual stimulation, (f) encourage empowerment, and (g) can serve as a home base (Grier-Reed, Madyun, & Buckley, 2008).

They also emphasize cultural pride and the acquisition of knowledge related to one's cultural heritage and history. These spaces can provide affirming messages about Black people while often simultaneously debunking pathology-driven narratives associated with the Black community. In fact, among Black students, culturally empowering spaces have been discussed as counter-spaces or environments where notions of inferiority are challenged and where a growth-fostering atmosphere is cultivated (Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000).

Previous scholarship establishes that counter-spaces can exist within formal academic and informal social contexts (Solorzano et al, 2000). While scholars have identified the positive impact informal counter-spaces, such as Black student organizations (Guiffrida, 2003), can have for Black postsecondary students, there is a dearth of empirical scholarship on formal academic counter-spaces. Consistent with the qualities of informal counter-spaces, CECs provide Black students with opportunities to challenge the status quo, critically engage with their history, and explore their cultural identities (Adams, 2005; Banks, 2004). However, informal (e.g., Black student organizations) counter-spaces differ from formal counter-spaces (e.g., classrooms) in that formal counter-spaces tend to provide greater access to content knowledge that serves to validate Black students' experiences and provide them with a language to articulate collective and personal narratives associated with being a Black student, particularly at a historically White college/ university (HWCU) (Adams, 2005). For example, courses utilizing African-centered pedagogy include a focus on cultural knowledge and the contributions of African-descent peoples (King, 2004; Shujaa, 1994), a knowledge base that has been hypothesized as essential to increasing academic performance and psychological well-being among African descent youth and young adults (Adams 2005, 2014; Chapman-Hilliard & Adams-Bass, 2015). …

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