Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Racial Identity Development of African American Students in Relation to Black Studies Courses

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Racial Identity Development of African American Students in Relation to Black Studies Courses

Article excerpt


In spite of the growth of Black studies programs in colleges and universities across the United States, few African Americans enroll in courses or graduate from them ("African Americans Show Solid Gains at All Academic Degree Levels," 2009), particularly at Northern Superior State University. Black studies programs are reported to have many benefits for African American students. Adams (2005) contends that Black studies programs have a history of assisting students with identity development. Furthermore, Black studies programs assist students in developing self-esteem that, in turn, influences their level of self-efficacy (Adams, 2005). As a result of these benefits, Black students are more likely to graduate from college. Adams (2005) adds another dimension suggesting that these programs help students survive in a racialized society like that of the United States by providing them with knowledge to know themselves and know other cultures and civilizations.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this study is twofold: (1) to provide understanding of the reason why African American students choose to enroll or do not enroll in Black studies courses; and, (2) explore the relationship between racial identity development and Black studies programs. The perceptions of students who enroll and do not enroll in Black studies courses will be compared. The research questions that guided this study were: (1) what reasons do African American students put forth to justify their choice or non-choice of Black studies courses? (2) In what ways do African American students who enroll in Black studies courses compare to those African American students who have not in relation to racial identity development?

Outcomes of Black Studies

The influences ethnic studies curricula have played in student achievement has been documented by a number of researchers, specifically in relation to the students who identify with the subject matter. Carter (2008) conducted a yearlong qualitative investigation with nine high-achieving African American high school students at a predominately White high school. This study suggests that strong racial identities assisted participants in developing an achievement ideology that not only supported them in their academic achievements, but assisted them in navigating racially challenging environments. Rickford (2001) found that African American students became more engaged with the literature assigned to them that was written by African Americans and that student motivation increased when they were more familiar with the theme of the narratives.

In this qualitative study with 25 low-achieving African American middle school students, participants described enjoying the literature, partially, because they could better relate to the characters and themes of the narratives, and they could understand the vernacular tone. When these students were assessed for comprehension, they tended to perform worse with the lower level comprehension questions and better with the higher comprehension questions. The students, overall, performed better with the more complex questions. Lewis, Sullivan, and Bybee (2006) found that eighth grade students found more worth in their own heritage as a result of their African American emancipatory curriculum course compared to only discussing African and African American heritage during Black History Month and other singular recognized events (e.g., brief discussion about the Atlantic Slave Trade). Emancipatory education refers to a process of training that seeks to liberate underrepresented groups from racist social institutions and ideologies in modern-day society (Lewis, 2004).

Myrick (2002) completed a study with 21 participants that identified as African American, Nigerian, Cameroonian, Ethiopian, and Haitian with ages ranging from 17 to 44 years old. The participants were students in a 10-week college developmental reading course in a public, Southern, urban, 2-year college in the United States. …

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