Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO THE MEETING? African American Student Leadership Experiences Unpacked

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO THE MEETING? African American Student Leadership Experiences Unpacked

Article excerpt

African American students have served in leadership capacities at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) and predominantly White institution (PWI) college campuses (Allen, 1986; Cuyjet, 2006; Ervin, 2001; Feagin, 1992; Fleming, 1984;) in organizations that played important roles in promoting persistence when other venues were unavailable (Harper & Quaye, 2007). These organizations, especially those of an ethnic origin (Kimbrough & Hutcheson, 1998; Yancey, 2003), provided cultural, social and academic support systems by offering African American students leadership experiences that cultivated their professional development (Patitu, Bonner, Tejeda, & Williams, 2009). Furthermore, ethnic organizations have shielded African American students from racial prejudice, perceptions of racial tension, racismbased stressors, assimilation versus cultural pluralism, and ultimately how race is defined and viewed on PWI campuses (Blumer, 1958; Hurtado, 1992; Smith, 2004; Yancey, 2003; Winant, 2000). As listed above, there are clear benefits to African American students partici- pating in historically Black, ethnic organiza- tions. Although this is the case, ethnic and predominantly White student organizations have promoted the inclusion and acceptance of African American students in college environ- ments (Jackson & Moore, 2006; Lett & Wright, 2003) by serving as mechanisms for integration and persistence. African American students have also experienced racial hostility, hiding cultural identity, a pressure to assimi- late and leadership alienation in predominantly White organizations (Arminio et al., 2000; Fleming, 1991; Harper & Quaye, 2007; Stew- art, Jackson & Jackson, 1990; Tatum, 1997), which must not be trivialized. This being the case, why should African American students participate in predominantly White organiza- tions? Understanding how African American students perceive and apply leadership in pre- dominantly White organizations may provide relevant insights into our understanding of race, leading in a culturally dominant context and the benefits therein. Consequently, this research uses a qualitative comparative case study to explore how African American under- graduates benefit from experiencing leading in predominately White organizations while attending a PWI. Drawing data from partici- pants' narratives, this study contributes to pre- vious research by offering African American student perspectives as a key part of discerning the benefits derived from leading is organiza- tions where they are representative of the numerical minority.


The following overarching queries guided the study:

1. How do African American students expe- rience being leaders in predominantly White organizations?

2. How do African American students expe- rience interacting with organization advi- sors and peers in predominantly White organizations?

3. What are the benefits of leading in pre- dominantly White organizations as expe- rienced by African American students?

I also asked additional questions of partici- pants to facilitate thoughts and discussions about the study's guiding questions, to include reasons for joining predominantly White orga- nizations, what they expected to gain from doing so, and what part race played in how they perceived themselves as leaders, and members the extent to which members responded to their leadership base on race.


To understand the benefits African American students experience when leading in predomi- nantly White organizations, while attending PWI campuses, the following review of litera- ture is framed by the organization and institu- tional contexts in which African American students enact leadership and see themselves as leaders within academe.

African American Student Organizational Involvement

As early as the beginning of the 20th cen- tury African American undergraduates at PWIs created ethnic student organizations, like Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity to foster solidarity by providing positive racial identity develop- ment and pride on newly desegregated cam- puses (DuBois, 1910; 1973). …

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