Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Fragmented Exchanges: The Impact of Cultural Mistrust on Student Faculty Interaction in a Predominantly White University

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Fragmented Exchanges: The Impact of Cultural Mistrust on Student Faculty Interaction in a Predominantly White University

Article excerpt

Educational differences between Black and White Americans have been among the most widely researched topics for decades (Whaley & Noel, 2012). Researchers have focused on a host of factors including access to financial resources (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2004), community and environmental influences (Hill, Castellino, Lansford, Nowlin, Dodge, Bates, & Pettie, 2004; Jeynes, 2003), familial patterns, and even the racial diversification of educational environments (Bohrnstedt, Kitmitto, Ogut, Sherman, & Chan, 2015).

Each area of research has produced or supported several theories to account for the discrepancies in educational outcomes. A common theme is the potential social and psychological impact on Black American students and their position in relation to a perceived educational caste system. Plausibly, the academic differences noted between Black and White Americans is best explained from a social-psychological perspective, or an examination of deeply ingrained psychological constructs that influence how students interact and perceive themselves in the school setting. One such construct is mistrust for the individuals and institutions that have been historically restricted and seen as part of an oppressing culture. This mistrust, observed among Black Americans and rooted in a uniquely characteristic psycho-historical experience of Blackness in America, is known as cultural mistrust.

Cultural Mistrust

Cultural mistrust was originally conceptualized as a general mistrust by Black Americans for White Americans and institutions (Terrell & Terrell, 1981). This mistrust developed from an American history of traumatic events - waged on an individual and systemic level - through centuries of state-sponsored enslavement, verbal and mental persecution, psychological degradation, legally affirmed racial discrimination, and physical maltreatment of people of African descent (Bennet, 1966; Eyerman, 2001; Meriham, 1970; Grier & Cobbs, 1968). These large-scale and long-term distressing experiences have had reverberating effects among Black Americans, some who may now exhibit characteristics of "cultural trauma" as a result (Alexander, 2004; Eyerman, 2001). The impact of cultural trauma and mistrust may become evident in settings and situations in which Black Americans are confronted with white privilege, or whiteness. For example, research has shown that individuals with increased levels of cultural mistrust are less likely to seek aid from law enforcement or continue with mental health services (Whaley, 2001), both institutions that have been historically associated with white privilege and whiteness.

Perhaps, however, the most profound consequences are when cultural mistrust impedes academic progress and educational outcomes for Black American students. For example, Terrell & Terrell, (1983) established that for some Black American students, higher levels of mistrust are associated with underperformance on standardized and intelligence tests when compared to Black American students with low levels of cultural mistrust. That work highlighted that Black American students may be suspicious of the intentions and implications of such tests (Terrell & Terrell, 1983). Furthermore, high levels of cultural mistrust have been negatively correlated with expected benefits of academic achievement, educational value, and motivation in both high school and undergraduate populations (Caldwell & Obasi, 2010; Irving & Hudley, 2005; 2008). Accordingly, Irving and Hudley (2008) and Caldwell and Obasi (2010) have demonstrated an inverse relationship between cultural mistrust and GPA among Black American undergraduate students.

It can be extrapolated that there are negative academic and educational outcomes associated with increased mistrust for whiteness. There very well maybe an underlying and unconscious process that occurs for Black American students who have higher levels of cultural mistrust. …

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