A Dream Deferred: The Experience of an African American Student in a Doctoral Program in Science

By Green, Andre M. | Education, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

A Dream Deferred: The Experience of an African American Student in a Doctoral Program in Science


Green, Andre M., Education


Due to a negative stigma that has been established about African Americans, many live their entire lives trying to "refute the degrading, humiliating and offensive racial images and stereotypes" (Yeakey and Bennett, 1990, p. 12) that have plagued their race in scientific fields and in other areas of life. The images that are perpetuated have caused frustration as well as aggression in many African Americans, and this baggage has an effect on their consciousness, especially when "the drive towards achievement and accomplishment that the African American professional inspires is overwhelmed and distorted by the social reality it conceals" (Yeakey and Johnson, 1979, p. 12).

Often times many African Americans live life confronting stereotypes that affect their existence. "In effect stereotyped assumptions greatly determine the salience of African Americans physical and psychological presence in many contexts" (Franklin & Franklin, 2000, p. 45). Their experiences, the history of African Americans, those representations of their race in which they see in the media, all have an effect on their psyche.

This article attempts to encourage African American students and other students in scientific fields not to give up, by providing them with information that can prove to be useful for effectively confronting the negative stereotypes they may face within the halls of higher education that distribute assertions of inadequacy and also declarations of entitlement. The ultimate goal of this article will be to shed light on this climate, the infrastructure that currently exists, and to show that this infrastructure is a major contributor to the lack of participation by African Americans in scientific fields.

These goals will be met by me sharing my personal story of being in a doctoral program in science at a predominantly white university (PWI). Although this experience is a part of my past and I have since achieved other accomplishments, I thought it was a story that needed to be shared. Sharing my experiences will hopefully let other African American students know what to avoid as they navigate their way through their scientific programs and life.

My experience and research is similar to the experiences of other African Americans within academic programs at PWIs (Hall-Greene, 2000; Hrabowski & Pearson, 1993). My experience took place in a graduate setting but many African American students experience aspects of my story at the undergraduate and secondary levels (Booker, 2007; Brand, Glasson & Green, 2006; Hines, 1997; Hrabowski & Pearson, 1993; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). Simply put, the marginality of African Americans happens from elementary school to the highest level of educational attainment.

Statistics suggest that the number of African Americans who participate in scientific fields is limited and this fact is not very surprising due to the negative experiences that many African American are said to have within the science arena. African Americans constitute a little above 12% of the total United States population but in as recent as 1999 comprised only 3.4% of persons working in science and engineering related occupations (Young, 2005; NSF, 2004; Hrabowski & Pearson, 1993,).

It is no secret that the majority of African American students attend predominantly white institutions (Booker, 2007; Allen, 1992) but what may not be known is that percentage-wise African American students entering college are just as likely to chose a scientific major as white students (Smyth & McArdle, 2002; Leslie, McClure & Oaxaca, 1998; Oakes, 1990). Unfortunately many of these students do not complete their intended scientific major because they leave these majors or get lost in the science pipeline. Some authors attribute the under-representation of African Americans to poor retention programs, lack of pre-college preparation, and the university environment of predominantly white campuses (Hall-Greene, 2000; Cote & Levine, 1997; Hines, 1997; Levin & Wyckoff, 1995), while others attribute it to the stereotypical perceptions of African Americans being mentally inferior (Hall-Greene, 2000; Moore, 2000). …

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A Dream Deferred: The Experience of an African American Student in a Doctoral Program in Science
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