The Relationship between Racial Identity Attitudes and Interpersonal Development of African American College Peer Mentors

By Watt, Sherry K. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Racial Identity Attitudes and Interpersonal Development of African American College Peer Mentors


Watt, Sherry K., The Western Journal of Black Studies


In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that approximately 11% of all African American college students were enrolled in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) while the remaining 89% were attending predominately White higher education institutions (PWIs). In the same year, African American students comprised 9% of all students receiving a baccalaureate degree. Of all African Americans who received a baccalaureate degree, 28% of those students received their degree from a HBCU and 86% received their degree from a PWI (NCES, 2001). It is a challenge to retain African American students in PWIs to graduation. These college students are faced with many stressors affecting their attitudes toward race and interpersonal development (Fleming, 1984; Sedlacek, 1987; Cheatham, Slaney, & Coleman, 1990; Cokely, 1999; Flowers, 2004; Rankin, 2005). Unfortunately, these attitudes may not be healthy for their perception of themselves as racial or social beings. Based on the theoretical frameworks of Chickering and Reisser (1993) and Cross (1971; 1991), this study explores the racial identity attitudes and the interpersonal aspects of psychosocial development.

Theoretical Foundation

Chickering and Reisser's (1993) vectors of development describe a stage theory of the psychosocial growth of college students. There are seven vectors in his theory: Developing Competence, Managing Emotions, Moving Through Autonomy Toward Independence, Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships, Establishing Identity, Developing Purpose, and Developing Integrity. This study focuses on the fourth vector: Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships. Chickering and Reisser (1993) define this task as moving from intolerance of difference and limiting intimate relationships to increased tolerance of difference and the capacity for enduring intimate relationships. Winston, Miller, and Prince (1979; 1987) operationalized Chickering's theory in various versions of the Student Development Task and Lifestyle Inventory (SDTLI) to measure the development of traditional college students through achieved selected tasks. The SDTLI is based on the general theoretical foundation of Chickering's theory, but does not conform to the vector format (Winston, 1990).

Cross (1971; 1991) describes movement toward understanding self as a racial being for African Americans in four stages: Pre-encounter, Encounter, Immersion/Emersion, and Internalization. In the Pre-encounter stage, a person views the world through the eyes of a White person and values the dominant culture. The Encounter stage is a time when individuals realize that their views of race in the world are inconsistent due to a shocking personal experience, which forces them to look at the problems pertaining to race. In the Immersion/Emersion stage, individuals continue to move away from their old identity to a new one that focuses on being Black to the exclusion of other races, especially White. Toward the end of this stage, individuals begin to focus on an appreciation for being Black that is not motivated by hatred of Whites. Internalization is a stage of peacefulness and security where individuals are comfortable with their cultural/racial identity and are also concerned about the well being of all of those who are oppressed. Cross's model was refined and operationalized by Parham and Helms (1981). While a review of the literature revealed a limited amount of research that considers both the racial identity attitudes and interpersonal aspects of psychosocial development of African American student leaders, there are a number of studies that consider the relationship between the two variables.

Research on African Americans College Students

In general, African American college students attending PWIs experience unique adjustments as compared to other college students (e.g. Cokely, 1999; Kimbrough, Molock, & Walton, 1996; Schwitzer, Griffin, Ancis, & Thomas, 1999; Flowers, 2004; Rankin, 2005). …

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