Graduates of an Historically Black Boarding School and Their Academic and Social Integration at Two Traditionally White Universities

By Alexander-Snow, Mia | The Journal of Negro Education, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Graduates of an Historically Black Boarding School and Their Academic and Social Integration at Two Traditionally White Universities


Alexander-Snow, Mia, The Journal of Negro Education


This naturalistic inquiry explored the cultural impact of a historically Black independent boarding school on the social and academic experiences of four of its graduates who attended two traditionally White universities. The study examined two primary questions: (a) What factors from the historically Black boarding school assisted or hindered students' transition into traditionally White colleges and universities?, and (b) What impact does institutional climate and culture (Black and White) have in shaping graduates' perceptions of academic and social success? The research findings reflected the historically Black boarding school experience as playing a significant role in shaping graduates' academic and social self-concepts.

Keywords: Black boarding schools, student collegiate success

African American 'families are finding it increasingly difficult to ensure African American children a safe learning environment where all school community members - teachers, students, administration, and parents - share the same values of cultural and racial awareness and academic achievement. Subsequently, some families are seeking alternatives such as historically Black independent and private day schools. These schools "provide an expanded context for American education by offering educational options that cater to the intellectual, social, cultural, and spiritual needs of [African American] students" (Institute for Independent Education, 1991, p. iv). Moreover, African American youth who attend historically Black education institutions have shown success in these schools after having been unsuccessful in public schools (Alexander-Snow, in press; Ladson-Billings, 1994).

There is scant research on the outcomes of historically Black schools in preparing African American youth for academic and social success in college, particularly traditionally White colleges and universities (TWCUs), where the cultural context, academic content, and physical environment are not always aligned and consistent with African American philosophical orientations. This article addresses the question: Are graduates of historically Black independent schools, particularly boarding schools, 'equipped' to meet the cultural challenges of traditionally White campus environments?

Research studies purport that student characteristics, such as high school organizational structures, academic achievement, and social attainments influence how well students will perform in college, but also how well students will interact with and become subsequently integrated into an institution's social and academic systems (Braxton, 2000, 2003; Tinto, 1993). What is not known is the degree to which pre-collegiate social and cultural experiences impacts students' success in college. To explore the academic and social experiences of graduates of a historically Black school, four African American students who attended two traditionally White universities were interviewed at different stages of matriculation. Overall, the goal of the study was to provide greater insight into the cultural, racial, or ethnic issues that are significant in the retention of African American students in higher education.

DEFINITION OF TERMS

African American or Black refers to people of African heritage, descent, or ancestry born in the United States. Traditionally White colleges and universities refer to predominately White, postsecondary institutions originally founded with traditions and values that promoted the EuroAmerican Western philosophical system and culture (Alexander-Snow, 1999; Hurtado et al., 1999).

Self-concept is a relational term reflecting a student's perceptions about competence or skills through experiences with his or her environment, and social and academic interactions with peers and faculty relative to other students (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Self-esteem reflects a student's sense of self-worth; the extent to which the student exhibits and expresses behaviors of significance, worth, and capability (Coopersmitii, 1967). …

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