A different world [than where you come from] : examining the experiences of Black undergraduate students at predominately White institutions amid the dual pandemics

Date

2023-04-18

Authors

Webster, Travette Ann

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Abstract

In 2020, society as we knew it changed drastically. A global health crisis that highlighted negative disproportionalities for people of color was exacerbated by a front-row seat to our generation's racial awakening. COVID-19 along with the public murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others became known as the "dual pandemics" (Jones, 2021). Prior research identifies a relationship between racial discrimination at predominately White institutions (Feagin, 1992; Grier-Reed et al., 2021; Harper & Hurtado, 2007; Hurtado, 1992; E. Morales, 2021; Swim et al., 2003) and adverse psychological effects on Black (K. F. Anderson, 2013; Carter & Forsyth, 2010; Nadal et al., 2014). However, an extensive analysis of recent literature reveals that research has yet to consider how the current COVID-19 and racial justice pandemics (Madrigal & Blevins, 2021; J. Miller, 2020) affect Black undergraduate students. To this end, this research study explored the experiences and coping strategies of Black undergraduate students in the aftermath of the dual pandemics. The study used Racial Battle Fatigue (W. A. Smith et al., 2007) and coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) as conceptual frameworks, and employed qualitative methods – interviews and a written reflection – to examine seven Black undergraduate students enrolled at predominately White institutions. Analysis of the data reveals that the dual pandemics caused severe disorientation and isolation in Black college students. These students are not sheltered by their campus walls. Compounded by an anti-Black institutional climate is the awareness of everyday racism felt by simply being Black in America. As a result, participants described significant levels of anxiety, fatigue, and hypervigilance characterized by intense fear over the past three years. In response to race-based trauma, participants employed various effective coping strategies including cultural identity and collective activism, hope, talking with friends or family, and imitating modeled behavior. Avoidance was noted as an ineffective coping strategy. As a result of the pandemics, Black students showed an increase in problem-focused coping driven by a strong sense of responsibility and high cultural identity. Findings will raise awareness and guide university administrators, Black student organization advisors, faculty, and mental health personnel to taking a proactive role in helping students to mitigate the detrimental effects of race-based trauma at the college level.

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