Black student voices : exploring the expectations and lived experiences of belonging as recruited and enrolled students at two flagship institutions




Thornburg, Ka'rin Kai

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Using qualitative methodology and critical race theory (CRT), this study centers Black students’ voices in issues of access, diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education. Its three research questions increase awareness and present opportunities to enhance Black students’ representation and belonging at flagship institutions. These questions explore Black students’ 1) expectations and factors of belonging during the college choice process; 2) lived experiences once enrolled and the factors that drive their enrollment recommendations to prospective Black students; 3) recommendations for universities that they believe will improve interest, representation, and belonging. In total, 33 participants at two institutions in the Midwest and Southwest U.S. completed a guided writing exercise, focus group or individual interview, and demographic questionnaire. I analyzed this data using CRT techniques and narrative descriptions to contextualize the participants’ experiences and related policies and practices that perpetuate inequity and exclusion.

Critical findings from the above analysis are summarized as follows. First, more than half of the participants did not think, were not worried, or were optimistic about their belonging during the college choice process regarding diversity and campus climate (57%), academics (71%), social and cultural opportunities (66%), and overall fit (63%). Second, their lived experiences more frequently influenced positive belonging in academic performance and social engagement with Black and other students of color and negative classroom interactions and social engagement with White students. Additionally, when considering institutional resources, academic opportunities, a desire to change Black enrollment, and other factors, upwards of 85% recommended their institution to prospective Black students. Third, the participants’ recommended strategies for admissions and university administrators reinforce beliefs that the most assured way to increase Black students’ interest (applications), representation (admission/enrollment), and belonging is to have more Black students on campus.

Consequently, the study’s implications acknowledge and validate Black students’ by employing institutional missions and resources to create new knowledge and actions from culturally relevant, inclusive, and responsive research. Further, they call for direct, intentional, and compassionate responses to Black students’ needs as well as collaborative efforts with internal and external partners to strengthen relationships and outcomes with schools, communities, advocates, and Black students.


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