In recent years, scholars have produced research on African Americans in predominantly White institutions. As a result, efforts toward increasing diversity and benefits for African American minorities in colleges and universities have been an influential factor in increasing minority attendance at selective colleges and universities. Much of this research also includes a joint assessment of predominantly White institutions (PWI’s) and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s), comparing the experiences of African Americans in both settings. (See: Kim and Conrad 2006; Chavous and Harris 2004; Kim 2002; Allen, Haniff and Epps 1991; Fleming 1984.)
There has been an observed link between the perception of campus climate and student’s academic achievement. Hurtado (1992) argues that campus racial conflicts are connected to elements in institutions’ racial climate that sustain the relationship between African-American students and their White peers, faculty and administration. The assumed affects of the campuses racial climate have prompted scholars to compare predominantly White institutions and historically Black colleges and universities to assess the affects of these interactions on academic achievement, social mobility, development, psychological factors, and student persistence.
HBCU’s vs. PWI’s: Factors affecting academic, social and psychological well-being.
Kim (2002) and Kim and Conrad (2006) analyze the effectiveness of HBCU’s and PWI’s in developing African American student’s academic and cognitive abilities. Although the two types of institutions differ dramatically in terms of resources, both studies conclude, that there is no difference between HBCU’s and PWI’s in terms of the students’ academic ability nor does it interfere with degree completion. These modern studies may show development beyond the initial studies that indicated a strong relationship between campus racial climate factors and the academics and social achievement of African American students. In previous research, Allen, Epps and Haniff (1991) and Fleming (1984) both argue that while individual characteristics play a role in achievement, the quality of life weighs heavily upon psychosocial well-being.
Fleming (1984) assesses Black student’s “psychosocial adaptation” and “intellectual performance” as essential for college success. In this study, gender proves to be a factor in psychosocial studies of African Americans at PWI’s and HBCU’s indicating that Black females adapt more positively to a predominantly White institution than do Black males. Fleming (1984) also notes that both Black and White women are more academically and socially successful in a women’s college. Chavous, Harris, Rivas, Helaire and Green (2004) reference both Allen, Fleming and Davis in their assessment of racial stereotypes and gender in both HBCU’s and PWI’s. Results show that women achieve higher education at better rates than men attributing to racial climate barriers that affect men and women differently. (Chavous, Harris, Rivas, Helaire and Green (2004) In a study of 143 undergraduate students at a large Midwestern, public PWI they find that while racial climate and discrimination affect the college experiences of women, being female and an ethnic minority may cause more subtle forms of discrimination than men, allowing them to tolerate their environment. (Chavous, Harris, Rivas, Helaire and Green (2004))
While the literature suggest a relationship between racial climate and academic achievement, it also suggests a relationship between racial climate and non-cognitive factors such as; race-related experiences, social support, perceived environment, and involvement on comfort and social success (MacKay and Kuh 1994, Sedlacek 1999, Smith and Baruch 1981, and Hurtado 1992) Gloria (1999) and Hurtado argue that factors such as social support, university comfort and self-beliefs are all important factors for a student having a negative or positive collegial experience. Davis and Bowie (2004) and Lewis, Chesler and Forman (2000) argue that non-cognitive factors indicatory of a tense racial climate such as discrimination, colorblindness, and stereotypes negatively affect an African American student on a predominantly White campus. However tolerance of these factors can be directly related to a student’s background, thus, affecting how they adjust to these experiences on campus.
Massey, Charles, Lundy and Fischer (2003) argue that school quality; socio-economic background and racial composition of a student’s high school can directly affect how they adjust to life on a predominantly White college campus. In their book, Source of the River, researchers assessed the psychological vulnerabilities to racially negative experiences such as stereotyping and discrimination, of African Americans. Background variables indicating strong infrastructure of high school in terms of teachers and resources as well as a high amount of contact with other White students, African Americans attending predominantly White colleges were not as vulnerable to campus racial tensions as those from predominantly Black high schools with less resources.
The literature suggests that while there has been a strong correlation between academic success and racial campus climate experiences, the dynamics are changing, therefore administrators, faculty, staff and students should be aware of possible negative influences on African American students’ comfort level while attending a predominantly White college or university. This study hopes to raise awareness about the specific factors impacting African American women at Saint Mary’s College.