Segregation and the intraracial divide

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The way students approached college varied greatly by whether they grew up under conditions of integration versus segregation. Students from integrated schools and neighborhood while seemingly better academically prepared than segregated students had had few black friends prior to college and were often uncomfortable when they met blacks from different backgrounds. They were disappointed to learn of the divisions within the black student body and that their shared skin color did not automatically gain them entrée into black peer group. On the other hand, students from segregated backgrounds were also dismayed to learn that the assumptions they had made about their same-race college peers were incorrect. Not all the black University of Pennsylvania students were just like them. They were surprised to meet upper class blacks with lots of money who were unfamiliar with their lifestyle or ideology. These incorrect expectations set both segregated and integrated students up for social and psychological shock as they experience college life.

In chapter 5, I draw upon the entire NLSF sample to create a profile of 645 African American, 197 immigrant and 160 multiracial blacks at selective colleges and universities. I attempt to redress the monolithic portrayal of black students as socially, economically, and culturally similar, revealing how the demographic heterogeneity of this black student population promotes variation in scholastic achievement and social acclimation. To add narrative depth and contextual richness to the survey analysis, I utilize the interview and focus group data with black students at the University of Pennsylvania. Qualitative data aids us in understanding the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’ behind students’ attitudes and behaviors, the ways in which students from different backgrounds articulate and come to understand their place at college, and how the specific institutional context affects blacks’ academic and social experiences.

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