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Assessing African American College Persistence at a Predominantly White Institution Using the Cultural Capital Theory: A Research Proposal
The University of Maryland McNair Scholars Undergraduate Research Journal, 1, no. 1 (Winter 2008): 74-90.
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Manning Marable once claimed that there were two distinct Black America’s. Since desegregation there has been a rapidly growing class of middle class Blacks and a similarly expanding “underclass” of Blacks that has led to much diversity in the socioeconomic background of many Black college students. Education has been pitched as the great equalizer, though many Blacks at predominantly white institutions are struggling to graduate. Most research aimed at solving this conundrum views socioeconomic status separate from cultural identity. This research attempts to capture the “socio-psychological” process of developing identity as an African American at a predominantly white institution. This research contributes to the field of African American post secondary education studies by examining socioeconomic status, cultural identity and collegiate persistence as interdependent variables. This study uses Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural capital theory as the theoretical framework. Cultural capital refers to background - knowledge base, skills, and attitudes - families of the dominant socioeconomic class transmit to their children (Lareau & Weininger, 2003). This theory proposes that in order for the dominant group to maintain its dominance some culture is valued or devalued within social institutions. Qualitative research methods were used for this study. Using convenience criterion sampling, six African-American students from various socio-economic backgrounds were identified in the summer of 2008. All participants were seniors, scheduled to graduate in Fall of 2008 or May of 2009. Students were selected from the Eastside University (pseudonym), a premier research institution and predominantly white university. A focus group was conducted during the summer of 2008, supplemented by ethnographic interviews and case studies provided by Lorenzo Dubois Baber (2007). During the data analysis phases four themes emerged that highlighted the cultural identity changes in the participants: 1) the construction of an ethnic identity; 2) the conversion of various forms of cultural capital; 3) the experience of stereotype threat and racism; 4) and the progression towards blended perspectives. This research is meant to add significant data regarding the heterogeneity of the Black community and how the differences in cultural identity are portrayed on predominantly white campuses. Much of the previous research on Black student persistence is based on other forms of capital such as social, human, and financial, and has a tendency to assume that Black’s share a collective identity. As the Black underclass and middle class both continue to grow wider apart it is inherent that researchers study this phenomenon transitionally. This research does that and provides analysis and recommendations for helping future generations of Black students to persist on predominantly white campuses.