Climbing the ivy: Examining the experiences of academically successful Native American Indian undergraduate students at two Ivy League universities

Bryan McKinley Brayboy, University of Pennsylvania


A two-year qualitative study employing ethnographic methods, this dissertation explores the experiences of seven Native American Indian (NAI) students at two Ivy League universities. NAIs graduate from four-year institutions of higher education at the lowest rate of any ethnic group due to four factors: lack of finances, role models, academic preparation, and existing cultural incongruities. At Ivy League universities, however, NAI students are graduating at almost the same rate as their white peers. Why is this true, when the four factors cited above are in place in more intensive ways than other universities across the country? The thesis asks the larger question: How are NAI students making sense of their experiences at these institutions? More specifically, it addresses the question: What are the cultural, emotional, psychological, and financial costs and benefits of being an academically successful NAI student at an Ivy League university? This study explores the daily minutiae of student existence at the two institutions called Sherwood and Prospect. Each of the students represented found ways to be both academically and culturally successful. Students formed adaptive strategies in academic and social spheres to maintain their sense of self in environments that were, to most of the participants, hostile and unwelcoming. Additionally, the findings in this study highlight the range and variation in adaptive strategies and student experiences. Although Indigenous students are all labeled under the same heading by institutions, their experiences, personalities, needs, and cultural orientations are quite different. This finding illustrates a need to more closely examine the manner in which Indigenous students are treated by institutions of higher education in terms of their academic and social experiences. Throughout this thesis, my voice, as researcher, author, and NAI is present. My experiences as an undergraduate student shape each chapter and guide my analysis in conjunction with the students in this study. Ultimately, eight voices are present in this thesis; each has its own story to tell.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Higher education|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Brayboy, Bryan McKinley, "Climbing the ivy: Examining the experiences of academically successful Native American Indian undergraduate students at two Ivy League universities" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9926100.