Date of Award

Summer 5-16-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Dr. Marcia Martin

Second Advisor

Dr. Melanie Masin-Moyer

Abstract

Abstract

Addressing Barriers to College Graduation for BIPOC First-Generation Students; Recommendations to Improve Students’ Sense of Belonging and Persistence Outcomes

Dr. Nicole Kabalkin

DSW, LCSW

Background

The topic of college persistence outcomes for first-generation college students (FGCS) of color has garnered increased academic inquiry in recent years. While universities throughout the nation have professed a commitment to equity, often equating college admission to guaranteed social mobility, research indicates that access to university life does not translate to inclusion. Universities and colleges alike cite a history of engaging in concrete efforts to embrace and support BIPOC FGCS. Yet, poor college outcomes for this distinct population, along with student accounts of exclusionary practices on campus, indicate that universities must do more to combat inequality on their campuses in order to promote a sense of belonging for all students.

Methods

This exploratory study explores the voices of FGCS, channeling their recommendations into institutional changes at the university level. The study aims to develop a strengths-based approach that encourages universities to not only nurture their BIPOC FGCS, but to seek out and include their voices throughout all levels of the institution. The goal of this study is to support FGCS of color, along with administrators, faculty, and the greater university community to reform the exclusionary culture of academia and, in turn, ensure that university life mirrors the lives of all those in attendance, regardless of their racial or socio-economic background.

Qualitative interviews in the form of focus groups were conducted with a sample of 50 KIPP NYC, AF NYC, and HVA alumni who are currently between the ages of 18 to 25 and who enrolled in college within a year of high school graduation. Participants represented the variety of schools that this population attends i.e. community colleges, public universities, Ivy League universities and other private institutions. Focus groups of 6-8 participants were held in January of 2021. Groups were recorded, transcribed and the researcher conducted a thematic analysis.

Results

Student narratives can serve as an important resource for institutions throughout the country who are committed to fostering a culture of equity and belonging for all students. Seven prominent themes surfaced: Sense of Belonging and Community; Effects of Imposter Syndrome and Code Switching; White Saviorism; Tokenism and Emotional Labor of Educating Others; Financial and Familial Stressors; Experiences with Racism and Microaggressions; and Access to Mental Health. Student narratives illuminated the legacy of institutionalized oppression that continues to operate at the highest levels of education. Students recommend a number of changes to university life, including a strengths-based approach to FGCS grounded in resiliency variables rather than risk factors; increased hiring of faculty of color and mental health practitioners of color at counseling centers; a designated center embedded on campus for FGCS of color w/ peer to peer supports; mandatory trainings for faculty and students on equity and inclusion; and increased accountability for both faculty and staff who engage in racist practices.

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Social Work Commons

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