Narratives of identity: Perceptions on persistence A qualitative study of successful African American college students
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Persistence by minority students is recognized as critical in increasing the number of college graduates. Little research has been conducted on the select, but not elite, universities where the majority of students matriculate. This study provided the voices of 25 urban low SES African American college students who have successfully persisted at a select predominantly White college. Ethnographic observations, focus groups and individual interviews were conducted over a 21 month period. Pre-college experiences were found to contribute differently than previously identified in Tinto's student departure theory. When first arriving on campus students described themselves as underprivileged and filled with anomie. Programmatic interventions led by the Directors embraced a new concept of Iuxta parentem, as they engaged the biological parents while also serving as surrogate parents. The cohort ethos emphasized the importance of securing leadership roles and involvement in activities on and off campus that contributed to the overarching goal of future success upon graduation. The students identified the pre-college immersion program, the number of required team learning courses, the imbrications of social and academic collaborative experiences, the role of the Directors as faculty and advisors and living in the residence halls as increasing their self-efficacy. The development of a fictive kinship with the upperclassmen and the modeling of successful cohort alumni who participated in educational field trips and social events exposed the students to valued cultural and social capital. These interventions led to the internalization of preferences, attitudes and behaviors which manifested itself in an individual and collective cohort habitus as defined by Bourdieu. The students recognized that race was fore grounded in their interactions with White students and faculty but did not feel that the valued social and cultural capital they obtained was marked as White.