Racial Climate and Belonging: Experiences of Black Students at Traditionally White Liberal Arts Colleges

2018-07-25T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Erin M Hoffman
Troubling college graduation rates in the United States, and disparities in completion rates between students of color and White students, persist even after more than 40 years of exploring the college completion phenomenon. This study follows a line of critique of Tinto’s (1975; 1993) theory of student departure and posits that traditional discussions of student retention do not adequately center the experience of racism that students of color face in traditionally white institution (TWI) environments. The aim of this study, guided by critical race theory (CRT), is to understand the experience of Black students at TWI in order to challenge current perspectives of student success and retention, and work towards creating more socially just and inclusive campuses. This multiple case study uses qualitative methods to explore the experiences of fourteen Black college students at three traditionally white liberal arts colleges in the Midwest and considers how the campus racial climate (Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 1998) impacts Black students’ sense of belonging (Strayhorn, 2012), and persistence in college. Findings from this case study reveal the racial climate challenges of Black students specifically within the traditionally white liberal arts college environment, expose the nuance of these institutional contexts as well as facades of progress, and recommend key institutional investments in faculty hiring and development as well as in developing critical spaces of trust, empowerment, and healing for Black students.