Tabbye Chavous


2 Shifting Contexts and Shifting Identities: Campus Race-related Experiences, Racial Identity, and Achievement Motivation among Black College Students during the Transition to College

Authors: Tabbye Chavous, Felecia Webb, Bridget Richardson, Gloryvee Fonseca-Bolorin, Seanna Leath, Robert Sellers


There has been recent renewed attention to Black students’ experiences at predominantly White U.S. universities (PWIs), e.g., the #BBUM (“Being Black at the University of Michigan”), “I too am Harvard” social media campaigns, and subsequent student protest activities nationwide. These campaigns illuminate how many minority students encounter challenges to their racial/ethnic identities as they enter PWI contexts. Students routinely report experiences such as being ignored or treated as a token in classes, receiving messages of low academic expectations by faculty and peers, being questioned about their academic qualifications or belonging, being excluded from academic and social activities, and being racially profiled and harassed in the broader campus community due to race. Researchers have linked such racial marginalization and stigma experiences to student motivation and achievement. One potential mechanism is through the impact of college experiences on students’ identities, given the relevance of the college context for students’ personal identity development, including personal beliefs systems around social identities salient in this context. However, little research examines the impact of the college context on Black students’ racial identities. This study examined change in Black college students’ (N=329) racial identity beliefs over the freshman year at three predominantly White U.S. universities. Using cluster analyses, we identified profile groups reflecting different patterns of stability and change in students’ racial centrality (importance of race to overall self-concept), private regard (personal group affect/group pride), and public regard (perceptions of societal views of Blacks) from beginning of year (Time 1) to end of year (Time 2). Multinomial logit regression analyses indicated that the racial identity change clusters were predicted by pre-college background (racial composition of high school and neighborhood), as well as college-based experiences (racial discrimination, interracial friendships, and perceived campus racial climate). In particular, experiencing campus racial discrimination related to high, stable centrality, and decreases in private regard and public regard. Perceiving racial climates norms of institutional support for intergroup interactions on campus related to maintaining low and decreasing in private and public regard. Multivariate Analyses of Variance results showed change cluster effects on achievement motivation outcomes at the end of students’ academic year. Having high, stable centrality and high private regard related to more positive outcomes overall (academic competence, positive academic affect, academic curiosity and persistence). Students decreasing in private regard and public regard were particularly vulnerable to negative motivation outcomes. Findings support scholarship indicating both stability in racial identity beliefs and the importance of critical context transitions in racial identity development and adjustment outcomes among emerging adults. Findings also are consistent with research suggesting promotive effects of a strong, positive racial identity on student motivation, as well as research linking awareness of racial stigma to decreased academic engagement.

Keywords: Learning, Higher Education, Diversity, Motivation, ethnic minority achievement

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1 University Climate and Psychological Adjustment: African American Women’s Experiences at Predominantly White Institutions in the United States

Authors: Faheemah N. Mustafaa, Tamarie Macon, Tabbye Chavous


A major concern of university leaders worldwide is how to create environments where students from diverse racial/ethnic, national, and cultural backgrounds can thrive. Over the past decade or so in the United States, African American women have done exceedingly well in terms of college enrollment, academic performance, and completion. However, the relative academic successes of African American women in higher education has in some ways overshadowed social challenges many Black women continue to encounter on college campuses in the United States. Within predominantly White institutions (PWIs) in particular, there is consistent evidence that many Black students experience racially hostile climates. However, research studies on racial climates within PWIs have mostly focused on cross-sectional comparisons of minority and majority group experiences, and few studies have examined campus racial climate in relation to short- and longer-term well-being. One longitudinal study reported that African American women’s psychological well-being was positively related to their comfort in cross-racial interactions (a concept closely related to campus climate). Thus, our primary research question was: Do African American women’s perceptions of campus climate (tension and positive association) during their freshman year predict their reports of psychological distress and well-being (self-acceptance) during their sophomore year? Participants were part of a longitudinal survey examining African American college students’ academic identity development, particularly in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The final subsample included 134 self-identified African American/Black women enrolled in PWIs. Accounting for background characteristics (mother’s education, family income, interracial contact, and prior levels of outcomes), we employed hierarchical regression to examine relationships between campus racial climate during freshman year and psychological adjustment one year later. Both regression models significantly predicted African American women’s psychological outcomes (for distress, F(7,91)= 4.34, p < .001; and for self-acceptance, F(7,90)= 4.92, p < .001). Although none of the controls were significant predictors, perceptions of racial tension on campus were associated with both distress and self-acceptance. More perceptions of tension were related to African American women’s greater psychological distress the following year (B= 0.22, p= .01). Additionally, racial tension predicted later self-acceptance in the expected direction: Higher first-year reports of racial tension were related to less positive attitudes toward the self during the sophomore year (B= -0.16, p= .04). However, perceptions that it was normative for Black and White students to socialize on campus (or positive association scores) were unrelated to psychological distress or self-acceptance. Findings highlight the relevance of examining multiple facets of campus racial climate in relation to psychological adjustment, with possible emphasis on the import of racial tension on African American women’s psychological adjustment. Results suggest that negative dimensions of campus racial climate may have lingering effects on psychological well-being, over and above more positive aspects of climate. Thus, programs targeted toward improving student relations on campus should consider addressing cross-racial tensions.

Keywords: Higher Education, Psychological Adjustment, university students, university climate

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