As part of an ongoing series of talks, Geneseo hosted associate professor of counseling and human development Doug Guiffrida from the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester to give a presentation titled “Supporting African American Students at Predominantly White Colleges” on Friday Feb. 3.
Guiffrida based his presentation on a qualitative study he conducted while working on his post-graduate thesis at Syracuse University. Based on data collected during the past 50 years, black students are more likely to drop out or underperform when attending predominantly white colleges. Guiffrida wanted to give these students a chance to tell their stories and to offer ways to fix this problem.
Based on a study of 99 black students, 15 were dropouts, 65 were low achievers and 19 were high achievers. Through the study, Guiffrida discovered that three non-academic factors play into a black student’s ability to succeed: ethnic and cultural organizations, family and friends from home and the influence of faculty and academic advisors.
The importance of having ethnic and cultural groups on campus cannot be emphasized enough, as the study found that having a support group of like-minded peers is essential to making black students feel welcome, especially at predominantly white colleges.
There are two sides to this, however; high-performing students said that they were involved but prioritized academics, while low-performing students said that they were intensely involved, to the point where their leadership roles in these organizations overshadowed their academic study. Thus, Guiffrida emphasized the importance of faculty to advise students not to overextend themselves in clubs.
The expectations from family and friends at home also play a significant effect on the lives of black students at college. Many of the students Guiffrida spoke to were from low-income areas and from families who often could not afford to send them to college. The way the family acted about the student going to college, however, would affect their performance in school.
Less supportive families led the student to feel as though they were selfish for going to college. Oftentimes, they went home to help or worked multiple jobs so that they could send money home—leading to a decline in academic performance.
Families and communities that viewed college as a way for the student to better themselves and the community often had a positive effect on the student, providing them an incentive to not just succeed, but to surpass expectations.
The final factor that affects black students is support from faculty and academic advisors. Since white advisors often find it difficult to relate to the cultural experiences and backgrounds of black students, students who did not have black faculty to talk to often underperformed.
Black faculty members are better able to relate to black students and better equipped to deal with their families—especially the ones who feel as if their student shouldn’t go to college.
After the presentation, Guiffrida and multiple Geneseo faculty members engaged in a discussion on how to combat the issue of underperformance by black students when they have a right to succeed just as much as any other college student.
“To me, finding ways for people to become more integrated together, to be exposed, to form real relationships with people from different groups is the key,” Guiffrida said.
Here at Geneseo, we should take his advice to heart and strive to educate ourselves on the struggles of others, as well as actively support all of our peers.