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A Different World: African American first generation college women at a selective university
  • Jennifer M Johnson
The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of the academic and social experiences of African American, first generation college students attending a selective university. Following interpretive case study methodology, the major research questions guiding this study were: How do African American, first generation college students describe their academic and social experiences attending a selective institution of higher education? And How do African American, first generation college students mitigate barriers to college persistence? Through demographic questionnaire responses and individual semi-structured interviews with five African American women attending the University of Pennsylvania, participants identified the ways that their collegiate experiences were shaped by their social identities, precollege academic and social experiences, and interactions with members of their campus and home communities. Findings indicated that African American, first generation college women graduate from high school with a strong academic sense of self, developed after years of parental encouragement for academic achievement and positive precollege experiences with teachers and counselors. This academic sense of self contributed to students' ability to adapt to the academic competiveness and classroom expectations of their given major upon matriculation. With time and self-reflection, students began to engage in academic behaviors linked with success. Socially, early experiences of isolation or alienation primarily occurred during students' first semester, but were mitigated through interactions with peers or engagement in campus organizations and activities. Students identified availability of financial resources, their strong support networks, and their intrinsic motivation and academic self-efficacy as factors that contributed to their college persistence within the setting of a selective university. Finally, students specifically described how five salient aspects of their identity - their race, class, academic sense of self, gender, and spirituality, influenced not only the ways they individually engaged with the college environment, but also their perceptions of various members of the campus community. The findings of this study contributes to the complexity of understanding how African American, first generation college women experience a selective campus environment. Implications for campus policies and practices, as well as recommendations for future research are presented.
  • Women,
  • College choice,
  • Retention
Publication Date
Summer 2013
Field of study
Higher Education
Education, Policy, and Leadership
Sharon L. Fries-Britt, Alberto Cabrera, Noah Drezner, Hanne Mawhinney, Marcia Marinelli
Citation Information
Jennifer M Johnson. "A Different World: African American first generation college women at a selective university" (2013)
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