The purpose of this research study was to explore how students of color at predominantly White institutions define and articulate their culture. Additionally the study was concerned with understanding why their culture and cultural engagement is important to them. Of particular interest is how students perceive the effect of cultural experiences on their cultural growth and cultural efficacy development. Qualitative methods were used in this study. The study was methodologically driven by the traditions of phenomenology and portraiture. Data collection included two components. In the first phase, two group interviews of nine students (18 total) were conducted at two large public institutions. The interviews provided a starting point for students to explore their thoughts about culture and to discuss cultural engagement in college. The second component involved students in writing cultural self-portraits. The portraits were personally narrated written reflections sharing students’ life stories, ideas about culture, opinions of culture in college, and thoughts on the importance of culture. The data revealed that to college students of color, culture included more functional life tools than ritualistic practices. To the students in this study, culture was defined as a toolkit that included family bonds, life survival strategies, the practical and social functions of art and religion, a value for education, and a sense of legacy. Students indicated that culture was indeed important to them for both institutional and personal reasons. Cultural engagement was expected in college to help them adjust and to feel connected to campus. But more importantly, they saw it as a necessary venue through which they could come to better know and understand themselves. Culture was revealed as an important protector against all of life’s challenges including family struggle, community failure, educational isolation, and racial pain. The very personal and intimate views of culture shared in this study offer cultural practitioners in any field a better understanding of how contemporary young people may approach and understand culture. This is particularly relevant for those professionals that develop cultural programs and initiatives aimed at this population. These programs must be framed by viewing culture through the same lens of understanding as the current student population. Therefore, the study offers a contemporary view of culture in communities of color. The study also provides new information on how and why culture is important to college students. This research contributes to the existing base of knowledge on the benefits of cultural diversity within higher education.
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