“It takes fire to make steel”: Stories of two African American males finding purpose through their college experiences

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
L. DiAnne Borders, Burlington Industries Excellence Professor (Creator)
Laura McLaughlin Gonzalez, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: Purpose – This study aims to understand the asset and success factors that contributed to college completion of African American males who persisted through college. Only a dismal 22 per cent of African American males receive bachelor’s degrees compared to 41 per cent of White males (Kena et al., 2015).

Design/methodology/approach – The data were analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis. The authors interviewed two first-generation African-American males from rural backgrounds to capture their experiences of their process to college completion.

Findings – Themes, based in cultural capital theory, that impacted their college persistence were identified within their pre-college experiences, college experiences and post-college perceptions. Recommendations for helping rural African-American males attend and persist through college are offered.

Research limitations/implications – Only two participants from one predominately white institution in the southeastern USA were interviewed. Rural students from other geographical areas might have different backgrounds, challenges, assets and successes. Although the interview questions were based on relevant literature, they may not have covered all key aspects of the participants’ experiences. As in any qualitative study, biases of the researchers and research team may have influenced the results, although these were identified and shared before reading any of the transcripts and then discussed several times during the data analysis process.

Practical implications – Educators not only should try to address the cultural capital limitations of these men but also highlight and build on their cultural assets. These assets include familial and platonic individuals who see their potential for success and encourage them to attend college to become something better than what they see in their community, reverse role models who encourage youth to make different choices than they did, media-based examples of successful Black students, cultural messages of strength and determination (e.g. Million Man March) and the exhortation to be an example that other African-American boys could look up to.

Originality/value – This paper addresses the need for K-12 and higher education institutions to understand how to assist first-generation, rural African-American males in getting admitted to college, matriculating through college and graduating from college.

Additional Information

Journal for Multicultural Education
Language: English
Date: 2015
Rural, College, African-American males, Degree attainment

Email this document to