From a personal level I have learnt a lot form this project but looking back it shocks at how ignorant I was.
Let’s stop pussy footing around when it comes to race / ethnicity / religion etc.
Belonging - Black students' experiences at a predominately white university
Addressing concerns of black students in
their academic experiences in a
predominately white university -
Lessons from qualitative institutional research
Neil Currant – Oxford Brookes University
• Sense of belonging has been identified as an important
factor in persistence and success for all students (Thomas
• Under-researched area of the literature (Hausmann,
Schofield & Woods 2007)
• Understanding minority students’ sense of belonging is
key to understanding their experiences at university.
(Hurtado & Carter 1997)
• ‘fit’ - focuses on the student’s perceived cohesion within
a group (Bollen & Hoyle 1990).
• Peer, department, course, student society etc
• ‘contact’ - the relational interactions with others
characterised by stability, emotional concern and on-going
positive contact (Baumeister & Leary 1995).
• Peer, personal tutor, lecturer
What is sense of belonging?
• ‘Onlyness’ captures the experiences of many black
students at institutions where they may be the only person
from their ethnic group in their class (Harper 2009) and
the sense of isolation and discomfort this may bring. (fit)
• For black students, their staff and peer interactions are
more likely to be ‘cross-racial’ whereas as white students’
interactions are more likely to be with individuals who
are also white. (contact)
Proportion of students
Attainment at Oxford Brookes
University: Proportion of 1st &
2.1 degrees (home, f/t, UG students)
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Good completion BME
Good completion White
Background – Oxford Brookes
• In depth, open-ended interviews with twelve BME
undergraduates about their experiences at university.
• The interviews were conducted by two BME
postgraduate research students.
1. Post racial -
“It’s not like I’ve got to make sure I put it in there so people
know I’m African or anything like that, it doesn’t matter…I
don’t want it to be the first thing people see, or think, is that I
am black, so I tend not to want to go towards them groups
(Afro Caribbean society), that’s the reason why I didn’t go to
X University ‘cos when you go there it’s quite a big black
group, which is fine, I’m not saying you don’t want to hang
out with your own people, but don’t make it out so that
everyone needs to know that we’re black.” (Student 3)
Ways of belonging successfully
“…people will judge you (for being black), people
will look at you by what you do … get good
grades, that is when you get the respect … the
truth is you cannot measure yourself with a white
person in this country, what a white person needs
to do, you need to do double to be able to be
recognised.” (Student 4)
“I think it does lead me to when I get given
assignments, all I want to do is race because
that’s what they’ve missed out…I think me
being so clued up about race issues is a form
of self-protection.” (Student 1)
Strategy Fit Contact
1. Post-racial Yes with wider
university activity; an
Less important than fit
2. Academic With similar peers on
course, less important
Requires good contact
with academic staff.
3. Advocacy With like minded peers,
e.g. through SU.
Social / peer contact is
more important than
Strategies: fit & contact
“There were students from all parts of the world so most of the
lecturers give us an international perspective.” (student 5)
“What happens is they (lecturers) think because you are African
you always bring in Africa to things. Just as you raise your hand
and they say to you “yes I know in Africa” (in sarcastic tone).”
• Positively acknowledge different cultural
contributions in the classroom.
“they’re very aware of gender, very aware, very great at
that and that pleases me, like that’s really good, but they shy
away from race so much. And, you know, even in my classes
like cultural and linguistic diversity, they shy away from
race” (Student 1)
• Acknowledge race / ethnicity plays a role in the dynamic
of the class.
• Confront ‘questionable’ student attitudes.
• Reflect on your own cultural ‘essentialism’ and consider
the message you convey about race / ethnicity.
Helping ‘fit’ 2
“once you are admitted you can easily get lost in the system…Are
student support staff trained to deal with this area” (Student 10)
“I went to counselling a bit last year which was terrible…She was
sort of shutting down the way I was thinking about it…I’d like to
have someone, as a black person or as a mixed person to be able
to talk to, to relate to these kind of issues.”(Student 1)
• Support staff and personal tutors who are experienced in
• For example, new lecturers tend to draw on their own
experiences of university (or from what they see around
them in the department) which can be very different to
the student they are advising.
• We have to acknowledge and be sensitive to race and its
impact on the student experience.
• We have to reflect on our own cultural biases.
• We might need to use positive action to address the
attainment gap issue