Abstract: Staying Power: Social Work Faculty and Administrators Supporting Black First-Generation College Student Retention (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

359P Staying Power: Social Work Faculty and Administrators Supporting Black First-Generation College Student Retention

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Krystal Dozier, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Alabama, AL
Background and Purpose: Research has explored the college experience of first-generation college students (FGCS), risks factors to degree completion, and their retention (decision to return to an institution). There is very limited research evidence, however, on the role of faculty and administrators as protective factors in addressing FGCS retention. While research has discussed the importance of FGCS building relationships with faculty, there is a dearth of research from the perspective of faculty and administrators on how they view their role regarding the retention of FGCS, specifically Black FGCS. This paper helps to fill this gap by exploring the experiences of social work faculty and program administrators who support Black FGCS at a predominately white institution (PWI). Additionally, drawing on their own experiences, participants offer recommendations regarding ways to further support the retention of Black FGCS attending a PWI.

Methods: Eleven in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with social work faculty and administrators (ages 29 to 60) who work with Black FGCS at a large research PWI in the southeast. The sample is predominantly female (91% female; 9% male), White (64% White; 27% Black/African American; 9% Asian). Participants were recruited via email. Interviews elicited participants’ perspectives on how they assisted students in navigating college, mentoring and providing access to opportunities, and experiences of racism and microaggressions. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically using Nvivo (v. 12) qualitative data analysis software, guided by critical race theory and an inductive approach to qualitative analysis.

Results: Data analysis reveals that most participants were unaware of a student’s first-generation status unless the student self-disclosed, participated in a program specifically for FGCS, or begin to ask questions in regard to accessing resources that would indicate they may be the first in their family to attend college. Some participants described college as a “new town” for Black FGCS who do not have family members with prior college experience to aid in preparation. These students struggled to navigate college (i.e., financial aid, academic advising, campus supports). Many participants’ personal experiences of being a FGCS help normalize what it means to be the first in the family to attend college. Participants discuss how they are social capital for Black FGCS as mentors, aspirational capital, and the bridge between other opportunities (i.e., internships, co-ops, campus jobs, recommendations). Interview data also suggest that participants are aware of the need for more tailored supports that are specific to Black FGCS as they seek to create a real sense of belonging at a PWI. Participants also note Black FGCS have numerous experiences with overt and covert forms of racism, microaggressions, and campus incidents that impact their sense of belonging.

Conclusion and Implications: Social work faculty and administrators acknowledge they are actively working to increase opportunities and address educational inequality in higher education to support the retention of Black FGCS. They identify the need to listen to Black FCGS as they create more inclusive spaces, increase mentoring programs, encourage ongoing diversity training, and have performative diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.