The Vulnerable Ones: The Intersections of Race and Gender on Academic Adjustment of First Time In College (FTIC) African American Students



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Education has increasingly become the territory of women, and this shift is pronounced in the African American community where women earned well over the majority of bachelor degrees at 67% (Cuyjet, 2006; Knapp, Kelly-Reid, & Whitmore, 2006). This mixed-methods research examined the relationship of race and gender to academic adjustment of first-time-in-college African American students by understanding the role of identity formation in college. Specifically, this research study investigated the following question: What are the relative contributions of gender and race toward likelihood of academic adjustment of first-time-in-college (FTIC) African Americans?

To examine the research question: quantitative data were collected through three different survey instruments: The Student Adjustment to College Questionnaire (Baker & Siryk, 1989; α=.92), the Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity (Sellers, Smith, Shelton, et al., 1997; α=.85), and the Personal Attributes Questionnaire (Spence & Helmerich, 1978; α= .82). Additionally, focus groups and interviews of 3 male and 3 female first-year students were utilized to generate insight from personal experiences and provide a voice to the data.

Findings indicated that African American freshman students' academic adjustment strongly related to their racial identity. Specifically, the first multiple linear regression included the MIBI racial identity scale as the predictor variable, gender and high school GPA as covariates, and the SACQ total scale as the dependent variable. The overall model was not significant, F (3, 13) = 2.57, p > .05. The second multiple linear regression was conducted, with the MIBI racial identity scale as the predictor variables, gender and high school GPA as covariates, and the SACQ social adjustment scale as the dependent variable (F (3,13) = 3.78, p < .05). After controlling for the two covariates, racial identity significantly predicted college social adjustment. These results demonstrated that students with higher racial identity reported higher overall social adjustment as compared to students with low racial identity.

Qualitative findings indicated African American students in college identify an accepted role of challenger to negative stereotypes, people, and perceptions around them on campus. Pressures from society, from persons on campus, and other students only strengthened the students’ resolve to stay in school and achieve academic success. Each participant held strong feelings of their gender identity contributing to their overall interactions on campus. They subscribed to “traditional gender roles”; African American male students reported feeling a strong sense of being a provider. Female students stated their guiding philosophy of “do it all”; for example success as both mother and career woman, served as the chief motivating factor that increased their likelihood achieving more academically than males. They believed they were socialized since early childhood to adopt a “double minority” identity which encouraged them to adopt a guiding philosophy to work twice as hard as men, resulting in the propensity to become more academically successful. On the other hand, the African American males identified success as important; however, they were less likely to describe willingness to openly demonstrate academic behaviors in the classroom.

One’s identity and identity formation strongly influences the ways in which individual makes decisions. Furthermore, racial, social, and gender identity become pivotal persuasive pieces of a student's experiences and can alter their academic life on campus. Additionally, the college environment plays a crucial role in shaping a student's identity. The study's greatest utility is its potential to add to research on African American retention in higher education, and to help university leadership and staff when shaping educational policy that can influence this vulnerable group, and to the dynamics that may impact the persistence rates of African American students’ success in higher education.



African American students, Intersectionality, Freshman transition, Retention, Gender identity, Racial identity