Background: African American males' experience in higher education is often categorized with negative terminology that does not reflect notions of success. Most research addressing the success of African American males in higher education illuminates factors that impede access to success and is often situated in university settings. Very little research is dedicated to examining the experiences of African American males in community colleges and even less research is published on their perceptions of success
Purpose: To examine and understand the concept of success from the perspective of African American males enrolled in community college and identify how institutional and non-institutional factors affect their concept of success.
Setting: Interviews were conducted at community colleges in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.
Subjects: Seven African American males enrolled in at least 6 credits at a community college in were interviewed.
Research Design: Qualitative interviews using a semi-structured question matrix; the question matrix was designed to elicit responses related to defining a personal concept of success.
Data Collection and Analysis: Face- to- face interviews were conducted on college campuses. Audio recordings were collected, transcribed, and then coded using computer- assisted qualitative data analysis software. Coded excerpts were grouped into prominent themes.
Findings: Six primary themes were identified from the interview data.
• Almost all participants stated that academic success had nothing to do with
academic performance. Academic success was situated in overcoming challenges
in an academic environment.
• Success in general is more important than academic success.
• The concept of success changes based on life experiences.
• Feeling isolated, positive and negative interactions with faculty and peers
contributed to the concept of success.
• Negative imagery, stereotypes, financial status, and family support contribute to
how African American males perceive themselves as successful.
• Overcoming daily challenges based on race is indicative to how African American males equate success.
Conclusions: While persistence and completion are important, academic success as defined by African American males in community college does not pertain to academic performance. Deeply rooted issues of race and racism influence a general definition of success. Concepts of success change overtime as significant life events occur and as more encounters with racism are realized. Overcoming challenges that affect the intersections of race, class and gender are more accurate descriptions of success. African American males in community college are very aware of how fragile their lives are as targets of racial profiling. Avoiding situations where others may not feel safe in their presence and continuously compensating for racial barriers that must be overcome in order to succeed is burden that is carried daily. For African American males, the only concept of success that matters is surviving the daily challenges of being an African American male for example, not losing their life at the hands of police officers.
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