This study examined the self-reported experiences of Black, female, undergraduate students at a small, predominantly White, Midwestern college in the United States in order to identify factors affecting retention. Specific attention was paid to how participants perceived the effects of personal and institutional factors in relation to their persistence in college as well as to the mechanisms utilized by the students to receive the support they deemed necessary to achieve academic and social success. Research was conducted to determine how participants felt their collegiate experiences were impacted by their race and gender and to learn more about resources needed or used by participants in order to be retained by the institution.
Retention models developed by Spady (1971), Tinto (1975, 1987, 1993), Bean (1980), and Astin (1994) were reviewed to provide a foundation for the work. Additionally, an overview of Black Feminist Epistemology was presented to provide the researcher and readers of the work a better understanding of the lived experiences of women in this group.
The research methodology for this study was ethnographic. Journaling was used as the modality for data collection. Participants were assigned individual weblogs from a predetermined website and asked to journal, via the use of these weblogs, for six weeks. Posted entries elaborated on the experiences of being both Black and female on a predominantly White college campus. Blogs were chosen as data collection instruments because of the ways in which they promote interactive communication, for their ease of use, and because of their popularity.
Data analysis focused on examining qualitative information collected from the blog entries of 14 participants to determine common themes (factors). Five major themes were discovered that categorized the women’s experiences: institutional factors influencing success, personal factors influencing success, sources of support, retention and attrition, and study participation. From these themes, a number of implications were derived. Such implications, when examined by administrators in higher education, may provide insight on how to increase the retention of Black women at predominantly White institutions. Some of these implications include establishing a critical mass of students of color on White campuses, providing adequate financial aid for minority student’s nationally, supporting additional family programming at colleges, and regularly assessing institutional cultural climate. Lastly, both positives and pitfalls in creating and validating a retention model designed specifically to address the needs of women of color in academe are presented.