Thumbnail Image

When The Family Goes To College: How Black College Students, Their Families, and College Personnel Juggle Tensions Between Home and School

Many still view higher education as a meritocratic pathway to advantage. Yet debates are ongoing about whether and how higher education sustains race and class advantage or deters some talented youth from pursuing their educational and career aspirations. Although it is widely recognized that families shape the likelihood of getting into college, few scholars examine variation in families’ continued involvement during the college years and its implications for sustaining inequalities in college experience and success. Understanding these differences, and the uneven playing field they sustain, can help shape the policies that college personnel are now developing as they aim to create ways to involve families. Incorporating theories of family capital and family kinscripts to frame support between students and their families, I show that “doing” family is a two-way exchange process. In three interconnected papers, this dissertation draws on in-depth interviews with first, Black undergraduate students, second, with their mothers, and third, with college administrators and staff and ethnographic data collected at on-campus family centered events to investigate the place of families in university life. First, I find that Black students’ responsibilities to their mothers, fathers, and other extended and fictive kin create tradeoffs they must navigate as they attempt to juggle the demands of college with ongoing demands from family. Second, I show that Black mothers act as resources and connectors to kin, but conceptualize their involvement differently by class: disadvantaged mothers assume a hands-off approach due to their limited university-specific knowledge, whereas advantaged moms are more hands-on as a result of the college knowledge they possess. In their practices, advantaged mothers reject the idea of the autonomous or independent college-going child, while disadvantaged mothers, who talk of trust and pride, promote the autonomous model. Given recent trends in higher education, many advantaged families expect to be involved throughout their children’s college careers. Third, I argue that the commercialization of higher education and the growing consumerist mentality of privileged families has led college personnel to strategize around FERPA constraints. They use the legal confines of FERPA to both protect themselves from families as well as assist some - but not all - families, especially in times of crisis. Many of college personnel’s interactions with families of students are organized around race. Black families and Black personnel discuss the ways race shapes university and family partnerships. These papers offer a critique of standard views of the family. My findings suggest that higher education policies and practices should not be thought of as one-size-fits-all and calls for postsecondary institutions to employ strategies and mechanisms that better support increasingly diverse students and families.
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
Publisher Version
Embedded videos