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Insights into the Complexities of Identity in Persisting Latina College Students

This study explored the educational journeys of 17 academically achieving, low income and first generation college attending Latinas at three different selective institutions. While many studies have been dedicated to the reasons for the low graduation rates of Hispanics, this strength-based study focused on resiliency and on the relationships and strategies Latinas used to achieve success in the most unlikely of environments. The interviews considered: the ways in which Latina students persist and whether their pathways were consistent with Tinto’s traditional model of persistence; how students developed the scholastic capital required for persistence; and the ways in which culture and campus affected their persistence. The central themes fell into two broad categories: family and capital. Cultural context was found to be an essential component for academic success for these students, and family involvement was central to this context. Families wanted their daughters to become not just well-educated, but bien educadas, a term that includes formal education as well as cultural norms, values, and protocols. The study also revealed that the educational pathways of these women had been made possible thanks to teachers, friends or programs that helped expand the family’s social capital. However, the expansion of a student’s capital and her growing development of scholastic capital were experienced as hollow unless she was able to integrate these experiences into her cultural world in a meaningful way. Family, teachers, mentors, and micro communities all played an essential role in the integration of this capital and in helping students develop bi-cultural identities. Finally, the findings suggested that there may be some advantages for Latina students who attend a women’s college or are at least a strong women’s studies program. Because the Hispanic culture tends to be male dominated and perhaps because in the U.S. Hispanic populations tend toward higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, etc. all associated with poverty and lack of education, the students in this study gravitated toward education about women’s issues, women’s health, birth control, and women’s rights The findings from this study offer guidance for ways institutions of higher education might betters support Hispanic persistence.
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