August 23, 2022
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Background: Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) have for decades played a pivotal role in producing Black scientists. Research found that HBCUs, despite being under funded and resourced, were responsible for over 10% of Black scientists with doctorates. Even though most earn their doctorates at Historically White Institutions (HWIS), understanding the experience of Black STEM doctoral students at HBCUs is of paramount importance to impacting opportunity for success for underrepresented population groups.
HBCUs are recognized for approaches to learning and learning environments that are more relational, encouraging peer to peer and student to faculty relationships, particularly in the form of same-race and same sex mentorships, resulting in less negative racialized gendered experiences and less competitive atmospheres. In spite of what appears to be accepted truths, such as HBCUs offering more culturally affirming experiences, some researchers suggests that little empirical research exists on the quality of support structures available for graduate students at HBCUS in STEM academic fields, particularly mentoring. Increased understanding would provide essential framing necessary for developing more effective mentors at HBCUs, especially given that there are limited numbers of Black faculty in STEM, even at HBCUs.
Theoretical Framework: Anti-racism and critical capital theory are employed as theoretical frameworks. Both are well suited for questioning taken-for-granted assumptions about the lived experiences of racialized others and for deconstructing systemic issues influencing common faculty practices. These frameworks highlight the contextual experiences of STEM doctoral learning.
Research Design: The researchers were interested in understanding how STEM doctoral faculty at HBCUs perceive their role as mentors.
An NSF AGEP sponsored social science research project explored the dispositions, skills, and knowledge of eight STEM faculty at a HBCU. Attitudes towards culturally liberative mentoring were explored through a qualitative case study. The participating faculty were involved in an institutional change program and were interviewed for an average of 60 minutes. Constant comparative data analysis method was used. Additionally, STEM faculty from participating departments completed two mentoring competency and attitude inventories. This case was drawn from a larger multiple embedded case study.
Research Findings: The research findings indicate that STEM doctoral faculty mentors at HBCUs express attitudes about mentoring that are not all that different from their PWIS counterparts. They have a tendency to hold deficit views of domestic Black students and have minimal awareness of how culture inhibits or facilitates a positive learning experience for Black students. Further the culture of science tended to blind them from the culture of people.
Research Implications: In order to enhance the learning experiences of Black STEM doctoral students at HBCUs, the Black student experience at HBCUs must be deromanticized. Understanding the impact of anti-Black racism even within an environment historically and predominantly Black is imperative. Recognizing the ways in which anti-Black attitudes are insidiously present in faculty attitudes and practices and in environments perceived as friendly and supportive for Black students highlights opportunities for STEM faculty development that can move toward a more culturally liberative framework.
Merriweather, L., & Douglas, N., & Howell, C., & Sanczyk, A. (2022, August), Same soup, different bowl: Understanding the mentoring attitudes of STEM doctoral faculty at HBCUs Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/42114
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