More Than One Perspective: Participatory Action Research of Curricular Racial Integration in an American Higher Education University

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Since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954, which stated that legally-supported school segregation was harmful to children’s self-concept, researchers and educators have questioned whether the intended goals of racial integration were ever successfully accomplished. As America continues to become more racially diverse, it is increasingly important to ensure that schools are preparing students to be productive, successful citizens in a multicultural world. Institutions of higher education are the ideal setting to work on social justice, the process towards and end goal of equity and equality. College students typically have the opportunity to interact with other students from diverse backgrounds, and with appropriate social and educational opportunities, can graduate with the skills and knowledge to be leaders in their communities or other settings, promote social justice, and achieve genuine racial integration. This study used Participatory Action Research (PAR) as the qualitative approach and Critical Race Theory as the underlying paradigm to investigate the effects of an Afrocentric Psychology course on a diverse group of undergraduate students at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, the author evaluated participants’ quantitative changes in their racial identities as well as the quality and quantity of interracial friendships; reflected on their qualitative experiences of learning a new perspective through participation in an Afrocentric Psychology course; and worked collaboratively towards social justice in the university community. Quantitative data were used to inform reflection, and qualitative data described how (the process through which) social justice occurred. Statistical analysis indicated that the effects of class enrollment on quantity and quality of interracial friendships, as well as racial identity, were not significant for students overall. However, there was a statistically significant change in racial identity for White students enrolled in the Afrocentric Psychology class. Qualitative data analysis indicated that students who completed the Afrocentric psychology course were aware of social justice issues related to racial oppression in curriculum and pedagogy on their campus, reflected on their personal beliefs regarding race, and developed an overall interest in diversity-related courses. Students reported having a positive Afrocentric course experience, and many students requested that this course or a similar one be offered again in the future. Through Participatory Action Research, students in an American higher education setting engaged in social justice. Social justice is a necessary component of a genuinely integrated society, and includes taking action and racial inclusivity at multiple levels. This action, progressive work towards inclusivity, respect, and equality needs to be incorporated into institutions of higher education. The results of the current study suggest that students responded well when exposed to Afrocentric conceptualizations of the cognitions and behaviors of individuals of African descent. Findings suggest that we as Americans can continue to work towards the goals of integration by including more than one perspective in institutions of higher education, and have a meaningful experience in the process.
Dissertation completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Psychology degree in School Psychology at Alfred University, Alfred, NY.
Black studies, Psychology, African American studies