2 Ousting Stereotypes and Exploring the Academic Motivation of Black Students

Amanee K. Cabbagestalk

Introduction

In the field of education, Black voices and experiences have always been marginalized and undervalued. The current state of race relations in the United States has sparked an increase in the conversation on systemic racism and bias and calls for an amplification of Black voices. According to a Politico article titled, ‘A seismic quake’: Floyd killing transforms views on race, “Public opinion on race relations has shifted dramatically since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, with Americans significantly more likely to say they believe in systemic racism. Six in 10 white Americans now say racism is ‘a big problem’ in society, an enormous increase from polls taken when Barack Obama was president” (McCaskill, 2020).

The disregarded voices and experiences of the Black community are especially important as although there have been numerous studies conducted to analyze the academic achievement and underachievement of Black students (Banerjee, 2016; Ford, Grantham, & Whiting, 2008), few studies have been conducted regarding Black students and their academic motivational influences from multidimensional aspects.

Black students often feel the pressure to prove statistics and stereotypes about the academic abilities of their race wrong. These stereotypes include, 1) Black people are not as smart as their White counterparts, 2) Black people are unmotivated, 3) Black people are not ambitious or hardworking, 4) Black people do not value education, 5) Black parents are not involved or invested in their children’s education, and so on (Anderson, 2018).

According to an article titled, A Voice at the Table: Positioning African American Youth Voices at the Center of Education Reform, “Despite some narratives that suggest that African American students are apathetic towards education, nearly 70% of African American youth indicated that doing well in school was the priority most important to them among other competing factors. Additionally, nearly 90% agreed that it was important to receive an education beyond high school. These findings suggest the need to create and support more initiatives in communities and schools that promote a college-going culture” (Anderson, 2018).

While Black students value education, are highly-motivated, and can succeed academically, these students feel that they are continually engaged in a “proving process” to establish themselves as worthy and academically able both in and outside of the classroom (Griffin, 2006). The purpose of this research is to expel the aforementioned stereotypes and explore the academic motivation of Black students.

Literature Review

Throughout the years, scholars have failed to focus sufficient systematic attention on the issue of motivation in instructional theory and technology, the understanding of motivation in individual learners, or the development of technology for influencing motivation (Keller, 1979; Cooley & Lohnes, 1976; Cronbach & Snow, 1976). This is especially evident in the study of minorities.

Research on the influence of race and ethnicity and the inequalities in academic outcomes demonstrates a significant trend that Black, American Indian, Latino, and Southeast Asian groups underachieve academically in relation to White and other Asian Americans (American Psychological Association, 2012).

It is indicated that high-achieving minority students are conscious of the stigma connected to their culture and are often distracted from academic responsibilities by their efforts to refute stereotypes about their race (Griffin, 2006; Steele, 1999; Steele & Aronson, 1995). Although, the research shows that as in attribution theory (Weiner, 1984), academic adversity does not reduce Black students’ academic motivation. According to Griffin (2006), the students described the hardships as energy for motivation and desire to succeed, rather than deterrents:

“Self-determination theory, socio-cognitive theory, and attribution theory are used as frameworks, enabling a fuller understanding of these students’ motivation patterns. Although it is often argued that motivation is primarily one-dimensional and successful students rely on motivation stemming from internally generated sources, Black students in this study report being motivated by both internal and external factors. A multidimensional framework that acknowledges the role of both internal and externally inspired sources of motivation best reflects the motivation patterns of this group of Black high-achievers” (Griffin, 2006, 385).

Cokley (2003) contests the outdated understanding of Black college students and the factors causing their academic underachievement. In an investigation, Cokley (2003) showed that Black students are intrinsically highly motivated and this motivation is not related to academic performance. It demonstrates that Black students’ motivational influences include a combination of intrinsic, extrinsic, future, and social goals (Hwang, Echols & Vrongistinos, 2002). Additionally, Mortimore (2009) showed that effective teaching and perception of faculty encouragement contributes greatly to the motivation and academic self-concept of Black college students. This exceeds both academic performance (e.g., grades) and school environment (i.e., Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs] vs. Predominantly White institutions [PWIs]).

Although the type of learning environment may not be the premier factor in Black students’ motivation, it plays an essential role in the students’ educational experience. Black students who are surrounded by like-minded individuals in predominantly Black environments tend to perform better academically and are more intrinsically motivated (Cokley, 2003). Studies suggest that Black students can and do excel at PWIs, but it requires additional determination and inclination to manage challenging circumstances as an underrepresented minority in college (Reeder & Schmitt, 2013). HBCUs have proven to provide a higher level of interpersonal support, encouragement, and external sources of academic motivation and knowledge, while Black students at PWIs struggle with experiences such as alienation, perceived hostility, racial discrimination, and lack of integration into the broader environment (Allen, 1992).

“African American students attending HBCUs reported significantly higher intrinsic motivation, higher academic self-concept, and more positive perceptions of faculty encouragement than African American students attending PWIs. By contrast, African American students at PWIs reported significantly higher extrinsic motivation and higher self-esteem; however, they had lower GPAs than White students at PWIs” (Cokley, 2003, 524).

Race-related stress must be considered when taking the motivation of minority students into account. A study by Reynolds, Sneva, and Beehler (2010) states that institutional racism-related stress was negatively correlated with extrinsic motivation, but positively correlated with intrinsic motivation. According to the study, “The high levels of institutional racism-related stress experienced through bias and discrimination make it difficult for Black students to adjust to college, especially at predominantly White institutions.” It also indicates that the student’s motivation is influenced by the level of academic engagement. Students who are involved academically may be less likely to be unmotivated (Reynolds, Sneva & Beehler, 2010).

Practical Recommendations for Instructors and Instructional Designers

Exploration of Black students and their motivational influences suggest that one single theoretical framework cannot explain the complex psychology of Black students. Researchers and theorists must look beyond standard archetypes to develop a more inclusive understanding of the motivational psychology of Black students (Cokley, 2003). There is a wide range of internal diversity found throughout this already diverse group of individuals. Black students have always had to conform to learning in a White-dominated society.

  • Instructors and instructional designers must learn to emphasize the importance of combining instruction with students’ cultural backgrounds to create learning environments that are respectful of this diversity (Kaplan, 1999).
  • Instructional designers have the responsibility to provide inclusive learning to accommodate a variety of learners. Diverse learning environments enhance educational experiences not only for minorities, but for all students. Diverse content and learning strategies should be implemented across the board. For example, The University of Minnesota has made a valiant effort to assess its commitment to diversity and multiculturalism. The University of Minnesota’s Office for Equity and Diversity sponsored a $3,000 grant for the “Promoting Inclusion and Retention through Integrated Multicultural Instructional Design” (PIRIMID) project. This project promotes the integration of multicultural content and diverse teaching and learning strategies in postsecondary curricula, programs, courses, and academic support services (Higbee, Schultz, & Goff, 2014).
  • Academic institutions across the country must follow suit by making a conscious effort, allocating funds and resources for advancement, and focusing their attention on professional development, bias, and race-related training, and community and academic support specifically for minority students to accelerate learning and increase motivation.

Conclusion

By the mid-21st century, the word “minority” will hold a very different meaning as Latinos will comprise almost one-fourth of the United States’ population, and Black people, Asians, and American Indians will comprise another one-fourth of the population (Pollard & O’Hare, 1999). The transformation of the United States’ racial and ethnic profile will be evident in classrooms across the country. Instructors must be cognizant about addressing the needs of Black, American Indian, Latino, and Asian students. Research shows that inequity in instructional institutions not only impacts their academics, but also their psychological well-being (Stephens, Fryberg, Markus, Johnson, & Covarrubias (2012). More specifically, instructors must check their implicit bias against Black students. The conversation regarding race relations will continue to shift as we shed light on racial discrimination and inequality in the United States. Opinion polls show that many white Americans believe that racial discrimination no longer hinders the advancement of minorities (Pollard & O’Hare, 1999). Yet, Black students obtain more suspensions, expulsions, and disciplinary actions than white students (Riddle & Sinclair, 2019). Educators have been known to treat students of equivalent academic abilities differently based on the student’s ethnicity and race. This includes discrimination through hostility and patronizing attitudes expressed in both explicit and implicit forms and microaggressions.

Reynolds, Sneva, & Beehler (2010) stated that “educating parents, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders about the powerful impact of social support and the negative effects of stereotypes is an important step in reducing the negative effects of low motivation and self-efficacy among students of color.” Like their white counterparts, all students deserve the luxury of succeeding academically and socially without the burden of proving that they are worthy. Black students have demonstrated time and time again that they are motivated and more than negative stereotypes.

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