Songs of Zion in a strange land : successful first-year retention of African-American students attending a traditionally white institution : a student perspective



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The purpose of this study was to document factors to which senior- and sophomore-level African-American students attributed a ten-year trend of retention demonstrating higher success rates for African-American freshman than White and Hispanic freshmen enrolled in the same traditionally White institution of higher learning. The study was conducted in order to document the success of AfricanAmerican students from the students’ cultural perspective. Employing the research methodology of portraiture (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997), institutional document reviews, focus groups, and in depth interviews were conducted in order to document the students’ successful retention. Interviews were also conducted with participants who elected to leave the institution after their freshman year. The findings revealed that a critical mass of African-American students enrolled at the institution facilitated collective success through culturally relevant strategies of adaptation to campus life. The retention strategies employed by the students were interactive stages of community engagement that manifested as a cultural enclave comprising of seven components: 1) community, 2) fitting in, 3) village, 4) involvement, 5) security, 6) solidarity, and 7) reciprocity with, the seventh component serving as the perpetuating force necessary to maintain and cohere the other components of the phenomenon. A portrait entitled “Songs of Zion in a Strange Land” represented the overarching story of the students’ cultural and institutional success as it related to the African-American students’ retention. In addition, the research offered practitioners several retention strategies through the enclave retention model for retaining minority students.