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Pacific Islanders in College Football: Getting In, Staying In, and Moving On


In 2012, the American College Testing (ACT) reported that 81% of Pacific Islander (PI) high school students aspire to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher (the national average is 82%), but in 2014, only 38% of PIs left high school to attend college, and only 18% actually graduated with their bachelor’s degree. This suggests that PI communities have bought into the promise of higher education, but barriers exist that complicate their matriculation. This dissertation is a study of PI college football players, the most visible and vulnerable participants in US higher education today. In 2015, the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) reported that only 11% of PI college football players graduated from the FCS division, compared to their Black (51%) and White (63%) counterparts. This was the lowest of any demographic in all of college sports. While PIs are strategically targeted for athletic labor in college football, the corresponding graduation rates suggest that the relationship between the PI community and US higher education has become one of exploitation.

This dissertation uses cultural and racial frameworks to offer counter-narratives that center PI perspectives, and decolonizes academic spaces that normalize whiteness and operationalize cultural racism in colleges and universities. This study of PI college football players focuses on three components of their college experience: 1) the college choice process (getting in), 2) transition and persistence (staying in), and 3) professional matriculation into the academy (moving on). Accordingly, this dissertation by compilation investigates each component as separate studies – Getting In, Staying In, and Moving On – but as integral parts of the same overarching research topic.

The Getting In findings suggest that PI football players often come to colleges and universities with an over emphasis on sport, while the Staying In findings suggest that PI transition and persistence may be negatively influenced by the invisibility of PIs within the academy, or the underrepresentation of PIs within the general student body, faculty, administration, and staff who represent “attainable” and “realistic” professional aspirations for PI matriculants. The Moving On findings suggest that issues of race significantly impact the experiences of college football players that wish to matriculate into the profession of coaching college football, and offer some explanations for the diversity deficit between the 55% of student-athletes of color that participate in college football, and the 75% of white college football coaches.

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