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The Road to the Top: How Educationally Resilient Black Students Defied the Odds and Earned Admission to a Selective University


Black student underachievement has been studied extensively. On nearly every academic measure, Black students fare worse than their White and Asian peers. This mixed-methods study examined the impact of sociocultural and institutional pre-college experiences on Black students attending a highly selective university. The sample was comprised of 104 Black UCLA students who earned admission to the university as freshmen. Through this mixed-methods study I compared survey responses between the group of educationally resilient Black UCLA students and a California statewide data set of Black students (n=15049) on domains including family, peers, community, and school using the California Healthy Kids Resilience Module as the survey instrument. The qualitative component of my study included focus groups with 15 Black UCLA students and two individual interviews with an additional 15 Black UCLA students. My findings show that educationally resilient students had significantly more positive schooling experiences than their Black peers statewide. They felt significantly more connected to their schools, had more caring relationships, and were held to higher academic standards than their peers. These findings were underscored by interviews with students that highlighted the culture of support that existed for them in their schools. Contrary to studies that assert that Black families, peer groups, and communities are a hindrance to academic achievement, this study shows that these students had families, peer groups, and community institutions that supported and encouraged academic achievement. These data suggest that the sociocultural and institutional domains can be used to promote educational resilience for Black students.

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