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Cacti in the Classroom: Cultivating College-Going Culture for Black Males in Ninth Grade


This phenomenological, qualitative study examined the educational experiences and barriers to college entrance for Black males in the 9th grade attending urban high schools in South Los Angeles and Pasadena. Research shows that when afforded equitable college access resources and supports, Black males retain and achieve in higher education equal to or better than their minoritized peers in the college setting. However, according to national data, Black males are beset with a myriad of college-going challenges including low-quality schools, low teacher expectations, and limited access to the aspects of college readiness. Although Black males aspire to attend college at rates comparable to their racial peers, they are the least likely to be enrolled in college-preparatory courses, i.e. Honors and Advanced Placement. Particularly, Black ninth-graders are most likely to be enrolled in math courses that are below Algebra 1. Student trajectory to college and likelihood to drop out is effectively predicted by the completion of freshman courses. Approximately 20% of students who repeat freshman year complete high school in six years. College access programs, equipped with mentorship, culturally relevant pedagogy, and identity development act as a crucial intervention measure that has the potential to increase high school matriculation. Furthermore, increasing high school matriculation and college enrollment is the first step in securing better mental health conditions and overall living conditions for Black males. The research questions were answered through focus groups and in-depth interviews with students who participated in an academic summer program, administered via Zoom in Los Angeles, CA. The college access program analyzed in this study also sent Black undergraduate men and women at a flagship California university to high schools and conducted college mentoring and counseling aimed to increase student access. The findings from this research recommend an increase in early college access supports for Black males and culturally competent approaches to preparing teachers to engage with Black males. The overall goal of this dissertation was to assist education researchers and practitioners address the unique needs of Black males in pursuit of higher education—ultimately making schools and other social institutions more nourishing environments for Black life.

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