Strategies of Belonging: Counterstories of Black Students at a Predominately White University

Much recent international attention has been placed on the educational attainment gap of minority ethnic students in higher education, yet universities have struggled to reduce the gap and understand the complexities of the issue. Student engagement and sense of belonging have been identified as crucial element of success in higher education (Kuh et al., 2005; Thomas, 2012).
This paper draws on in depth interviews with Black students to identify the challenges faced in belonging to a largely white academic community. The paper uses the critical race theory concept of counterstories to express ‘composite’ narratives (Solorzano and Yosso, 2002) of Black students situated within the prevailing whiteness of many higher education institutions. Three different strategies for belonging in higher education were identified in the interviews and are presented in the narrative: post racial, academic and advocacy. The paper highlights the varying and complex nature of belonging for Black students and argues that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to engagement and belonging is insufficient to address the attainment gap.

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