Getting Ready for College

This is something different than what I usually do, but given that I’m about to be done with school soon, I should occasionally use this platform to provide some kind of service. This powerpoint is a section of a webinar I created a couple of years back and I think it would be a real help for anyone about to go to college or anyone who knows a future college student.

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  1. Tips for Starting the Search. Most high schools offer some days that students can use to go visit colleges so these days should be taken advantage of.There are also several college fairs that are hosted in the city throughout the year.  There are also days that colleges will host groups of students and take them on a tour of the campus.  These are great opportunities to gain more information about colleges that you may not get from just looking on the school website.
  2. College Entrance Exams.Most colleges will accept either the SAT or the ACT, but most schools have a preference between the two.  Check with the school to make sure which one they prefer. A good time to take either test is during the fall or spring semester of junior year.  If you want to take the test again to get better scores, this gives you enough time to properly study and prepare for another test before college applications are due. Each test also offers fee waivers, so check the requirements of each test to receive a fee waiver. There are differences between the two tests.  Generally speaking, the ACT is based more on the curriculum that students learn from in school, while the SAT is more of an aptitude test.
  3. SAT vs. ACT. There are some important differences between the two.  The length is about the same, but the ACT has an optional 30-minute writing test.  The SAT has reading, math, and writing sections.  The ACT includes English, math, reading, science, and the optional writing section.  The scoring scale for the SAT is 600 – 2400 and the scale for the ACT is 1 – 36.  For the SAT, 1/4 is deducted for wrong answers, so there is little benefit in guessing.  For the ACT, there is no penalty for wrong answers so it is a good idea to guess if you don’t know the answer.
  4. Preparing for the SAT/ACT. 
    • The College Board Web Site — Free test preparation materials, excellent resources for finding, selecting, applying to and paying for college
    • The ACT website — Free ACT prep materials, good information, and resources for college search and admission process
    • — Excellent free site for SAT and ACT prep and personalized vocabulary builder
    • Test Prep — Free practice test questions, and subject area self-assessment modules for the SAT, ACT and PSAT
    • The Princeton Review — Test prep company offers some free study materials for the PSAT, SAT, Subject Tests and ACT. Click on “Free Practice Tools” section for each test.
    • Kaplan — Test prep company provides some free SAT and ACT prep materials including access to free “Quiz Bank,” “Practice Tests” and “Practice Questions”
  5. Personal Statement. The personal statement is a major part of the college application.  It allows the college to more easily identify stand-out students within a large pool of applicants and provides more information about a student than test scores and grades.  Personal statements usually fall into two categories: a general and comprehensive personal statement and a personal statement that answers very specific questions.
  6. Tips for Personal Statements. Here are some tips for writing a good personal statement.  Make sure that you answer the questions that are being asked, no matter how well written your statement may, it won’t matter if you do not answer the questions that are asked.  Be specific.  Whatever claims or statements that are made should be backed up with specific reasons.  Telling a story also helps because it provides concrete experiences that can help you to stand out above other applicants.  Doing research on the school benefits you because you can explain in more detail why you are applying to the school and what resources provided by the school that you can take advantage of.  Avoid cliches, so that means staying away from the types of things that a lot of people say in their personal statement.  Include original thoughts.  Make sure that there are not any errors.  The readers will not be able to focus on your unique experiences if they are too distracted by errors in grammar, spelling, or punctuation.  To prevent having any error, have multiple people proofread it.  Having multiple people do it helps because one person may catch something that another one didn’t.  Finally, statements should be tailored to each college.  While there should be a general structure that may apply to different school, the personal statement should fit what the college is explicitly asking for and other things that may grab their attention.  So this goes back a to the previous point of doing research on the college.
  7. Financial Aid. One of the biggest issues facing college students is financial aid.  It will help to understand some important terms.  The award letter basically tells you what financial aid the college can offer you.  Exactly what information is included can differ. So while a school will tell you how much they can offer, they may not tell you the actual cost of attendance.  Expected family contribution is what it sounds like, how much the family is expected to contribute to your college education. This is important for filling out the FAFSA, which will be discussed in the next slide.  Grants are money that can come from different sources such as the government and the school that do not have to be paid back.  Loan have to be paid back federal student loans don’t have to be paid while in college.  Scholarships are usually awarded for some type of achievement.  Work study or work awards are funds given by the Federal Work Study Program to students for part-time employment to help cover the costs for college.
  8. FAFSA. The FAFSA or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid determines how much you or family has to contribute to your education.  This is the previously mentioned Expected Family Contribution.  Expected Family Contribution in turn determines how much you are able to receive in grants, loans, and work-study.  There are different application deadlines for each school, so check with the schools to find out their FAFSA deadlines.
  9. Tips for Parents. Parents also have to be aware of certain things in finding and dealing with financial aid.  Understand what the colleges are offering.  The distinction between grants and loans is important.  Colleges may not differentiate whether they are offering grants, loans, or both.  Get up to date information, costs are subject to change without notification so it always a good to keep in contact with what is going on.  Apply for financial aid on time.  This is very important because paying on time can mean the difference between being registered for all classes and having to sit out a semester or more.  Don’t be scared away from the more expensive private colleges.  They tend to provide more financial aid because they have the additional resources to do so.  The costs could end up being the same as going to a cheaper public college.

Suggested Reading List

Here are some books that I’ve read that I think quite a few people could benefit from reading. Forgive me if it’s a bunch of Black shit (actually not really, deal with it). Most of these are books that played a really big role in my personal development, scholarly development, and my overall worldview. I’ll try to update this list as I read through more books. I’m pretty sure you can find most of these on Amazon for cheap. If you are interested in any book in particularly, please comment and I can tell you more about it. Some of these books I have not read in a long time so bare with me if my memory is spotty for some of them. Or alternatively, if you have any suggestions for books I should read, I would be happy to get those as well.

  1. Creating the Opportunity to Learn: Moving From Research to Practice to Close the Achievement Gap, A. Wade Boykin & Pedro Noguera
  2. Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, Derald Wing Sue
  3. Of the Dawn of Freedom, W.E.B. DuBois
  4. Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois
  5. The Gift of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois
  6. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  7. No Name in the Street, James Baldwin
  8. Stolen Legacy, George James
  9. Democracy Matters, Cornel West
  10. Hope on a Tightrope, Cornel West
  11. Silent Covenants: Brown V. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform, Derrick Bell
  12. Black Sexual Politics, Patricia Hill Collins
  13. Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon
  14. Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
  15. The Anatomy of Racial Inequality, Glenn C. Loury
  16. Fences, August Wilson
  17. Postcolonialism: A very Short Introduction, Robert J. C. Young
  18. Native Son, Richard Wright
  19. The Outsider, Richard Wright
  20. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, Dorothy Roberts
  21. The Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson
  22. A Gathering of Old Men, Ernest Gaines
  23. A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest Gaines
  24. Pedagogy of Indignation, Paulo Friere
  25. Undoing Whiteness in the Classroom: Critical Educultural Teaching Approaches for Social Justice Activism, Virginia Lea
  26. Segu, Maryse Condé
  27. Malcolm X: The Last Speeches, Malcolm X
  28. African American Perspectives: Family Dynamics, Health Care Issues and the Role of Ethnic Identity, Marian Harris (I co-wrote a chapter in this book, shameless plug lol) 

To Be Young, Black, and In School

America’s education system is screwed up. For Black people, it can be an absolute shit show. I am originally from Gulfport, Mississippi and spent my whole life there until moving to Atlanta for college. As I got older, I began to notice things as I progressed through school. Being a high achieving student, I was placed in honors and advanced classes, but I noticed that fewer and fewer of my fellow African American students were in those classes. There were several instances in which I was the only African American student in the class. At times I felt isolated and alienated, particularly during that one wonderful semester when I was constantly called names by a White student every time I entered the classroom.

Those experiences are not unique to me. Various inequities are part of the educational experiences of African Americans. Discrimination and unfair treatment occurs at all stages of the education system. We get notified very quickly about our standing in schools. Messages are communicated to us about our value, intellect, and worthiness. Too often we get messages about how we are troublemakers. Messages can be sent through relationships with teachers as they tend to have less favorable views of African Americans and have more conflict with their African American students. Disciplinary actions send messages through the disproportionate punishment of African American students. Tracking disproportionately places Black students in lower tracks, while the few Black students in the higher tracks often feel a sense of isolation, not unlike that terrible feeling I remember having frequently. Studies have helped reveal how African American students are not given adequate opportunities to display their intellect and are discouraged from taking more rigorous courses. School curricula are largely characterized by an absence of Black history or culture. I don’t remember learning any significant Black history in the classroom until I went to college at Morehouse. And this is all just in primary and secondary school: it becomes more disheartening to realize that these issues continue on to higher education.

I don’t need to remind you of all the recent stories regarding the protests at several universities. Here is a good resource that gives a pretty efficient rundown of everything happening across the country. I will try to at least explain broadly a lot of issues that African American college students deal with. Studies have shown the negative effects of racial discrimination such as its relationship with negative outcomes including lower academic motivation and increased stress. African American college students too often report negative racial climates outside of the classroom. Classroom interactions too often negate their experiences, leaving them to feel self-doubt and change their educational plans. Even for graduate students, experiences with racism are related to more symptoms of depression and stress. No wonder people are protesting everywhere, look at what they have to deal with and how it affects them!

I know much of the discussion has been about what has been going on at colleges around the country, but I would like people to think about what these students have been going through both during college and before college. It’s understandable why students are frustrated and fed up; they probably have been dealing with these same things for their whole lives: elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and grad school. It’s been a part of their educational experiences for too long and they are tired of it. And so am I.

Advocacy and Alternative Settings as Intervention Strategies for Reducing the Achievement Gap

Nature of the Problem

The academic achievement gap between African Americans and their White counterparts has been an issue that has been discussed and dissected for several decades.  In 2010, the Schott foundation released a report on Black males in school.  It was reported that for the 2007 – 08 school year, there was only a 47% high school graduation rate for Black males and only 9% of Black male 8th graders scored at a level of proficiency in reading (Schott, 2010).

Various scholars have speculated on both the causes and the implications of this social problem.  Through recent years, scholars have begun to pay more attention to societal and social factors that adversely impact African Americans’ achievement.  Mickelson (1990) describes an attitude-achievement paradox in which students’ personal experiences with education do not align with the overall sentiment of education being a likely path toward success.  African American students do not receive the same support from teachers and administrators as their peers.  Their teachers are more likely to be less qualified or experienced (Flores, 2007) and the teacher may have low expectations for them and may even go as far as to dissuade the students from attending college or taking advanced classes (Howard, 2003).  These students are not even educated in the same way; they are more likely to attend schools that focus less on comprehension and knowledge (Teale, Paciga, & Hoffman, 2007).

The implications of this gap come through in economic attainment, which then leads to disparate health outcomes.  Ross and Wu (1995) found that education both directly improves health and indirectly improves health through work and economic conditions, health lifestyle, and social-psychological resources.  With its impact on economic, social, and health outcomes, the achievement gap is a social problem that needs to be addressed and reduced.

Main Position Presented

The two intervention strategies that I propose for addressing this social problem are the creating alternative settings and advocacy.  When alternative settings are being created, it is because the current setting or system is inadequate and changing the system is not a good enough option; therefore, the system or setting is completely abandoned and another is created (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  Strategies and tactics for creating alternative settings include identifying and involving both insiders and outsiders, learning the prehistory of a new setting, creating a new organization, and transferring ideas into a social situation.  Advocacy involves representing group interests in established institutional arenas (Checkoway, 1995).  Strategies and tactics for advocacy include outreach to allies, contacting elected officials, and creating a plan that involves a power map of allies and opponents.  With each strategy comes both strengths and weaknesses but I believe that they serve as the best options for solving the issue of the achievement gap.

A strength of alternative settings is that there is a sharper focus on the guiding principles of the setting (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000). Having more of a focus on the main goals of the setting allow for those involved to be more successful in implementing the program and promoting positive outcomes.  For the achievement gap, this is definitely a positive.  Properly educating children should be the main focus of any school, but too often this is not the case.  In today’s climate, there is so much emphasis on raising test scores that students are only learning how to take tests and not actually learning the material.  This is especially an issue for already underfunded schools that have had funding rescinded due to No Child Left Behind Act.  Creating an alternative education setting would allow for educating students to be at the forefront once again.

Another strength is that the climate tends to be characterized by high energy and goodwill (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  The climate plays as big of a role as any other factor in educating students.   As stated earlier, African American students face situations with hostile teachers and administrators that hinder both their ability and their willingness to succeed.  How can students be expected to succeed when the individuals charged with ensuring that are also the ones telling them that they cannot?  Creating alternative settings would likely ensure that students receive the proper support from teachers and administrators that would promote positive academic outcomes.

A strength for creating alternative settings that is specific for addressing the achievement gap is that the students would be more likely to feel as if they belong.  Such a setting would establish a sense of community within it.  All of the parties involved would benefit from being together.  The students would be more likely to feel as though they can trust the teachers and other authority figures.

Advocacy also serves as a suitable option for reducing the achievement gap.  A strength of advocacy is that it allows the interests of the group to be represented at various institutional levels (Checkoway, 1995).  This is allows students and parents to have their voices heard by the various bodies such as the school board or the local legislature.  Making their voices heard at these levels also allow for them to have an impact on policies.  This influences such things as funding and curriculum development.  Advocacy could lead to the increase in funding for schools who lack the necessarily resources to properly educate their students.  As previously stated, African American students are more likely to attend schools that have fewer resources and less qualified teachers (Flores, 2007).  With more funding, the schools could provide more resources to students in order to facilitate their education, as well as hiring more qualified teachers.  More appropriate curriculum development could also be a result of advocacy.  Curricula could be developed that both focuses on the necessary material for students to succeed, but also to provide students with diverse skill sets that can prepare them for life after school.

Another strength of advocacy is that it can empower individuals and groups.  Wallerstein (1992) defines empowerment as “a social-action process that promotes participation of people, organizations, and communities towards the goals of increased individual and community control, political efficacy, improved quality of community life, and social justice.  This definition applies because making their complaints known to governing bodies and seeing their efforts come to fruition gives people a sense of control of their lives and the environment around them.  Parents will be able to feel as though they are better able to contribute to their children’s success and the students will feel empowered in an environment that is more tailored to their continued academic success.

With strengths, come weaknesses as well and the strategy of creating alternative settings has weaknesses that should be addressed.  One issue is that they are typically limited in the number of people they can serve (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  The best example of this in the education realm is charter schools.  To provide a specific example, the KIPP academies in Atlanta have been doing a good job with educating their students and their students tend to have scores that are higher than the national average in several categories.  There are six schools in Atlanta and they serve approximately 1600 students.  That number may seem large, but when you consider the metropolitan Atlanta area, you realize that this is a small minority of students that are receiving this service.  Many other charter schools also admit small numbers of students and when the number of students applying is larger than what they have space for, a lottery is held.  Unfortunately, this leaves a large number of students unable to receive this same quality education and this could be due to pure chance.

Another weakness is that the establishment of these kinds of settings may discourage the larger society from assuming responsibility and addressing this social issue (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000). Whether the larger society would even address the social problem, with or without alternative settings is another issue.  If parents attempt to hold schools accountable for the poor performances of their children, the response could easily be telling the parents that there are other schools to enroll their children.  Yet, as stated before, these alternative schools are limited in the number of students that they can accept.  So not only are a large number of students left out, but they are also within systems of the larger society that are less likely to address the issue or assume responsibility for it.

Another issue is the establishment of alternative settings takes away from the resources available that could be used to change the existing systems (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  This is a complaint that a lot of people have with charter schools. Some feel that charter schools are not guaranteed to be better than the regular public schools and that the funding that charter schools receive takes away from the funding of other schools that could be improved.  With this in mind, the alternative setting that is created should be an improvement over the other settings.

The strategy of advocacy comes with its own weaknesses as well.  One potential issue is the backlash and push back from opponents, which would make the path to enacting policy level change more difficult.  Opponents may feel as though the empowerment of other groups threatens their privilege.  A prominent example of this is affirmative action.  Affirmative action was meant to help increase the representation of minorities various realms such as education.  Opponents felt as though White student were being penalized and individuals with lower qualifications were being allowed into schools.

Another weakness is that the individuals or groups that are being advocated for may not the people who are empowered.  Checkoway (1995) states that some advocates empower themselves and not the communities they advocate for.  They may impose their personal values on the communities they serve and may even exclude community members from the process.  This can lead to issues of dependency because the community will be dependent upon the advocate.  With community psychologists being involved, the troublesome part would be to give up their power.  The community psychologist would have to share their power with both the students and parents; unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Critical Questions

When considering advocacy and alternative settings as viable intervention strategies, there are several critical questions that must be addressed.  Addressing these questions will better illustrate the utility of each of these intervention strategies.  For creating alternative settings for reducing the achievement gap, one question that is likely at the core is what constitutes an alternative setting.  The most obvious examples are charter schools.  Charter schools are relatively free to operate as they wish and they are not subject to the same regulations as regular public schools.  Other than charter schools, what other alternative education settings are there?  Answering this questions helps in also figuring the various shortcomings such as those highlighted by Cherniss and Deegan (2000).  If the alternative setting is a school, an issue that has to be addressed is the addition of new teachers after the initial stages.  Teachers who were there from the beginning would have to be responsible for socializing and training new teachers to using different approaches than those they may be used to in traditional settings.

Another question that has to be addressed is if the alternative settings are actually better than the traditional settings that they would replace.  One debate, especially with charter schools, is if they are actually better than traditional schools.  A problem with most alternative settings is that over time, they become more like the traditional settings that they attempt to replace.  With all of the outside opposition and external forces, any alternative setting would more likely to adapt in order to survey (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  Unfortunately, this would mean becoming more traditional, and in this case that would mean not being much better than the previous settings.

Also, would the alternative settings maintain their effectiveness while serving larger numbers of students?  One of the characteristics of alternative settings is that they tend to serve smaller numbers of individuals than traditional settings (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  What needs to be examined is whether these settings are more effective because of the limit on the number of individuals they serve or whether the setting is an improvement based on its own merit and not the number of people served.  Charter schools such as the KIPP academies and Urban Prep produce students who are academically successful, but they also serve a smaller number of students than other traditional schools.  One of the main issues is that urban schools face, especially those that are predominantly Black, is that there is an overabundance of overcrowded classrooms and a lack of teachers who are able to handle such situations.  There is a shared opinion that smaller classroom sizes lead to improved outcome students; but what if it is not necessarily small classroom sizes that are better, but the interaction between classroom size and teaching style? Maybe the reason that classroom size is a problem in most inner-city and urban schools is that teachers may not be able to properly adapt their teaching style to suit a larger classroom size.  The issue that alternative settings have to address is how to reach a larger number of students, while at the same time, maintaining a high level of effectiveness.

The other question in terms of alternative settings is whether the alternative setting is supposed to serve as an alternative or if it is supposed to be a model of what should be done.  There is no guarantee that if the setting serves as a model it will cause changes in traditional settings.  Even if it causes changes in traditional settings, this could be a problem as well.  Traditional school settings may incorporate aspects from the alternative settings into their system, which could lead to the alternative settings being less competitive (Cherniss & Deegan, 2000).  This leads to another question of whether these aspects are incorporated into traditional school settings as efficiently as they would be in an alternative settings.  If the aspects are incorporated as efficiently, then it would be a positive, but if they are ineffective then it may reflect badly upon the alternative settings.  Then there is also the issue if the traditional school setting is willing to amend itself to fit the needs of a given population.  If the traditional school setting is not willing to amend itself, then it does not really matter if the alternative aspects are implemented because they may be done so in a way that benefits African American students.

The use of advocacy also has questions that should be addressed.  One major question that has to be answered is: who is the advocate?  Is the advocate the community (students and parents), teachers and administrators, or is it an outside person (psychologist, professional)?  An issue that was brought up by Chekoway (1995) is that many advocates are not members of the communities that they serve and that they only push more minor modifications rather than fundamental system change.  This would relate to an earlier point raised when discussing the weaknesses of the program. Who is being empowered? If the community psychologist is the advocate then there are several areas that have to be addressed.

Community psychologists have to make sure that if they become involved in effort to enact policy change, they have to be sure to not contribute to the status quo or exacerbate the current issue.  Community psychologists have to also be knowledgeable about the fact that their research could have wide-reaching implications that can be seriously detrimental if not used properly.  With facing a multifaceted issue such as the achievement gap, community psychology as a field seems to be best equipped to tackle this issue.  Psychologists have to be aware of the different educational policies that have been enacted in the past.  Also important is the political-organizational context.  The current political climate is an issue because of the cuts of funding for various educational programs.  An example of an educational program that has been hurt by budget cuts is the McNair program.  Several programs throughout the country have lost their funding and have been forced to shut down.  This relates to the political leaning of the group that the community psychologist is advocating to (Wursten & Sales, 1988).  The group could either be one that approaches such an issue by evening the playing field by directing more resources to underfunded schools or they could be in favor of funding only the schools that perform well and leaving the other schools to wither away.  Considering all of these will allow the community psychologist to be a more effective advocate.

If parents or teachers are advocates then they have to be sure that the students have their voices heard as well. There is always the risk that parents and teachers can superimpose their own beliefs onto the advocacy efforts without much input from the students.  Then there is also the issue of parents and teachers clashing with one another because of their different points of view.  Obviously this would not be a good thing for the students for whom they are advocating.  If the students are advocating for themselves, then there has to someone who will facilitate the students’ advocacy and making sure that they learn the proper channels and the best ways to go about advocating for themselves.  At the same time, the person or people responsible for making sure students can advocate for themselves have to be careful that they do not impose their own beliefs on the students.

Another question that has to be addressed in terms of advocacy is determining the appropriate level at which advocacy efforts should be directed.  If the change is only desired at the level of the community, then advocating to the local school board may be enough.  If more widespread change is desired, then state or even national legislature may be need targeted in these efforts.  A very significant and impactful example of this is the case Brown vs. Board of Education.  The landmark Supreme Court case was the culmination of various protests and demonstration and it led to the desegregation of schools and other public spaces.  Determining the level of intervention would likely influence the specific strategies used for advocacy.

Finally, a question that should definitely be considered due to its relevance for both intervention strategies is whether the community is ready for the change.  There would not much point of implementing a strategy if the community is not behind it.  This is especially difficult when the strategy may be implemented by individuals outside of the community.  Jordan and colleagues (2001) discuss issues that Black psychologists face in their own communities due to the mistrust that Black communities have toward researchers and help professionals.  With such a history of abuse at the hands of scientist, this issue has even more importance.


While these questions are important to consider, there are limitations in the existing literature that have be addressed in order to adequately answer these questions.  In terms of what constitutes an alternative setting, there seems to be a lack of consensus on both the nature of the construct and its definition.  While Cherniss and Deegan (2000) describe settings as existing on a continuum between the extremes of traditional and alternative, they do not go into enough specifics as to where an “alternative setting” falls on the continuum if it is embedded within a more traditional system.  It also says that alternative settings could also be alternative in different areas.  I believe that this could cause a great deal of confusion because with these stipulations in mind, many programs or settings could be considered alternative even if in practice they are not much different than settings that would be considered traditional.  There was also a description of several characteristics of alternative settings, but they were rather broad and seemed to only refer to surface characteristics that may not necessarily portray what makes them alternative.  With an area like education, it can be pretty difficult to properly define an alternative setting.  With the exception of charter schools, the criteria could be less clear in terms of defining what an alternative educational setting is.

Whether alternative settings can remain effective while serving a larger number of individuals is another area that has gaps.  While there have been studies that have examined how alternative settings have worked when applied to different places or population, there does not seem to be much that looks at the effectiveness of the settings whiles services more members of the same population.  This is an issue because the assumption that alternative settings are effective because of their smaller scope, while a valid assumption, needs to be validated by research.  Studies need to be conducted in order to make sure that there are no other variables at play besides the number of people served that impact the effectiveness.

Also, there is little mention of evidence showing that alternative settings are significantly better than the traditional settings.  A reason for could be the aforementioned issue of defining and operationalizing alternative settings.  While the idea of creating alternative settings seems very attractive, there has to be evidence that there is an improvement of outcomes.  In terms of charter schools, there have been mixed results in terms of judging their effectiveness as compared to regular public schools.  There also seems to be little research differentiating between programs that are intended to serve as alternatives and programs that are meant to serve as models for what is supposed to be done.  This differentiation is important because knowing what purpose the setting serves also influences how the setting is deemed a success or failure.

Other limitations arise when attempting to answer the question of who is the advocate.  While studies have identified the different kinds of individuals who could be advocates (community members, professionals, etc.) there has not been any research that identifies which of these individual is the best advocate or which advocate is most likely to attain positive outcomes for the group they represent.  While there is a bit on the pitfalls of outside individual advocates who advocate on the behalf of communities, there does not seem to be much that identifies whether these outside advocates are as good as people from the communities in question.  The final issue that should be addressed is at what level should there be advocacy.  While it is clear that advocacy could happen at various levels, but there is not much that identifies an appropriate level to intervene at or whether there is one appropriate level.  Phillips (2000) described how problems are defined differently and responded to differently based on the level of analysis, but there do not seem to be specific advocacy strategies for each level of analysis.  It should be expected that strategies that work at the microsystem or mesosystem levels are at least somewhat different than those that work at the macrosystem level, but those specific strategies should be identified.


The issues that were raised in the preceding section must be addressed in order to ensure the successful implementation of these prevention strategies.  Conyne (2010) outlines ten steps for establishing a prevention program and evaluating it.  Some of these steps will be useful in terms of addressing specific concerns that were raised.  The first step is to establish and maintain a team.  In this case, this would include recruiting teachers, administrators, and also other academics in order to help plan the program.  As stated in Cherniss and Deegan’s (2000) chapter, there has to be a socializing and training process that facilitates the staff learning techniques that are suitable for an alternative setting.  In terms of advocacy, there be should representatives from all interested parties included.  This addresses the issues of who are the advocates in that it allows collaboration between students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Step 2 is identifying a potential community issue.  While the social problem is the achievement gap, there are several different aspects of the gap that can be considered (testing scores, GPA, dropout rates, graduation rates, etc.).  However the problem is operationalized impacts the strategy that will be used to reduce the problem.  In terms of alternative settings, this would influence what kind of alternative setting would be used. The options could be a charter school or alternative school being created or established.  For advocacy, the definition of the problem could influence decision of what is the appropriate to intervene at.  Is this an issue that can be handled at the level of the local school or does it require policy change at the state or national level?

Step 3 would be to explore the professional literature.  This would include looking for literature in support of the effectiveness of alternative settings in area of education.  It would also help to search the literature for different definitions and operationalizations of alternative settings; doing so will allow the team to hopefully understand how to best operationalize alternative settings or creating a definition that best combines all of the others.  This may also help to find evidence for what makes alternative settings work and whether these factors are related to the number of people served or other unidentified variables.  For advocacy, conducting a literature search will also help to provide more evidence to present to the policy makers.  Step 4 would be developing a germinal, motivating idea.  This can be done by informal discussion, using idea-creating devices, or a combination of the two.

The next step would be to engage a stakeholder planning council.  The goal of this would be to expand the team to community stakeholders that can take part in planning a program or in this case, developing the alternative setting.  Because members may come from different segments of the community there are issues of power and privilege that will have to be addressed.  Care has to be taken to make sure that researchers, teachers, and administrators share their power with parents and students.  Specifically for students, many people in the group would believe they know what is best for students, but the students should have the freedom and space state their concerns and ideas for change.  This will help to ensure that the students are empowered in this process.

Step 6 is creating a shared vision and mission.  At the minimum, the vision and mission should be related to ensuring the academic success of African American students.  The vision would answer the question of what planning council wants to and the mission would answer the question of why it exists.  Step 7 is stimulating community readiness.  This would address the question stated earlier of whether the community would be ready or receptive to change.  Wolff (2001) discusses dimensions that are important for the success of building coalitions.  Community readiness was one of those dimensions and while it was referring to building coalitions, the concept applies due to individuals from different sectors coming together.  The education system has long been an instrument of oppression against African Americans.  Because of this, it could be much more difficult to bring individuals together for the same goal.  The Black community has to be willing to trust that representative from the school system will work alongside for the best interest of their students.  On the other hand, teachers and administrators have to be willing to admit that there is something that they can do different and identify other factors that influence the success of students.

Step 8 is assessment: a local ecological and literature review assessment.  The literature review assessment is more rigorous than the literature review in the beginning steps.  An ecological assessment is particularly important when there are issues poverty, race, and class that are involved.  The information that could be gathered from the assessment could include graduation rates, dropout rates, and educational attainment of parents.  Other information that could be acquired would the resources present within the schools and also the funding that the schools receive and how the money is spent.  Whatever the information reveals will inform the particular intervention strategy that will be used.

Steps 9 and 10 involved the implementation and evaluation of the intervention.  These two steps would likely be more appropriate for creating alternative settings but they apply to advocacy as well.  Step 9 is designing the program plan.  The problem that would be addressed is the achievement gap.  Possible objectives for reducing the gap would be to increase graduation rates, increase standardized test scores, or increasing the resources provided to African American students.  An activity within the strategy for creating the alternative setting would be the hiring of qualified teachers who have experience in working successfully with minority populations; an activity for advocacy would be preparation of policy briefs that could be disseminated to various policy makers.

The final step, Step 10, is the evaluation of the program.  A process evaluation would be done order to monitor program implementation and to make sure that the program runs effectively.  Information that could gather would be whether the curriculum within the school is culturally relevant or fit the students receiving the instruction.  Does the alternative setting/program take into consideration the context that the students are coming from?  That is another question that would be answered in a process evaluation.  An outcome evaluation would determine whether the program worked and if certain criteria were met.  Academic outcomes should be gathered from the alternative setting and then compared with outcomes from regular public schools in order to determine if the setting is an improvement over traditional settings.  The outcomes should also be compared to national averages in order to determine if there is a reduction in the achievement gap.  There should also information as to whether the students received the proper resources that facilitate academic success.  Another question would have to be answered in the evaluation is whether the program is transferable.  This would require the program to be implemented in multiple areas.  If the program is shown to be effective and transferable, then that would possibly be good enough evidence to warrant the program/setting spreading.  The spreading of alternative educational settings would facilitate in ensuring that a larger number of students receive this service.

These ten steps addressed several critical questions that impact the feasibility of these two intervention strategies.  Whatever strategy is used, either strategy would be a step in the right direction in terms of reducing the achievement gap for African American students.  It is likely that because the achievement gap is such a complex issue, both strategies may be needed.  Alternative settings have to be created in order to provide settings that would be more supportive for African American students and advocacy may need to be used in order to influence policy makers to make changes to the current education system in order to ensure that ALL students have an equal chance at academic success.



Checkoway, B. (1995). Six strategies of community change. Community Development Journal, 30, 2 – 20.

Chernis, C. & Deegan, G. (2000). The creation of alternative settings. In J. Rappaport & E. Seidman (Eds.), Handbook of Community Psychology (pp. 359 – 377).  New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

Conyne, R. K. (2010). Designing the prevention program and evaluation plan: Steps 9 – 10. In Conyne, R. K. (Ed.), Prevention program development and evaluation (pp. 117 – 130). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Conyne, R. K. (2010). Laying the groundwork for community collaboration, and cultural relevance processes: Steps 1-8. In Conyne, R. K. (Ed.), Prevention program development and evaluation (pp. 97 – 116).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Flores, A.  (2007). “Examining disparities in mathematics education: Achievement gap or opportunity gap?”  The High School Journal, 29 – 42.

Howard, T. C.  (2003).  “A tug of war for our minds” African American high school students’ perceptions of their academic identities and college aspirations.  The High School Journal, 87, 4 – 17.

Jordan, L. C., Bogat, G. A., & Smith, G. (2001). Collaborating for social change: the Black psychologists and the Black community. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 599 – 620.

Mickelson, R. A.  (1990). “The attitude-achievement paradox among Black adolescents.”  Sociology of Education, 63, 44 – 61.

Ross, C. E. & Wu, C.  (1995).  The links between education and health.  American Sociological Review, 60 (5), 719 – 745.

Teale, W. H., Paciga, K. A., & Hoffman, J. L.  (2007). Beginning reading instruction in urban schools: The curriculum gap ensures a continuing achievement gap.  The Reading Teacher, 61, 344 – 348.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education. (2010). Yes we can: The Schott 50 state report on public education and Black males. Cambridge, MA: The Schott Foundation for Public Education.

Wallerstein, N. (1992). Powerlessness, empowerment, and health: Implications for health promotion programs. American Journal of Health Promotion, 6, 197 – 205.

Wolff, R. (2001). A practitioner’s guide to successful coalitions. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 173 – 191.

Wurstein, A. & Sales, B. (1988). Community psychologists in state legislative decision making.  American Journal of Community Psychology, 16, 487 – 502.

Being Black in Grad School

It is really hard. You think you are prepared for it, until you actually experience it. In many ways, it is difficult to put into adequate words, but I will try. The best way to explain it is as a constant paradox of feeling both under scrutiny and invisible. You feel under scrutiny because you are visually different than most people around you. A lot of times I find myself as the Black face in a crowd and even at 25 this is still a discomforting experience. It is things like going to social events and having people come up to you and touch your hair without permission, examining it as if it were some kind of specimen from another world. A sense of bewilderment and awe at how someone’s hair could possibly look the way mine does. Additionally, there is the uncomfortable position of feeling kind of violated but being afraid of making a scene to express your discomfort of such things for fear of being labeled the angry Black man. Or it’s having your friend tell you that one of his colleagues is uncomfortable and afraid of African Americans. It is always fighting that imposter syndrome mixed with its own flavor of stereotype threat. Always being afraid of seeming not as intelligent as your White peers. It is always wondering if the people you are friendly with genuinely like you or if you’re just another background character in the story of their path to racial enlightenment. The Black friend. It’s meeting a friend’s family and having them try to dap you up instead of the handshakes that they gave to everyone else. Or being told that kids would relate to me because they would like my hair. It is feeling different, looking different, and always getting reminders of difference. It can create a completely different kind of social environment that highlights your difference.

Then there is the invisibility. The feeling of seeing so many of your peers get so many opportunities to publish and work on different projects with faculty and being left wondering what is it about you that precludes you from receiving those same opportunities. You come to realize that it may be due to the fact that there are so few Black people around and that there aren’t enough of you work together to have the same level of productivity that White students have because there are so many more of them to work with each other. This is also probably related to the fact that many of us study issues related to Black people. There is the ubiquitous first day introductions in which everyone talks about their research interests. Everyone else gets follow-up questions about their topics. “My name is Dominique Thomas and I study how parents talk to their children about race and how those messages influence academic outcomes” usually gets met with a blank stare and some variation of “ok cool” or “that’s interesting.” Happens at social functions too. The implicit message that your work doesn’t really matter that much. There’s going to bi-weekly brown bags with periodic guest speakers and none of them being Black during the 5 years you’ve been there. There’s disappearing of Black faculty because they realize that their efforts will not be awarded with tenure. There’s going to a national conferences, applying for a mentoring program, asking if there are African American mentors, and then being told to not “segregate yourself.” The endless stories of some Black person who finds new life as the latest #hashtag because they met a premature death at the hands of a police officer. The things that affect you in a different way than your other classmates because you are all too aware of the reality that it could have easily been you.

It’s feeling lost in the shuffle. Feeling marginalized, forgotten about, and invisible. It’s a constant of wondering what’s just your perception or what’s reality. Weighing whether to confront someone about a racist thing they said. Picking which fights are worth fighting. Which things are worth speaking out about. Whether to put yourself out there for fear of repercussions when you are already fighting an uphill battle. It’s tiring, exhausting, painful, and lonely. But you do it because people are relying on you. Your family. Your community. You’re driven by some greater purpose probably. You probably realize that your struggles will probably make it easier for the person behind you. Make some kind of positive difference in your community. Whatever the reason, keep doing it. Surely all this is worth it. I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to keep studying my “Black shit” and do it very well.

Why I Became a Community Psychologist

Ever since I could remember, I have always been interested in issues of social justice, particularly as it is related to African Americans and our place in this country. My grandmother would tell me about her experiences growing up and living in Mississippi. She was always very blunt and never sugar-coated things, particularly when it came to racism. There were things that she said and believed that I was unable to fully grasp at the time that she said it. A couple of those things being that racism never really went away and that they should have never integrated the schools. I did not agree with everything that she thought, but she definitely shaped my worldview and the lens through which I look at things.

As a child I read a lot of things related to Black history like the Civil Rights movement and ancient Egypt and Black historical figures like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali. While all those things really interested me, they felt distant and far away, things of a bygone time. I grew up and lived in a predominantly low-income Black neighborhood so I had limited interactions with White people; racism and race were not quite as salient for me then or at least it did not have the same type of salience. One thing that happened that started to change that for me was an issue involving the confederate flag.

On the beach near where I lived, there was a structure where several flag posts stood with different flags on them. Of course there was the American flag, but there was also the Confederate flag. One day someone started sitting out in front the flags in protest. Days and days went by and he refused to leave. He would not leave until the flag was taken down. This went on for about a month or so until he finally left and the flag was eventually taken down. The discussions and debates surrounding the flag showed me that racism was not a thing of the past; there were still wounds present that had not quite healed yet.

Those previous situations still felt somewhat external to me; they were important issues, but they did not really resonate with me that deeply. During the summer before my freshman year in high school, we were given a reading for our honors English class. One of the books on the list was Richard Wright’s Native Son. I thought it would be an interesting book so I chose it as one of the books I would read and write about. For reasons I’m still unsure about to this day, the book really hit me. I think it was the first time that issues of race, racism, and identity had been crystalized to such a degree that I internalized it. Through my immersion into the story I became more aware of how society viewed Black people and what our place was in it. Coincidentally, this came right before I was to be made hyperaware of my Blackness because I had my first experiences of being the only African American in the classroom.

Such an experience was initially very shocking and unnerving for me. I was constantly on guard and wondering how people viewed me, so much so that my performance started to suffer due to my high discomfort. Eventually, I got over the discomfort, but there would still be reminders of my otherness, particularly during one semester in which I was called names by a White student every time I walked in the classroom. High school was definitely a time in which I began try to make sense of the racial landscape immediately surrounding me and in general. I always found myself being the only one or one of few African American students in advanced classes, despite the fact that I knew other African American students who were definitely capable of excelling at that level. I also noticed that in many ways, the experiences and contributions of African Americans were largely absent in the curriculum. I began to wonder if something else was going on. In trying to figure these things out, I used a lot of my class projects to study things that both interested me and helped me learn more about being Black in America and just what it all entails. In my English classes I wrote about things from the Civil Rights movement to the history of hip-hop to why African Americans should receive reparations. In my government class, I wrote a paper about the Dred Scott case. All of these things were topics that were not really covered in our classes and at some point as I got older, I began to understand why.

An area in which I got an unexpected lesson about where Black people stand in America was the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Living on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, I unfortunately have first-hand knowledge of the damage that was done and the lives that were changed. For the month or so after, we were pretty much cut off from the rest of the world because of the periods without access to lights, water, and cable. When we finally got access to television again, I began to have a better idea of how things were being portrayed in the media. One thing that I noticed was how similar acts were being reported differently based on the individual’s race. In newspaper articles, a picture of an African American getting food from a destroyed grocery store would be reported as “looting.” Yet, similar images of White Americans doing the same thing would be reported as “searching for food.” The African American hurricane victims were being portrayed in a negative light while the White victims were being portrayed in either a neutral or positive light. That difference in reporting angered me and I wonder what kinds of messages such reporting and information sharing sent to individuals. I was particularly angered because in times of desperate need, we were still denied our full humanity. Whether it was the lack of response on the part of the federal government or the unfair reporting, it was unfortunately clear to me that we were not valued.

Around the same time I had decided that I wanted to become a lawyer, because I thought the best way to help my community was through the justice system. An event happened, once again in my hometown, that paradoxically made me want to be a lawyer more, but shook my faith in making changes through the legal system. An African American man had been arrested by the police and taken to the county jail. Somehow he ended up dead after being in custody. Eventually video of what happened surfaced and it was revealed that the police officers had beaten him to death, while he was hog-tied and had a plastic bag over his head. Right there, plain as day, it was apparent something was terribly wrong and broken within the system. I believe whether or not the officers were charged, which they were, is irrelevant to the broader point of the complete disregard for Black lives. That has always stuck with me and it is something that I always think back about when I hear about the most recent tragedy or injustice.

After I graduated from high school, I attended Morehouse College. This was partially because I had attended a summer program hosted at the school and also because I tired of being the only Black person in my classes. I knew how important representation was and I wanted to see more people who looked like me in both the classroom and in the curriculum. While at Morehouse, faculty and administration had the goal of instilling in us a sense of responsibility to the community and that is one thing that I definitely took to heart. As previously mentioned, I originally wanted to be lawyer, but I became a psychology major rather than a political science or other major because I believed that having an understanding of how people behave would help me in my law practice. Eventually I became disillusioned with the idea of becoming a lawyer because I did not believe that it would be the best route for me to do work related to social justice. I decided that I would be a psychologist instead.

My first research experience was my time in the Ronald E. McNair program. As part of the program, I had to work in a research lab under a faculty mentor. I started working in Dr. Bryant Marks’ Morehouse Male Initiative lab. The research we did in the lab was related to the experiences that Black men had in college. My first project in the lab was examining racial identity as a predictor of mental health. Specifically, I looked at how racial centrality, private regard, and public regard predicted self-esteem and depressive symptoms. That was the first project that sparked my broader research interests that I would continue to develop. At first my research interests were mainly involving mental health outcomes as they related to racial identity, but I started to become more interested in education related outcomes given that our lab’s focus was the Black male college experience. During my senior year, our thesis project was examining the relationship between the attachment that an individual has to their school and their self-esteem. After that, I started to consider how such things were related to factors such as racial identity. My interests in racial socialization started to emerge because I realized that these aspects of identity did not come out of nowhere; they had to have come from some source whether it was parents, media, or schools.

My consciousness grew and through community psychology, I was able to better understand and articulate the various m phenomena I witnessed both in my personal life and in society. I first heard about community psychology at Morehouse. One of my professors was a community psychologist, but I did not really have an idea what community psychology was, yet it seemed interesting. During my senior year, I took a community psychology course with that same professor. Once in the class, my interest in community psychology grew as I was exposed to more of what it entailed. Perhaps coincidentally, I took this class during the same time I was applying to graduate school. I applied to other programs, but I made sure to apply to a community psychology program.

I wanted to go into community psychology because of the focus on enacting social change and engaging in community based research. I also felt that community psychology was the best blend of the different things I wanted out of a future career. I believed that community psychology, more than other areas of psychology, paid attention to the various contextual factors that influence people’s behavior. Also, the idea of a strengths-based perspective appealed to me very much as an alternative to the typical deficit-based perspective that is common in mainstream psychology. There was also something that gave a sense of hope that things can be improved to some extent. A positive outlook was something that was refreshing to me, given the pessimism that I have at times. I hoped that community psychology would be the vehicle through which I could help enact some level of change.

Through my first three years in the program, much of that time was spent trying to determine the direction in which I wanted my research and future career to go in. I used many of my class projects to develop ideas and get feedback on them. For example, in the Community Intervention, Prevention, and Social Change class, we each had to pick specific social issues and frame our weekly discussion questions and final position paper around this issue. The social issue I chose was the achievement gap between African American students and White students. For the final paper, I proposed advocacy and creating alternative settings as two intervention strategies that could be utilized to reduce the achievement gap. The reason I chose those two particular strategies were because of the ongoing internal dialectic I have. My preference for practical solutions and my exposure to political science and law lend me to see the utility of using political and legal avenues to enact social change. On the other side, my pessimism born from experience, has me wary of using political and legal means due to those systems being used to disenfranchise and oppress African Americans. That part of me wants to not bother with that and just create something outside of those existing systems.

In weighing the pros and cons of these approaches, I came to have a better understanding of what happens in schools, particularly those with large proportions of African American students. Reading the literature reminded me of my own experiences in school and I saw the same themes and trends over and over again. Disproportionate tracking places large proportions of African American students in lower tracks; couple that with the social isolation that the few African American students in higher tracks experience. Disparate disciplinary actions remove African American students from class at higher rates and too often expose them to the criminal justice system. It was at this point that I realized that aside from studying issues of race such as socialization and identity, I definitely wanted to do work that would help to improve the educational prospects of African American students, whether they are in K-12 or post-secondary institutions.

This realization helped me to figure out what I would be writing for my master’s thesis. The thesis merged together my interests in race-related factors such as socialization with my interests in academic outcomes for African Americans. My topic was the effect that racial discrimination has on the academic attitudes (educational expectations and educational value) of African American college students and whether being prepared for that discrimination (preparation for bias) can lessen the negative effects of that discrimination. I thought about this topic through an ecological perspective. At the individual level, there is the student and the attitudes of the student. At the microsystem level, there is preparation for bias from the family within one microsystem and there is the racial discrimination experienced in the school setting within another microsystem. These two processes interact at the level of the mesosystem to influence the student’s attitudes regarding education. Not surprisingly racial discrimination had a negative effect on both types of academic attitudes. Preparation for bias had a positive relationship with only educational value and did not lessen the effect of racial discrimination on any of the academic attitudes. In my head, it would make sense that being prepared for discrimination would in some way better protect a person from the harmful effects even though this was not reflected in the data. I started to wonder whether there was something more to it that I was not really thinking about. I thought that there may be something related to the experiences of African American college students that facilitated positive academic outcomes in the face of likely racial discrimination.

I realized that something that was likely missing from my analyses was the actual experiences of people. Although my strength is in quantitative methods, I do realize the weaknesses in such an approach given the reliance on numbers and data rather than people and experiences. For this reason, I took a qualitative methods course. My hope was that learning another skill set would allow me to better answer the questions that I had. I also hoped that I would come out of the course being able to ask better questions. For the final project, we had the option of creating an interview guide and piloting it. I chose to create an interview guide that I could use to attempt to understand the lived experiences of African American students in the education system. I wanted the guide to be able to help me find themes across people’s experiences and to determine what were the kinds of things that influences decisions about education. One thing I learned from the project was not to necessarily assume that the information that I get from the interviews would be negative. I acknowledge that I came into the project with a particular lens that colored the types of responses I thought I would get. I realized that I needed to be more intentional in framing the work within a strengths-based perspective. So my broad question ended up morphing into: what are the experiences of African American students that lead to positive academic outcomes? This question could be answered in several likely ways, so the goal now is to determine the best way of answering this broad question and figuring out more specific questions that help to answer the larger question.

In trying to answer questions like the one above, I often find myself trying to figure out what kind of scholar I want to be. My experiences both in school and outside school have shaped my worldview and in many ways I wonder how that influences my current and future development as a scholar. One thing I know for sure is that I do not want to be good at just one thing. I want to be able conduct face-to-face interviews with the same ease that I can run regression analyses. I want to do work that helps me personally and professionally and I also want to do work that helps to make a difference in the community. I think that if the research that is done does not have the potential to make a positive societal contribution, then it is not really worth doing. I do not want to be one of those ivory tower scientists that only worries about publication numbers and grants.

In wanting to be an effective community psychologist, I want to make sure I stay informed of not just the most recent research, but also the current events. I think that if one is not connected to what is actually going in society, then there is the risk of producing research that is irrelevant and outdated. In addition to reading current research articles, I also keep track of things going on through the news. I also read books about various issues that are mostly written by academics, but are written for broader audiences. A lot of those books get at the some of the issues that we study as community psychologists, but often it seems it is without all of the esoteric theory and jargon. It is much more grounded in the reality of these problems and is more relatable. I believe that there is a place for both in the field: empirical and theoretical articles and books for non-academic audiences. I want my work to be relatable and relevant to people, but I also want it to be accessible. I would like to be able to reach people in a way that has an impact. I do not want my work to be limited to journal articles that only a privileged few may have access to. I want the work to matter and to get to those who need it.

Related to the previous points, community psychology has come to mean several things to me. First, it means being able to see the larger picture of what goes on in society. Understanding how different levels of society impact people’s behavior allows one to get at the root of certain problems and be better prepared to intervene. Second, it means using our scholarship to help make people’s voices heard who would have not been heard otherwise. Community based research should incorporate the needs and input of those it would affect. Third, it means finding the inherent strengths within a community in order to build upon them to improve people’s lives. Too often mainstream psychology uses deficit-oriented approaches to research without acknowledging people as functioning and contributing members of their community. Finally, it means using our scholarship to enact social change. If our scholarship does not help to enact some level of change, then we need to rethink what it is that we are actually doing.

When I engage in those kinds of activities, I feel most like a community psychologist. There are some times when I question my place in the field and do not necessarily feel like a community psychologist. A lot of these situations stem from my racial identity. I feel out of place many times when I go to community psychology conferences and see how few African Americans are present. I feel out of place when I read all of the seminal articles in the field and most of them are authored by White men. I feel out of place when there are serious issues in society that are related to African Americans and the field seems to be relatively silent on these issues. I feel out of place, but then I remember that I have to change the situation by contributing to the field and helping to bring in more African Americans to the field.

For my future career as a community psychologist, I want to continue doing research, specifically on African American students across different stages. In addition to conducting research, I would like to be able to evaluate and consult programs that serve African American students.  I also want to use my position to expose more African American students to the field of community psychology, while also making sure that it is a field that is more ready to support them. In short, the reason I became a community psychologist is to improve the situation of the broader African American community.

Expectancy-Value Theory

One of the theories of motivation that I think is most relevant is expectancy theory which posits that a person’s motivation is dependent on the expectation of reward. An extension of that theory is expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation (Eccles et al., 1983). A person’s expectations for success and the value placed in a particular task influences performance and persistence behaviors. Additionally, expectations and value are impacted by previous experiences. My master’s thesis is centered around this theory. The project seeks to examine how expectations for success and the value placed in education is affected by racial discrimination and parents’ preparation for bias messages, specifically for African American college students. Particularly, I wanted to know if being prepared for discrimination lessens the impact of racial discrimination on these outcomes.

Another project that I am working on involving expectancy-value is examining whether racial discrimination negatively impacts GPA through its negative effect on African American college students’ expectations. What both of the projects relate to is how racial discrimination can have a harmful effect on the academic motivation and performance of students and it is important to understand the way in which this can happen. By examining these pathways, it makes the task of alleviating these problems a little easier. Addressing these issues would help colleges to foster more supportive and productive environment for all students, particularly African American students. Teachers would also have to be aware of their implicit biases and how those biases influence the ways in which they treat students. Lower teacher expectations are one form of school based discrimination that scholars have examined in previous studies. If teachers do not have high expectations of their students, then the students would likely not have high expectations for themselves. This is particularly an issue if teacher expectations are influenced by the race of students. While racial discrimination can be an issue across different areas of the college experience, the classroom can be a good place to start in fixing this issue.

Cognitive Theories of Learning

This week’s readings on cognitive theories of learning gave me things to think about in terms of the education system in the United States. A distinction was made between two types of learning: rote and meaningful. Rote learning refers to learning based on memorization and meaningful refers to making connections between material learned and what it means. An additional point was made about how neither is superior to the other, but rote learning has been viewed negatively because of its overuse. I would definitely agree that rote learning is overused. In the current climate, there is so much emphasis placed on standardized test scores that it appears to be not as much emphasis on meaningful learning.

One can argue that the creation of the No Child Left Behind act was a major impetus for the current direction in which the education system is going. Under this act, standardized test scores are a major determining factor for schools to receive or lose funding. This creates a climate in which teachers are pressured to make sure that students learn all of the material for the tests and in which a more holistic learning environment cannot be fostered. Besides the implications for schools that are unable to produce adequate test scores and lose funding because of it, there are also broader implications for the students in the education system. They are force fed information with little connection to the real world and how the information can be used outside of class. Not only is there an over-reliance on a particular type of learning, there are not enough messages given to students regarding how and why the information is important to them in the long run.