At one point all we knew about the historically marginalized experience was limited to statistical portraits of enrollment and degree completion. Knowledge about the experiences of students was limited to our interpretation of the numbers. However, Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, and Allen (1999) demonstrated to higher education the power of understanding student perceptions to inform researchers and practitioners about the environmental factors shaping student success. Enacting Diverse Environments: Improving the Climate for Racial/Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education is a seminal piece accounting for the perceptions of students supporting the transition away from statistical portraits and emphasizing the importance of understanding qualitative aspects of student experience. One of the most useful aspects of this piece is the game-changing framework for organizing information about student’s racial and cultural experience through historical, numerical, psycho-social, and behavioral lenses. In particular, one useful aspect of this framework lies in its prioritization of the student experience in guiding assessments of racial and cultural diversity within institutional contexts.
Work on institutional culture and historically marginalized students has also focused on the goal of creating campus cultures that are inclusive. For instance Museus and Jayakumar’s (2012) edited volume, Creating Campus Cultures: Fostering Success among Racially Diverse Student Populations, emphasizes actualizing the practice of diversity work through advocacy, validation, and application of racially and culturally engaging concepts. By way of collaboration with several scholars committed to transforming campus climates, this work sets forth a vision to improve the student-institutional experience. Authors advocate for historically marginalized students by engaging belief systems that have been undervalued and underrepresented. Through explicit and implicit acknowledgment of student perceptions, their work validates why students’ racial and cultural contributions are meaningful and valuable to our college and university campuses. Furthermore, each chapter is theoretically and/or conceptually driven – demonstrating how to translate theory to practice.
Another important area of research on institutional culture focuses on specific types of institutions. For example, Educating a Diverse Nation: Lessons from Minority-Serving Institutions by Conrad and Gasman (2015) emphasizes the important role of historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, Hispanic-serving Institutions, and Asian-American and Native American, Pacific-Islander-serving colleges and universities in acknowledging the valuable contribution of historically marginalized students. This work considers diverse and engaging practices specific to these institutions and the ways they provide racial and cultural affirmation in higher education. It also serves as a resource for acknowledgement of institutional practices that sometimes go unnoticed, yet are dynamic in serving underrepresented student populations.
Ongoing reflection on the importance of institutional culture scholarship serves to keep discussions about the experiences of historically marginalized students a priority in higher education research and practice. This is important to the role of advocacy supporting the post-secondary pipeline towards doctoral degree attainment for students of color and continued work towards institutional transformation.
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