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How do Ethnic Minority Students Experience Psychology in Higher Education? Sanjay Jobanputra Department of Psychology University of Westminster 309 Regent.

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Presentation on theme: "How do Ethnic Minority Students Experience Psychology in Higher Education? Sanjay Jobanputra Department of Psychology University of Westminster 309 Regent."— Presentation transcript:

1 How do Ethnic Minority Students Experience Psychology in Higher Education? Sanjay Jobanputra Department of Psychology University of Westminster 309 Regent Street London W1B 2UW June 2006

2 Background 1: Widening Participation of Minority Students Recent years have seen an increased focus, in the UK, on promoting widening participation in higher education of minority students from a diversity of backgrounds (HEFCE, 2000). However, while widening participation is a laudable initiative, there are growing concerns that minority students, upon entering higher education, do not feel fully included in the learning experience. Research on minority students has documented a range of problems including general discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or sexual orientation, difficulties of expression in classroom interaction with majority students, feelings of fear, isolation and alienation, and discomfort and detachment involving the curriculum ( Watson et al., 2002 ; Jobanputra, 2003, 2005; Smith & Pearson, 2005).

3 Background 2: Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students in H.E. There is a rich body of (mainly American) research exploring BME students’ experiences in higher education. For instance, Kraft (1991) reported difficulties expressed by black students in their interactions with white staff and students. Likewise, Love (1993) found that “The experiences of black students at white institutions is substantially and qualitatively different than the experiences of white students in white institutions”. Feagin and Sikes (1995) point out that while the university setting would appear to be enlightened and free of discrimination, the reality as far as black students are concerned is very different. Similar research has begun to explore minority students’ experiences within the UK context, and initial findings are similarly worrying.

4 Background 3: BME and Psychology The number of black and minority ethnic students represented in UK psychology departments can be as high as 40+%. Therefore, it is interesting to ask what impact this increased numerical representation has on the curriculum and teaching. Jobanputra (2003, 2005) has shown that many BME students who embark on a psychology degree will have gone through processes of marginalization, alienation and racism, with the consequent negative impact on their personal and social identity. The net effect on the student may be attrition, or struggling with the study experience within an academically unfriendly environment. Consequently, there is a sense that BME students are not getting the same quality of education as their white counterparts.

5 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK The theoretical underpinning of this research draws from standpoint science (e.g. Harding, 1991; Hartsock, 1983), highlighting the importance of giving voice to minority perspectives to enable inclusivity. In the context of education, the experiences of minority students may not echo those of white, heterosexual, majority students. Thus, there is a need to allow minority students to voice and express their own standpoints and perspectives about their educational experiences. These voices may serve to shed light on the current state of psychology, and to offer possibilities for enhancement of the discipline and profession.

6 THE PRESENT STUDY The present study, supported by the Higher Education Academy, explored further the initial findings reported by Jobanputra (2003, 2005) by focusing on discipline-specific concerns about the experiences of psychology students from black and Asian backgrounds, within a qualitative research framework. In particular, the study focused on four main areas: black students’ general expectations of psychology; their perceptions of the curriculum; experiences of the teaching and learning environment; and experiences of the personal and social environment.

7 METHODOLOGY Design: A qualitative approach informed by grounded theory principles ( Glaser & Strauss, 1967 ) was employed due to its suitability for analysis of rich and textual material. Participants: A total of 26 African-Caribbean and Asian students were interviewed (22 females, 4 males), their ages ranged from 19 to early 50 years. Procedure: Semi-structured face-to-face and telephone interviews were carried out with existing students (2 nd /3 rd year) and recent graduates from a range of psychology departments in the UK. These interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed.

8 RESULTS 1: Expectations of Psychology There were 3 main expectations reported by BEM students: 1) Knowledge of self and others, 2) wanting to be skilled to help others, and 3) career aspirations in psychology: It would give me a chance to discover myself, discover what kind of person I really am. I wanted to interact with people, try and help out in a certain way and psychology seemed to offer a wide range of careers. Students felt that on the whole their expectations had been met. While most students explained that their expectations did not differ as a function of their ethnic identity, some did refer to expectations motivated by political factors such as tackling racism: There’s an issue about black people who are being sectioned because of cultural differences and their not being understood, so that’s kind of a motivation for me and that wouldn't’ be for maybe white people.

9 RESULTS 2: Exclusion at various levels While the broad expectations were being met, the experience of studying for the degree revealed disturbing trends involving feelings of marginalization and isolation, and therefore exclusion, at various levels including the curriculum, the learning and teaching environment, and the personal and social environment. This finding echoes previous results by Jobanputra (2005) that identified a series of uncomfortable and painful processes that BME students undergo as part of their undergraduate experience. This dynamic often resulted in students invoking coping and survival strategies of gravitating towards other black people on the course:. I do find that I spend more time with the black students than the white students.

10 RESULTS 3: Curriculum While students did not report being exposed to overtly racist material, they did express concerns about the ethnocentric nature of much of psychological content, which served to impart a sense of cultural detachment from the material: I feel it represents me as a British person rather than a British black person… The partial nature of the curriculum meant that it had limited applicability and relevance in BME students’ lives: Because the things you learn, if they’re based on Western cultural beliefs then when I go home to apply it to my family who don't have Western cultural beliefs, it won’t fit. There was a strong sense that the psychology curriculum should encompass the broad spectrum of students’ experiences.

11 RESULTS 4: Isolation and loneliness Personal and social environment : The impact of being a minority-status student was expressed in terms of feelings of discomfort and difficulty in blending with white students: [I feel] lonely. I wish there was more Asians...in my own year I was just the only one and I felt a bit isolated to be honest. I didn’t like it that much, I still don’t like it; actually I wish there was more… I don't think that students that aren’t from an ethnic background really have any idea of what it could be like not to be white. Learning and teaching environment: Similar feelings were expressed in relation to white academic staff: The thing is like I found that some of lecturers would engage better with the white girls or white boys, more than they did with me, and I felt a bit excluded as well sometimes.

12 Conclusions: Many black students are excited upon entering psychology. They experience difficulties due to exclusion, leading to feelings of marginalization, isolation and detachment. Widening participation needs to incorporate diversity AND inclusivity. Black student experiences need to be valued at the level of the curriculum, and social and personal environment of academia. Cautious optimism: “I think its got a lot to offer and to say. If [only] it were more flexible and willing to take on board different views…” Zinkiewicz and Trapp (2004): “the increased diversity of students entering psychology departments cannot be addressed merely by clustering groups of students into categories. The solution lies in providing the highest level of teaching and support to respect diversity and to promote inclusivity”.

13 References: Feagin, J. & Sikes, P. (1995). How black students cope with racism on white campuses. Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, vol. 1995, no. 8, pp Glazer, B & Strauss, A. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded theory. Chicago University Press. Harding, S. (1991). Whose science? whose knowledge? Thinking from women's lives. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Hartsock; N. (1983). The feminist standpoint: Developing the ground for a specifically feminist historical materialism. In S. Harding & M. B. Hintikka (eds.) Discovering Reality. Dordrecht: Reidel. Higher Education Funding Council for England [HEFCE] (2000). Funding for widening participation in higher education: New proposals to (HEFCE 00/50). Kraft, C. (1991). What makes a successful black student on a predominantly white campus? American Educational Research Journal, vol. 28, no. 2, pp Jobanputra, S. (2003). Psychology and racism: a study of black students’ experiences. PhD thesis. Jobanputra, S. (2005). Giving voice to black students in psychology. Widening participation symposium. Paper presented at the BPS Quinquennial Conference, Manchester, 30 March-1April. Love, B.J. (1993). Issues and problems in the retention of black students in predominantly white institutions of higher education. Equity and Excellence in Education, vol. 26, no. 1, pp Smith, S. & Pearson, C.(2005). Diversity in higher education: Lesbian psychology undergraduate’s experiences of studying psychology. Widening participation symposium. Paper presented at the BPS Quinquennial Conference, Manchester, 30 March-1April. Zinkiewicz and Trapp (2004). Widening and increasing participation: Challenges and opportunities for psychology departments. Report and Evaluation Series No 5 April Ltsn. Watson, L. et al. (2002). How minority students experience college. Stirling, Virginia: Stylus Press.


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