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Volume 9, Number 1

Spring/Summer 2011

The Role of Social Capital for Black Students at Predominantly White Institutions


Kendra D. Stewart

Clemson University


    Recognizing the imbalance existent in a segregated system of education, the highest Court in the United States instituted a proverbial paradigm shift in 1954 through its ruling in Oliver Brown et al.. v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (Kluger 2004).  This landmark Supreme Court case recognized the unfair racial practices resultant of the almost 60 year old "separate but equal" (Cottrol, Ware, and Diamond 2003:225) doctrine and became the springboard and fuel for the Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights movement sparked a polarizing dispute focused on the social and educational integration of White people, referencing persons of European ancestry, and Black people, referencing persons of African ancestry.  The same principles and expectations of racial equality in education from the Brown case were extended to colleges and universities in 1964 through Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. At the crux of the Brown case was to not only equally fund education, but also provide access to the social networks necessary for upward mobility and social advancement for all people (Harper 2008).

    Although the right to enroll in and attain an equitable college experience at institutions of higher education that were formerly exclusively White students was officially recognized in theory; practice did not immediately follow suit. To this day, schools that were predominantly White before Title VI remain predominantly White (Harper 2008).  Black students have traveled a turbulent path seeking access to academic and social mobility in the face of explicit and implicit racism; a harsh reality present even after they gain admission and step onto predominantly White student campuses across the nation.

    Research has identified many challenges Black students face on college campuses (Bowen and Bok 2000; Fisher and Hartmann 1995; Watson, Terrell, Wright, Bonner, Cuyjet, Gold, Rudy, and Person 2002). Black students at predominantly White student colleges "are reminded daily, overtly and covertly, that they are in the minority and consequently feel alienated from campus life" (Fisher and Hartmann 1995:130-131). Black students must overcome in their day to day lives incidences that call upon them to act as a spokespeople for their entire race by faculty, administrators, or peers. These instances include feelings of being negatively stereotyped based solely upon their racial classification, and/or facing direct, overt discrimination on campus (Watson et al. 2002). In addition to such isolating and debilitating experiences, Black students on predominantly White campuses are forced to process and cope with unpleasant conditions in the absence of a substantial pool of faculty and administrators of color (Watson et al. 2002). Faculty and administrators of color who may personally identify with the Black students' challenges, could serve as experienced mentors on campus.  

    Past research studies have pointed to how such adverse social conditions have led to the existence of lower rates of social satisfaction and identification with campus for Black college students at predominantly White student colleges.  Additionally, these studies have revealed trends of academic underperformance (Bok and Bowen, 2000; Steele, 1997; Fisher and Hartmann 1995; Gossett, Cuyjet, and Cockriel 1998). Negative campus conditions pull from a student's available psychological energy that Astin (1999) proposed as an important component of student involvement.  Psychological energy is significant due to the fact that "since students have only a limited amount of time and emotional energy, those able to concentrate on their academic tasks, without constant concern about their place on campus and their relationship to others, are most likely to do well academically" (Bowen and Bok 2000:82).  Black students that must devote emotional energy to negative feelings of isolation and alienation are at a disadvantage to compete academically on campus. 

    Following court-mandated integration, campus cultures and climates did not change with the admission of Black students. Instead faculty and administrators expected them to assimilate to the dominant culture, "'relinquishing one's own cultural identity' and developing a new identity that coincides with the new or dominant culture" (Shuford and Palmer 2008: 225). As a result, Black students on predominantly White student campuses were often excluded from the mainstream campus social realm. Previous research has revealed that feelings of isolation, alienation and lack of support comprised the most serious problems facing this population (Allen 1992; Taylor and Howard-Hamilton 1995; Trippi and Cheatham 1991). Utilizing their own collective norms and agendas, Black students created their own social networks in reaction to their perceived exclusion (Allen 1992). 

    The social relationships and networks Black students are able to access on predominantly White campuses are important in examining the challenges they face. The purpose of this paper is to examine the current research detailing Black student's experiences at predominantly White institutions of higher education and analyze it through the lens of social capital theory. First, the concept of social capital will be discussed, including a presentation of the most widely used social capital theory applied to racial/ethnic minority students in education. The drawbacks of applying that particular version of social capital theory will be exposed, followed by a more apt iteration of social capital theory for this particular topic. Lastly, social capital theory will be applied to uncover the social networks Black students access and leverage on predominantly White campuses for their benefit.

Theoretical Foundation

Emergence of the Concept of Social Capital:

    Since its advent as an idea by its founder Bourdieu (1986), social capital theory has undergone multiple iterations and interpretations in the scholarly community. In addition to Bourdieu, Coleman has taken on a leadership role as a principal theoretician related to the theory of social capital. Coleman has contributed to its development and offered a differing perspective. Regardless of this multiplicity, the central thesis of social theory is the idea that relationships matter. Social relationships and networks serve the purpose of achieving goals that would not otherwise be achieved alone, or achieved with grave difficulty (Field 2003). 

    Bourdieu's (1986) arrival at social capital theory emerged out of his critical examination of class struggle and dominant class influence on multiple forms of capital: economic, human, cultural, and social.  Bourdieu (1986) defined social capital as the network of resources that provide material (i.e. trade or access to pertinent financial information) or symbolic profits (i.e. emotional support, mutual recognition, or prestige) in the long-term or short-term. These relationships must be maintained, either by symbolic or material exchanges, to be effective. Bourdieu (1986) saw social capital as an exclusionary device of the elite class. Bourdieu (1986) described how social capital contributed to the reproduction of inequality given existent class systems. Bourdieu's (1986) components of social capital included a tenet that the larger the network, the larger the profits derived from the network and the greater ability to determine what resources and relationships translated into profitable capital. Given this premise, the dominant class has the ability to determine what social networks and resources are of value in society. To Bourdieu (1986), social capital was a product of investment strategies pursued for collective gain that takes into consideration inequitable structures of access.

Coleman's Social Capital Theory A Social Norms Model:

    In its transition in evaluation from a lens used by Bourdieu (1986) to a lens used by Coleman (1994), social capital theory shifted from a class-based perspective to an actor-based perspective (Field 2003). Coleman (1994) largely removed the focus on inequality inherent in the class structures that Bourdieu highlighted. Instead, Coleman (1994) considered social capital to constitute a benign concept that ultimately was used for good. Additionally, Coleman (1994) investigated and presented the idea of individual activation of social capital over a collective activation. Coleman (1994) rendered social capital an individual pursuit. He believed in the premise that individual actors seek out and secure relationships and networks to in order to further their own self-interests. Very little is done of overall societal or collective gain (Coleman 1994).

    Coleman (1994) focused the majority of his attention and application of social capital theory to the role of family members.  Coleman (1994) inspected how obligations and expectations, information channels, and the maintenance of norms can all affect an individual's access to social capital that best serves self-interests. Coleman (1994) defined obligations and expectations through a costs-benefits perspective. He posited that actors purposefully choose and develop relationships based upon the potential for benefit for the actor out of that relationship. As actor A invests in actor B, actor B then is a future benefit to actor A, since now an obligation has been established. Trust is also necessary in this component of social capital so that the actors have the ground expect that the other will reciprocate in the future. Coleman (1994) stated that as long as this relationship is fruitful for each of the actors involved individually, the relationship will be maintained. As relationships are maintained, Coleman (1994) stated how they can be useful for the information channels they provide. By having relations with others, actors are able to pool and share the information they have individually with one another. Regarding social norms, Coleman (1994) stated that they can perform as a valuable tool of social capital. Since actors do little that is not in their self-interests, Coleman (1994) stated that social norms that praise selfless actions or work for the public good is often reinforced. These norms provide a source of incentive to operate outside of self-interests, but Coleman (1994) offered that the public good aspect is difficult to sustain. Coleman (1987) held that the 'cultivation of one's well-being has replaced interest in others' (p. 37), leading to an underinvestment in social capital. Actors that do invest in social capital in large part due not reap the majority of its benefits, making it a less attractive investment in an individualistic society (Coleman 1994).

    By focusing on how to maintain the components of obligations and expectations, information channels, social norms, Coleman (1987, 1994) has attributed a positive position to social capital to society, and specifically to education. Moreover, Coleman (1987) posited that it is a family's duty to assimilate to society's viewpoints of each of these three components in order to attain success for their children in the future. Coleman (1987) has used this viewpoint of social capital in his study of student high-school drop-out rates. In his study, Coleman (1987) used his theory of social capital comprised of social norms, in this case two parent homes, fewer siblings, high parental emphasis on educational expectations, and close child-parents relationships. Coleman (1987, 1994) stated that these components of social capital, transferred from one generation to another, lead to more successful student achievement. 

    When analyzing the role of social capital in student achievement, this model of social capital proposed by Coleman (1987) have comprised the basis for most theoretical applications in the research literature (Dika and Singh 2002). In their review of usage of the social capital concept in the educational literature, Dika and Singh (2002) cited that Coleman's components that equate to social norms, particularly in the form of familial makeup and intergenerational bonds, have been the predominant theory of social capital applied to student success. Following Coleman's (1987) proposition, those are the variables that constitute social capital, considered an overall positive to society and individual actors.

Drawbacks of Applying Coleman's Deficit Model to Black College Students:

    Coleman's concept of social capital stands in stark contrast to Bourdieu's initial proposition as it focuses on the adoption of norms in the successful leverage of social capital. This adoption of norms precisely opposed Bourdieu's assertion that access to the benefits of social capital can be both blocked and obscured by the dominant class. In his theory of social capital, Coleman (1987) has placed large emphasis on the role of the family in a student's success, neglecting inequitable social structures, differing cultural values, and an actor's ability to access social capital apart from the family. Coleman (1987) views social capital as a causal model that explains what social capital is and how it works to the advantage of those that maintain this particular brand of social capital.

    Such a theory of social capital the emphasizes obligations and expectations, information channels, and maintenance of social norms blocks those individuals and groups that are not privy to equitable access due to multiple forms of oppression. The dominant class's ability to obstruct outsiders' access to these specific components of social capital based upon socioeconomic status, gender, and race are excluded from Coleman's theory of social capital (Lareau 2001).  In essence, by attributing a positive role to social capital, Coleman has turned a blind eye to the presence of oppression in both schools and greater society (Dika and Singh 2002). Additionally, by focusing on family factors as defined by traditional Western culture, Coleman has obscured potential forms of social capital that could prove beneficial (Dika and Singh 2002). Morrow (1999) stated that such a view of a student's propensity to activate the benefits of social capital emphasize parents' roles as the largest mediating factor, ignoring the ability of the student to access and leverage social capital outside of the parents. 

    Coleman's (1987) oversight is evident in his analysis of high-school drop-outs. He stated that students from lower socio-economic statuses, specifically those from Black families of lower socio-economic statutes, are the most likely to face an absence of social capital in their communities. Again, this is defined by Coleman's (1987) proposition of social capital determined by what parents provide for the children. From this stance, Coleman has ascribed a deficit notion to Black students from the beginning, a notion based upon their circumstances, and not the potential oppressive structures that led to such a situation or the Black community's ability and power to respond to such oppression (Dika and Singh 2002; Morrow 1999). Coleman's (1987) emphasis is placed on what "unsuccessful individuals, families, communities, and neighborhoods lack" (Morrow 1999:760). This viewpoint ignores external discriminatory practices that contribute this proposed lack and the social capital that historically oppressed communities have created for their collective benefit in response. Dika and Singh (2002) and Lareau and Horvart (1999) have been the frontrunners among critics of Coleman's theory of social capital due to its disregard for a) the preservation benefits for Whiteness as the dominant class, b) the effects of race and racism on Black acquisition of social capital in the midst of Whiteness, and c) the cultural, historical, and sociological experience of Blacks in the United States.

Yosso's Re-invention of Social Capital Theory A CRT-influenced Model:

    Although Coleman's perspective of social capital is the oft used position in educational literature (Dika and Singh 2002), there have been new developments in how social capital theory is applied to education (Harper 2008, Lareau and Horvat, 1999; Stanton-Salazar 1997, 2001; Yosso 2005). A key theoretician of social capital, critical race theorist Yosso (2005) swung the pendulum back in the direction of Bourdieu's (1986) original concept and included a consideration of inequitable recognition of networks and a communal effort to use social capital to support an activist agenda. Yosso (2005) approached social capital theory from a completely different angle from both Coleman (1994). Yosso (2005) returned to Bourdieu's component that the dominant class not only has the ability to restrict access to networks, but to also place value judgments on networks and relationships and their subsequent profits.

    Because of economic hegemony and hierarchical power systems existent in societal structures, traditionally, the dominant class had the ability to determine what relationships, resources, and profits were most valued for inclusion and upward mobility in mainstream society (Bourdieu 1986). However, this power to define what forms of social capital are valued by mainstream society does not limit the influence social capital has for minority groups. Bourdieu (1986) argued that there is power in a collective body and that a non-dominant group by its own power in its collective strength can create its own benefits of social capital and eventually influence and change dominant social capital.

    From this standpoint, social capital theory has major implications for the educational community, specifically in regards to racial minorities at predominantly White student institutions. College students who are able to accumulate more social capital have an advantage over their peers that have access to less social capital (Harper 2008). In order to attain acceptance and access to mainstream social networks and resources, Black students have been asked to conform to the dominant institutional norms and agendas (Stanton-Salazar, 1995; Harper 2008). An emphasis on Black student access to mainstream social capital, however, neglects to identify the individually perceived needs from their social networks Black students identify (Stanton-Salazar 1995).

    This neglect of what Black students need from their networks on campus also neglects to examine the relationships they utilize to access these desired profits. In response, Yosso (2005) developed a critical race theory view of social capital theory. Critical race theory was founded by Bell (1987) to expose both blatant and subtle forms of racism that saturate social structures. Critical race theory argues that scholarship and research literature largely ignored the presence and effects of institutionalized racist systems (Bell, 1987; Delgado and Stefancic 2001; Solórzano, Ceja, and Yosso 2000; Yosso 2005). The goal of critical race theory is to call attention to oppressive systems and to empower minority communities to find their collective voice to advance a social justice agenda. The theory intends not merely to understand how race and racism affects society, but to rectify social ills present in society (Delgado and Stefancic 2001). Critical race theory holds that an eradication of oppression can be achieved through knowledge of the experiences and voices among minority populations that have often been silenced or ignored (Delgado and Stefancic 2001). 

    Due to her critical race theory perspective, Yosso (2005) outlined how people of color collectively use social capital as a social justice tool. Within communities of color, support of one another's fight against oppressive structure takes the shape of emotional support and assurance that one is not alone in the struggle, as well as information sharing regarding how those individuals that went before navigated discriminatory environments. Yosso (2005) cited that these forms of social capital have often been overlooked by mainstream society because they do not fit into the dominant, capitalistic cultural value system. In spite of this lack of recognition, in order to advance their own agenda of social justice, people of color have social networks, resources, and skills that they access, accumulate, and leverage (Yosso 2005).

    There is a contingent in the educational research literature thus far that supports Yosso's view of social capital. Morris (2004) argued that "Social capital has been a mainstay of Black people's experiences in U.S. society, whether resulting from force or from the unique cultural experiences of Black people" (p. 101). Since Black people in the United States were afforded limited access to full participation in society (Billingsley 1992; DuBois 1986), Black people reacted in turn by developing a collective identity (Morris 2004). Part of this collective identity was an emphasis on communal structures that advanced the plight of the entire race (Morris 2004). In working against oppressive forces, Black people created what Morris (2004) dubbed "Black social capital" (p. 102). In the face of discrimination that sought to limit opportunities for Blacks in the White community, to fight as a collective group to combat the dominance of White social capital and make strides to infiltrate this system in order to change it (Morris 2004; Orr 1999). By acknowledging Bourdieu's (1986) original proposal of social capital theory as a concept that included an the dominant group's ability to oppress others in regards to social capital, Yosso (2005) has used critical race theory in this instance to focus the eye of social capital in the framework of race and racism. For these strengths inherent in Yosso's (2005) offering, a critical race theory view of social capital is deemed most effective for investigating Black student access to social capital on predominantly White campuses in this paper.

Applying Yosso's CRT Model of Social Capital to Black College Students:

    The majority of previous studies of social capital and education have solely emphasized the issues leading to inequities and/or notions of deficits. Harper (2008) and Lareau and Horvat (1999) asserted that most studies have not given attention to situations where previously excluded individuals are able to access social capital for their own educational benefit. A limited number of studies have researched the relationships and outcomes of social capital for Black college students (Brown and Davis 2001; Harper, 2008; Palmer and Gasman 2008; Smith 2007). 

    Researchers have started the process of analyzing the social capital that Black students' access and leverage on college campuses from a non-deficit perspective (Palmer and Gasman 2008; Harper 2008; Brown and Davis 2001). Thus far, the predominant amount of this investigation has been focused on social capital provided by historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Black students (Palmer and Gasman 2008; Brown and Davis 2001). Brown and Davis (2001) posited that by virtue of their existence, HBCUs provide social capital to all of its students, the majority of whom are Black. As a result of separate educational infrastructures birthed out of segregated systems of higher education in the United States, HBCUs historically functioned and continue to function in a primary capacity as a "social capital purveyor" (Brown and Davis 2001:41). The networks created within and amongst HBCUs serve and advance the interests of the Black community (Brown and Davis 2001). In this case, the collective interest and agenda of the Black community is the pursuit of higher education and its resultant social mobility for its members (Brown and Davis 2001). Brown and Davis (2001) purported that HBUs are able to transmit social capital to this end by three primary factors: "compensation, climate, and condition" (p. 42). HBCUs promote compensation by producing an environment for effective remedial instruction and subsequent college persistence for Black students. They promote a healthy racial climate for Black students wherein they find greater confidence in themselves, are more actively involved, and are more likely to garner relationships with faculty (Davis 1998). Brown and Davis (2001) argued that since HBCUs provide access to networks that support educational attainment for Black students, they function as a major source of generation and reproduction of social capital for Blacks in higher education.

    Palmer and Gasman (2008) conducted a research study that examined the role of social capital at an HBCU for Black men. Their study revealed that present social networks containing supportive peers, faculty, and administrators for fostered a positive environment for Black students. Palmer and Gasman's (2008) stated that participants described a "family-like environment that nourished students' talents and developed their potential" (p. 66). Through the relationships they developed, Black men were able to combat academic difficulties they entered college with and better realize their quest to graduate with a college degree (Palmer and Gasman 2008). These finding supported Brown and Davis' (2001) contention that HBCUs function as a primary generator and reproducer of social capital in the Black community. 

    HBCUs are credited with providing social capital to Black students in large part because of the campus climates they are able to create (Brown and Davis, 2001; Palmer and Gasman 2008). When comparing this type of environment found at HBCUs to the environments found on predominantly White campuses, Allen (1992) declared that "historically Black universities provide positive social and psychological environments for Black students that compare to those experienced by White students who attend White universities" (p. 40). 

    Research has contended that predominantly White institutions have room to learn from HBCUs regarding the creation of supportive environments conducive for Black student success (Allen 1992). With the advent of student affairs support services aimed at Black students' feelings of isolation, many predominantly White colleges displayed a commitment to addressing and alleviating negative experiences associated with alienating, exclusionary campus settings (Shuford and Palmer 2008). Solórzano et al. (2000) explained that in the reaction to negative racial campus climates, counter spaces are created. They stated these counter spaces "serve as sites where deficit notions of people of color can be challenged and where a positive collegiate racial climate can be established and maintained" (Solórzano et al.: 69). The foundational premise for these services and counter spaces rested on research findings that Black students needed "safe havens in an alien environment" (Young 1986:18). Such services exist in the form of staff dedicated to supporting Black students, racially-themed student organizations, and culturally-based educational and social programming (Shuford and Palmer 2008).

    The idea behind Black student support services on predominantly White campuses evolved into a two-fold mission. On one hand, Black students had access to an environment that allowed them to process their struggles on campus. In this environment, they could increase both their cultural identity development and ability to express their culture on campus (Gossett et al. 1998; Shuford and Palmer 2008). As a second function, these services would encourage greater cross-cultural social interaction and integration with majority students, faculty, and staff, (Shuford and Palmer 2008). This integration would increase the social capital of formally isolated Black students. Programs supporting these intended missions have been in practice in higher education for many years. However, as sparse as the research literature detailing the nature of social capital from a non-deficit standpoint for Black students at HBCUs, the body of work examining the same topic is even less existent applied to Black students on predominantly White campuses. 

    Harper (2008) started down this line of inquiry by investigating the social capital Black male student leaders have been able to accumulate and activate at predominantly White institutions. His research study revealed that Black male leaders on predominantly White campuses had the ability to access social relationships and networks for their own benefit. These benefits included relationships with key people and information about resources and opportunities for social mobility, such as knowledge about scholarship opportunities, positions on campus-wide committees, or information about study abroad programs. They were able to access these networks through out-of-classroom involvement in student organizations, including predominantly Black organizations. Harper's (2008) research revealed that Black male student leaders were able to accumulate and leverage profitable social networks that were often not accessible to other Black students or even some White students.

Although Harper (2008) has begun the process of applying a non-deficit model of social capital to Black students on predominantly White campuses, using Yosso's (2005) proposition of social capital can uncover more about the nature of Black students' ability to access and utilize social capital as a collective group for their own good. Although the role of Black student organizations in generating social capital for Black male student leaders emerged as a part of Harper's (2008) findings, there has not been a study thus far that focuses  solely on Black student support services on predominantly White campuses; services created for the expressed purpose of advancing the social good of Black students. For purposes of this paper, the rest of this analysis will focus on a discussion of how Black students may be able to achieve this end specifically in the form of Black student support services at predominantly White institutions of higher education. 

    There have been research studies to support the proposition that Black student support services are providing social networks that benefit the collective interest of Black students on predominantly White campuses (Gardner, Keller, and Piotrowski, 1996; Gilliard 1996; Guiffrida 2003; Harper and Quaye 2007; Hurtado et al, 1999; Padilla, Treviño, Gonzalez and Treviño 1997; Solórzano et al. 2000). Gardner et al. (1996) discovered that Black students at predominantly White student institutions regarded the existence of targeted support programs as an important factor in their campus experience. Through these programs Black students valued interaction with faculty and staff and opportunities to assist with campus-wide programming. Solórzano et al. (2000) found in their investigation of counter spaces that Black students felt supported and validated in these environments. The one down-side, however, was over-involvement of Black students with these activities. Solórzano et al. (2000) explained that some Black student became overly occupied with having their voices heard on campus through participation in these counter spaces to the detriment of their academic studies.

    Hurtado et al. (1999) and Padilla et al. (1997) found that joining a racially/ethnically-themed student organization was positively related to a strong racial/ethnic attitude for students of color. Gilliard (1996) specifically investigated Black student participation in racially-themed student organizations on predominantly White campuses and reported positive findings. This study found that Black students with membership in such organizations were more involved with campus activities, interacted more with faculty members, and were more apt to utilize available student support services (Gilliard 1996).

    Supporting Giliard's (1996) findings, Guiffrida (2003) examined the role of Black student organizations in promoting campus integration for Black students on predominantly White campuses. He found that membership in these organizations should be valued because it assisted Black students in forming ties to faculty outside of the classroom. Participation also allowed them to feel comfortable in a place where they perceived other participants to understand them and their campus situation. Lastly, he found that Black student organizations assisted in the identify development of Black students that came from predominantly White environments at home. The organizations exposed these students to Black culture and helped them to find a connection to the Black community (Guiffrida 2003).

    Harper and Quaye's (2007) study of Black student organizations' effect on Black male student leaders' identity expression also support the notion that Black student support services on predominantly White campuses provide valuable social networks to Black students. This study revealed that Black male student leaders, specifically in the internalization stage of Cross's (1991) Model of Nigrescence, primarily focused their out of class involvement in Black student organizations, but "were also involved to varying degrees in mainstream and predominantly White groups" (Harper and Quaye 2007:139). Harper and Quaye (2007) reported that participation in Black student organizations positively aided in students' Black identity development. In addition, Black male student leaders took on a social justice agenda through their campus involvements.

    Without explicitly stating so from a theoretical framework of social capital theory, each of these studies have pointed to how Black students on predominantly White campuses have been able to access social networks to their advantage (Gardner etal., 1996; Gilliar, 1996; Guiffrida 2003; Harper and Quaye 2007; Hurtado et al. 1999; Padilla et al. 1997; Solórzano et al.  2000). Black students on predominantly White campuses have access pertinent social networks that a) encouraged greater interaction with staff and faculty outside of the classroom; b) validated their on-campus experiences; c) promoted strong racial/ethnic attitudes; d) allowed for more access to student support services; e) strengthened identity development and their pursuit of a social justice agenda. 


   Building off Yosso's (2005) construction of social capital theory through a critical race theory lens, and applying the basic core principles aids in understanding how Black students at predominantly White institutions utilize targeted student support services as an agent of social capital. Hitherto, studies of minority student access to social capital have applied dominant, capitalistic ideals regarding what is considered profitable outcomes (Coleman 1994; Harper 2008; Lareau and Horvat 1999; Li, 2000; Stanton-Salazar 1997). These studies have emphasized elusive social networks that either students of color cannot access to their detriment, or how they access these dominant networks to further success through dominant value system.

    Black students are in need of social networks and relationships that will assist in their achievement of upward mobility in a capitalistic system, but that there also exists an underlying core necessity of social networks and relationships that help them attain other types of profits that may not be as valued in dominant society.  Yosso (2005) and Stanton-Salazar (1997) have offered frameworks that include potential profits necessary for Black students to gain from their social networks: legitimized roles and identities, emotional support, access to important information, access to opportunities.

    For Black students that comprise a minority, demographically and politically, on predominantly White campuses, one of the first needs may to be have their institutional roles and identities on campus legitimized. If the campus ignores both the quality of their presence and the realness of their concerns, social networks and relationships gained through targeted student support services may merely serve to validate their presence on campus. At a point when Black students mere presence on campus is invalidated, their first concern may not be access to internship or study abroad information. Such information may still be desired and considered important, but may need to be preceded by the simple validating act of acknowledging their presence as contributory members to the campus society and institutional obstacles they must overcome.

    Likewise, as Black students encounter institutional obstacles in their educational pursuits, the need for emotional support may also be a demand they place on their social networks and relationships.  They may need reassurance that they are not alone in experiencing discrimination in class or in their residence halls. They may also need assurance that overcoming such obstacles is feasible in the example of mentors of color in the form of faculty and staff. In essence, emotional support may be supported through a village or familial mentality in regards to social networks. In the individualistic, competitive mainstream culture established on most college campuses, this type of symbolic profit may not be considered of much value, but to Black students with particular challenges, it could prove to be monumental. 

    In advancing one another's plight to achieve success in the face of obstacles, access to information derived from targeted support services may also be of significant value. For example, Black students may find out through their networks with one another and/or Black alumni which professors to avoid because they have a reputation for  treating  Black students unfairly. Or what allies in the senior administration exist in advancing a multicultural, social justice agenda. Or even what form of recourse Black students may have when they experience discriminatory acts on campus. This type information does not need to be considered in a dominant framework that does not account for racism, but may prove to be important in the midst of a situation where prejudice and discrimination are at work.

     Finally, targeted student support services may provide Black students with access to opportunities to achieve a collective interest. In his study of Black male student leaders on predominantly White student campuses, Harper (2008) found that leadership roles in Black student organizations allowed the participants to serve on key campus-wide committees.  From one angle, such an opportunity is important for the particular student's academic career and resume development. From another angle, this position on a key campus-wide committee offers the entire community a voice in policies and procedures that brings in a multicultural perspective and may be able to advance a social justice agenda for the greater Black student population. 

    Bourdieu (1986) has declared how all people are susceptible to dominant ideological influences resultant of environmental forces that shape value and importance. Yosso (2005) has specifically applied this concept to how the social networks people of color utilize to achieve a social change are often downplayed.  Because of these conditions, the most basic premise of social capital theory is useful in exploring what relationships matter or do not matter to Black students and beginning to understand how social networks created through targeted student support services operate.


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