Research shows that African Americans who attend predominately white institutions, or PWIs, face special challenges and the geographic location of a university plays a critical role in retention and graduation rates among these students.

To explore these issues, Rachael Woldoff, a sociology professor at West Virginia University, and her former students, Heather Washington and Yolanda Wiggins, coauthored an article titled “Black Collegians at a Rural PWI: Toward a Place-Based Understanding of Black Students’ Adjustment to College.”

Their article is forthcoming in the “Journal of Black Studies.”

Woldoff mentored Washington and Wiggins as part of WVU’s Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which offers students who are economically disadvantaged and/or ethnically underrepresented in graduate school an opportunity to prepare for graduate studies. Both Washington and Wiggins now attend graduate school.

The article is about a study using focus groups of African American students to better understand the college adjustment differences between in-state black students, who are familiar with rural and predominantly white environments, and out-of-state black students, who mainly come from segregated, black neighborhoods in larger cities.

Contrary to the notion that African American students at PWIs are a singular, homogenous group, “The results of our study show that the students perceive a divide between in-state and out-of-state African American WVU students,” Woldoff said.

Specifically, students reported: differences in their comfort levels in predominantly white environments; perceptions of in-state blacks “acting white,” out-of-state students equating urban residence of origin with authentic blackness; and perceptions of differences between the two groups in provincialism versus sophistication.



CONTACT: Rebecca Herod, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
304-293-7405, ext. 5251,