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Taming the River

Taming the River: Negotiating the Academic, Financial, and Social Currents in Selective Colleges and Universities

Camille Z. Charles
Mary J. Fischer
Margarita A. Mooney
Douglas S. Massey
Gniesha Dinwiddie
Brooke Cunningham
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Taming the River
    Book Description:

    Building on their important findings inThe Source of the River, the authors now probe even more deeply into minority underachievement at the college level.Taming the Riverexamines the academic and social dynamics of different ethnic groups during the first two years of college. Focusing on racial differences in academic performance, the book identifies the causes of students' divergent grades and levels of personal satisfaction with their institutions.

    Using survey data collected from twenty-eight selective colleges and universities,Taming the Riverconsiders all facets of student life, including who students date, what fields they major in, which sports they play, and how they perceive their own social and economic backgrounds. The book explores how black and Latino students experience pressures stemming from campus racial climate and "stereotype threat"--when students underperform because of anxieties tied to existing negative stereotypes. Describing the relationship between grade performance and stereotype threat, the book shows how this link is reinforced by institutional practices of affirmative action. The authors also indicate that when certain variables are controlled, minority students earn the same grades, express the same college satisfaction, and remain in school at the same rates as white students.

    A powerful look at how educational policies unfold in America's universities,Taming the Riversheds light on the social and racial factors influencing student success.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3005-3
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Entering the Current
    (pp. 1-21)

    A contentious debate has raged over race-conscious admissions policies at selective U.S. colleges and universities since the end of the civil rights era. After decades of exclusion, the nation’s elite colleges and universities, beginning in the 1970s, undertook a series of “affirmative actions” designed to ensure the inclusion of formerly underrepresented minorities within bastions of academic privilege. Overnight, college admissions officials sought to transform prestigious campuses from citadels of whiteness into diverse reflections of an increasingly multiracial society. Owing to their historical exclusion from selective institutions of higher education, minority group members generally lacked the family connections that would entitle...

  6. 2 Staying Afloat Academically
    (pp. 22-70)

    The Source of the Riverexamined the divergent backgrounds of students attending selective colleges and universities—the source of the “river” of students flowing into the nation’s elite institutions of higher education. Even after controlling for background differences, however, the book’s authors were not able to eliminate intergroup differentials in grade performance. As they noted at the closing of their book, “these preexisting circumstances explain some, but by no means all, of the observed differentials in achievement among whites, blacks, Asians, and Latinos.” The authors went on to argue that subsequent research needed to focus on how “campus-based actions, in...

  7. 3 Staying Afloat Socially
    (pp. 71-98)

    For most 18-year-olds who head off to college, arriving on campus is the first step on a long road to adulthood and independence. Until that moment, the vast majority of students lived with one or both of their parents in a household composed primarily of kin—mainly parents and siblings (full, half, and step) but sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins as well. Although prior work with the NLSF has shown that parents in different racial-ethnic groups participate in the lives of their children to different degrees, all were in a position to monitor their children’s behavior on a day-to-day...

  8. 4 Staying Afloat Financially
    (pp. 99-118)

    Getting into a selective college or university is one thing; paying for it is something else entirely. Most of the institutions included in the NLSF have a policy of need-blind admissions, which, in theory, means that the admissions and financial aid offices operate independently and without collusion (Springer and Franck 2005). Applications for college entry are evaluated by admissions officers, and the decision to admit is made on the basis of whatever combination of subjective and objective criteria the institution deems relevant, not including, of course, the applicant’s socioeconomic status. If the applicant has applied for financial aid, then once...

  9. 5 Battling Social Undercurrents
    (pp. 119-149)

    The formation of friendships represents an important step in adapting to college life, especially at academically competitive institutions. Having friends helps smooth the transition to the college setting. Friends help one another figure out how the institution works; friends encourage one another academically; and friends share new academic and social experiences. When problems arise, friends are there to offer support and assistance to make them easier to bear. For these and other reasons, the development of a supportive network of friends has been found to increase persistence in college (Grosset 1991; Terenzini et al. 1994) and foster greater social integration...

  10. 6 The Hidden Rocks of Segregation
    (pp. 150-172)

    Despite theBrowndecision of 1954 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, U.S. society remains very segregated on the basis of race (Iceland, Weinberg, and Steinmetz 2002; Kozol 2005). Two-thirds of urban African Americans live under conditions of very high residential segregation (Massey 2004), and two-thirds of all African Americans attend minority-dominant schools (Orfield 2001). To a remarkable extent, black and white Americans, and increasingly Latinos, inhabit separate social worlds characterized by what Kozol (1991) has called “savage inequalities.” Considerable research documents the...

  11. 7 The Shoals of Stereotypes
    (pp. 173-187)

    As mentioned in chapter 1, the theory of stereotype threat was originated by Steele (1988, 1992) to account for the apparent academic underperformance of stigmatized social groups. He argued that members of disparaged minority groups are prone to underperform academically because of a fear of living up to negative stereotypes about the intellectual abilities of their group. Even if one rejects the stereotype categorically, virtually everyone in the United States knows about the racist canard that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites. The view that African Americans are genetically less intelligent than others evolved historically in conjunction with slavery and...

  12. 8 The Wake from Affirmative Action
    (pp. 188-204)

    Until the 1970s, most of the institutions included in the NLSF had very few black or Latino students. Prior to the civil rights era, they were excluded by a variety of subtle and not so subtle mechanisms, and the very presence of both groups on the campuses of elite institutions is the result of deliberate actions taken to overcome a legacy of past discrimination. Colleges and universities now work sincerely to comply with relevant civil rights legislation and no longer consciously practice racial or ethnic discrimination in recruitment or admissions; but most institutions have gone beyond the simple elimination of...

  13. 9 College at Midstream
    (pp. 205-234)

    At this point in our journey downstream we have undertaken a series of very detailed analyses of students’ academic choices, living conditions, financial circumstances, and social behavior during the first two years of college, extending the research that Massey et al. (2003) began inThe Source of the River, which documented differences in the social backgrounds of students attending America’s selective colleges and universities. Here we have focused on emergent similarities and differences among students expressed in the course of their freshman and sophomore years, and we have paused along the way to consider the influence of each set of...

  14. Appendix A: Questionnaire Used in Spring of Freshman Year
    (pp. 235-251)
  15. Appendix B: Questionnaire Used in Spring of Sophomore Year
    (pp. 252-272)
  16. Appendix C: Construction of Social Scales
    (pp. 273-278)
  17. References
    (pp. 279-294)
  18. Index
    (pp. 295-301)