Journal of College Student Development 45.1 (2004) 101-103
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Success Factors of Young African American Women at a Historically Black College. Marilyn Ross. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003, 139 pages, $52.00 (hardcover)
In Success Factors of Young African American Women at a Historically Black College, Marilyn Ross offers a window into student experiences at an institution that is not widely written about in the student affairs field, Historically Black Colleges and Universites (HBCUs). While the setting of the book is an HBCU, the goal of this book speaks to a broader audience by revealing how listening to students is critical to fostering their success. Listening to one's story is the hallmark of the student affairs field. Student affairs professionals regularly facilitate programs, develop programs and lead activities all designed to give students voice. Ross' contribution to the field is a vivid, thick description of the power of student voice.
Ross' use of naturalistic inquiry in the research design, participant sample and interview questions are described in chapter 1. Ross provides insight into 20 successful (GPA above 3.0) African American women juniors that many might assume to be "at-risk" because they come from low-income families, single-parent homes, and inner city neighborhoods. Ross studied this population because, "these women who have overcome formidable obstacles, bring enlightenment to themselves" and serve as models for other young women to follow (p. 2). The introductory chapter concludes with an outline of the history and demographics of the HBCU and provides the reader with a context for viewing the student participants.
Chapter 2, "Review of the Literature," connects past history of slavery through narratives of African American women, to African American women students of today. Ross utilizes stories from Black women authors to describe how they have suffered in silence and overcome struggles from slavery to racism. As an English professor, Ross deftly analyzes first-person literature retrieved from archives, journals and other original source documents to explain how African American women from the 18th century weaved personal strength and determination to succeed into the fabric and consciousness of African American women in the 21st century. While the literature review does not specifically address experiences of African Americans at HBCUs, it is a thorough review of how the past impacts African American identity today. This is a past that is worth reading as it brings historical understanding of how the African American women's experience is unique and not fully encapsulated by the African American experience in general.
Chapter 3, "Neo-Slave Narrative," offers practitioners insight into how students at an HBCU shape and reconstruct themselves through writing, reading and analyzing such renowned writers as Alice Walker, Zora [End Page 101] Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison. Ross notes, "For the Black woman writer, recalling the past is a search for identity, a restructuring of self, and a form of catharsis" (p. 32). This chapter precedes the findings chapter and sets up readers to uncover for themselves the power of voices long silenced.
With minimal commentary from the author, chapter 4, "Herstory: Student Voices and Postreview of the Literature," presents excerpts from African American students interviewed. The quotations are organized around headings that emerged as themes in the data: strength of single mothers, prevalence of unwed mothers, desertion of fathers, abuse by men, and inner city violence. The following excerpt from a student sums up the main factor the women identified as being their strongest motivator for success, their mothers:
My mother always encouraged us to do better in life than she did. To reach for more and to plan for a better future. The one thing she always instilled in me is the importance of having a good education. (p. 37)
Ross concludes the chapter by reviewing how African American women, in general, have made great strides from the 1970's through the present by obtaining bachelors' and professional degrees that have enabled them to achieve a greater economic mobility than African American men. Unfortunately Ross does not analyze the findings in...