Cultural Identity as Assistive Factor
In our school, a well-developed cultural identity is viewed as an assistive factor in college readiness and persistence. Students are guided in developing this as part of their college preparation. We not only encourage students to include their culture in applications and scholarship essays, we also help them understand how cultural identity is a strength in an unfamiliar college setting.
Cultural identity is not typically discussed or part of the post-secondary exploration or planning.
Students are encouraged to express their cultural identity and some adults encourage them to explore their cultural identity and include it as part of their post-secondary planning or personal statement, but it is not a schoolwide culture or systematic.
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College and career exploration and preparation include specific activities to help students explore their cultural identity and actively use this in identifying their post secondary goals and school choices.
Students who are able to draw strength from their cultural identity, while adapting to the demands of college life, are more likely to persist and academically succeed in college. Many students who are able to draw upon their cultural identity as a support describe transitioning through phases of cultural identity development. Initially students may feel alienated on a college campus. A process of self-discovery is often required before a student reaches a level of fully integrating their cultural self-identity as a strength. Starting this journey of self-discovery in high school may help students persist through the early years in college. In addition to building internal strength, having students think through potential interactions with others can also prepare them for a college environment. Students are likely to experience assumptions about their culture, themselves, and be faced with questions or expectations of representation on campus. Considering how to navigate these likely interactions ahead of time can help students navigate a sense of “otherness” and other people’s assumptions or labels.
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Tailyr Irvine, a photojournalists, describes her own college navigation experiences in a short article to introduce her photo exhibit. Reading her story may provide further understanding of this indicator.
College Horizons is a non-profit that provides workshops dedicated to increasing the number of Native American, Native Alaskan, and Hawaiian Native students succeeding in college.
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"Native American students who are able to draw strength from their cultural identity while adapting to the demands of campus life are more likely to succeed in their academic pursuits than ae either culturally assimilated students or those unable to establish a level of comfort within their campus environment" (Larimore & McClellan, 2005, p.21).
Huffman (2001) interviewed American Indian college students about persistence. Students who progressed to identify their cultural identity as a strength and source of confidence in their ability to navigate the mainstream environment had the highest GPA and demonstrated persistent skills.
Huffman labeled this "transculturation" in four stages: 1. "initial alienation", 2. "self-discovery--discovery of personal strength emerging form Native cultural heritage", 3. "realignment--learn to relate to both Native and mainstream cultural settings using traditionals as an emotional anchor", and 4. "participation--full use of American Indian culture and heritage as a source of strength" (figure 2)