Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to gain an understanding of the perceptions held by African American/"black" undergraduate students of their experiences attending a predominately white institution (PWI) of higher education in the Upper Midwest. Participants consisted of a sample of six African American/black juniors during the 2009–2010 academic school year. Social Identity Development Theory and Critical Race Theory were used as a guide in designing interview questions. Participants were interviewed and the audio recorded interviews were transcribed and then analyzed for codes, categories, and themes.

Four themes emerged from analysis of the data. Theme One: When students were involved in social activities, they felt more connected and were less likely to experience feelings of isolation. Students who actively engaged in social activities at an Upper Midwest University did not report feelings of social withdrawal and loneliness. Theme Two: Women felt more connected to their surroundings than men and appeared happier than men. Female participants expressed overall satisfaction with being students at an Upper Midwest University. They reported greater feelings of social acceptance than their male counterparts, and women were more motivated to interact with their peers than male participants in this study. Theme Three: Teachers who were perceived to be culturally competent in the classroom tended to make students feel part of a group. Participants felt a greater sense of belonging when teachers made them feel comfortable in the classroom and treated them with respect. Theme Four: When there were personal connections to the Upper Midwest University, students had more positive experiences, than students with no personal connections. Students who had family and friends attend and/or graduate from the Upper Midwest University were more motivated to make personal connections with peers, engage in campus activities, and be satisfied with their experiences while attending the university than students who had no family or friends attending the university.

Knowledge concerning the nature of higher education for African American/black undergraduate students at PWIs may better prepare faculty, staff, and administration to work with African American/black students and other students of color.