A study of college-age students found strong correlation between a student’s “academic motivation” in a class and their sense of belonging in that class, specifically “perceptions of their instructors’ characteristics” and “their campus-level sense of belonging.” (Freeman, Anderman, & Jensen, 2010)
This wasn’t a study of minority students. I think it’s important to keep this in mind so that a sense of belonging and its connection to student success is not labeled as a “minority issue.”
Another study argued “that to understand higher education student retention, equal emphasis needs to be placed on successful integration into the social world of the university as into the academic world.” (Wilcox, Winn, & Fyvie-Guald, 2006)
The study went on to say, “Our data support the claim that making compatible friends is essential to retention, and…Such friends provide direct emotional support, equivalent to family relationships, as well as buffering support in stressful situations.” (Wilcox, Winn, & Fyvie-Guald, 2006)
Again, this is not a study on the adjustment of minorities in educational settings. However, it does support the premise that you can’t separate the culture and the student’s ability to thrive in it from student success in an academic environment.
To be clear, we are not talking about the ability to learn principles of flight or how to maneuver and fly an airplane. We are talking about the skill of operating in a majority culture and how it affects the minority student’s self-efficacy—his or her belief that they can succeed at the task of becoming a pilot in the United States Air Force.
It was fascinating to me to look at survey responses of black pilot training students who clearly had the aptitude to fly based on prior flight time, etc. but struggled with the notion of becoming a pilot simply because the negative effects of the majority culture were deemed as being mostly outside their control.
It was equally fascinating to see students who believed that they could successfully overcome instructor stereotypes, bias, and even racism simply by increasing their own efforts. In her research Anita Woolfolk gave this example. “People with a strong sense of self-efficacy for a given task (“I’m good at math”) tend to attribute their failures to something within their control such as lack of effort (“I should have double-checked my work”).” (Woolfolk, 10th Edition)
Woolfolk’s self-efficacy theories were borne out in the survey responses I collected. The black students who had significant experience operating in a majority culture almost always felt their success was within their control, “if I work harder,” etc. Previous experience is a key component to motivation and expectations for success (ASU Sanford Inspire Program, 2015). The students’ confidence was based on their previous experience operating in a majority culture:
There were also those who were raised in an environment where they were insensitive to cultural diversity. These are the types of biases that factor into SOME instructors making things more difficult for UPT students that didn’t look like them…I feel there is a difference, but one’s success, or lack thereof, is determined by how they approach that difference. I knew about and anticipated this bias and chose to work harder than everyone else. My goal was to be better than everyone else in every way. I wanted to ensure the instructors had no choice but to see me as one of the best. I made sure my appearance was impeccable; my knowledge of the material was second to none, and I would spend hours every night rehearsing for my flights the following day. I was constantly told not to worry about studying prior to the start of our formal training. When I arrived on day one, I had much of the required material already committed to memory. This approach allowed me to finish UPT as the #1 graduate in my class. (1990 SUPT student)
Based on my experience and from my perspective, Yes, there appeared to be a difference. Compassionate Instructors expect more and pushed the minorities harder knowing that in their careers more would be expected of them than their majority counterparts. This falls into the category of duality, positive and negative, depending on the attitude of the minority. (1973 SUPT student)
The difference by being alone, more scrutiny on my performance made me work harder to prove that I was better than most other trainees…When I went in August 1959 they had not graduated an African-American in 11years. In 11 years…And my flight surgeon who was African American tried to talk me out of going to Moore. He said because they just don’t graduate us down there. Now, I have always been a little bit stubborn and sometimes not too smart. And I said I'll go down there. I had success in playing quarterback in white universities and at white high schools, so I figured I was pretty good. I mean that is just talk. And I had done so well in pilot training at the university, at SIU, because that five-and-a-half-hour solo time is still a record down out there…I guess I just worked harder.” (1960 SUPT student)
PREPARE YOURSELF ! Know the environment you are about to enter. I know I worked as hard and harder than my classmates. I asked a million questions to IPs and fellow students... how maneuvers are graded, what are some tips to flying certain maneuvers, what will be the emphasis on upcoming tests, how to chair-fly, how much to chair-fly, ask IPs exactly what I need to focus on before next event, etc. Take a ACTIVE role as manager of your own training! Hopefully, this will help to negate the effects of any bias one may encounter. (1985 SUPT student)
I felt had the weight of my community on my shoulders. At that time, the washout rate of blacks had skyrocketed and the Air Force was very concerned about what to do. I had spoken to one candidate who I knew only through friends and another (an Air Force Academy grad…a member of the “fraternity”) who I worked with who felt he’d been discriminated against because he was dating a white woman and his instructors found out...I went off to pilot training proud and scared. My nurturing along the way, I believe, was the biggest factor. I was young, and as a young black man, I was a little “bullet proof.” My mindset at the time was one of “if they can do it, so could I.” These mentalities are easily
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