College choice based on Additional Identity Support (or Challenge)

Posted on December 30, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I think one of the unique needs/wants of students choosing to attend a community college, historically black college or university (HBCU), Latino serving institution, private or public college, or religious university is to address and lessen the identity struggles that come with the transition to college. As I have spoken about previously, one of the largest challenges to incoming students is dealing with the losses and changes in identity that they face in the college setting. Students who are unaccustomed or uncomfortable with identity change or who feel like their success will be minimized by its affects may choose to attend an institution where they can maintain significant portions of their identity, build on ones that they feel most strongly about, and see their values reflected in the student body and administration. Examples of this are varied. Some students may choose to attend community college because it allows them to be closer to family members and therefore maintain their strong identity as a father, mother, sister, son, etc. A black student who attended a primarily Caucasian high school may choose to attend an HBCU in order to develop a stronger connection to his ethnic identity and/or show his support for higher education institutions that focus on serving underrepresented populations. A devote Christian may choose to attend a private, religious institution in order to ensure that her religious identity, traditions and values will be respected and incorporated into her education. In the same vein, some students may choose a particular type of  institution in order to explore a part of their identity that they have not spent much time developing or to face the challenge of succeeding in an environment where their identities, values, and thoughts may be quite different from the majority of the college community.

For students who chose a school in order to receive additional support in maintaining or developing a particular identity it is important that there be resources available to support students at every stage of this process. Some students will come to college with a very clear recognition of their identity, how they feel about it, and how they articulate and display their identity to others. Other students may not be quite as far along in the identity development process and therefore may be experiencing feelings of fear, anger, confusion, and extreme excitement. Hiring faculty and staff that can recognize the needs of students at all of these stages and respect students wherever they are along the continuum is important. Student support services and programming that deals with identity development and celebration must also cater to all students along the continuum.

It will also be a given that some students who originally come to a college to receive additional identity development/ maintenance support will decide that they are no longer as connected to or supportive of that particular identity and therefore need to find other reasons to stay at the institution or transfer schools. In the best case scenario, college faculty and administrators will be supportive of students as they struggle with these issues and provide them with the necessary support and resources to make informed decisions about whether they should stay or transfer. Students who attend a particular college for the challenge of receiving less support may also find themselves at a similar cross-roads and will need similar support and resources.


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