Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Theresa Saunders, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Ronald Flowers, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Joe Bishop, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ronald Woods, J.D.


This qualitative dissertation examined links between Reconstruction and Civil Rights Era educational policies and practices and the impact of Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) institutional policies and practices on black students. This historical case study delineated the experiences of black EMU students who attended the institution at the end of the Civil Rights Era and during the first two decades of the 21st century. The study is significant because, despite landmark Civil Rights Era legislation whose objective sought to narrow the achievement gap, the retention rates of black students at EMU remain disproportionate to those of white students in the 21st century. The literature on the black/white achievement gap at America’s predominantly white institutions (PWIs) employs often a deficit framework that justifies the disparity. EMU’s Degree Completion and Retention Plan of 2014 aimed to improve black student retention while placing the onus of their persistence chiefly on students. To answer research questions related to links between Reconstruction Era and Civil Rights Era legislation and links between Civil Rights Era legislation and EMU institutional policies, existing literature and other archival data were reviewed. To examine the experiences of eight black EMU alumni from two eras, semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions were utilized. Grounded in the symbolic interactionism conceptual framework, four themes emerged. First, college attendance and completion were expected by the families and communities of participants in both generations. Second, participants learned to navigate the racial climate on campus, which was at times hostile and unwelcoming. Next, participants credited the good and bad interactions they had with their black and white professors with the shaping of their academic experiences. Finally, student organization leadership roles and activism instilled in participants a sense of purpose greater than themselves during their undergraduate years. The findings of this research confirmed that the experiences of black students in the 21st century were not much different than those of black students who attended the institution 50 years prior. Civil Rights Era legislation provided greater access to education, but it failed to redress racist education policies that have, since the Reconstruction Era, placed black students at an educational disadvantage