Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Teacher Education

Committee Member

Christopher Robbins, PhD

Committee Member

Wendy Burke, PhD

Committee Member

Sylvia Jones, PhD

Committee Member

Carmen McCallum, PhD


The purpose of this research is to assess whether and how higher education campus climate, policy, and practice influence belonging for first-generation students of color. Through the lens of critical race theory, the study further juxtaposes those experiences through the testimony of students at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Grounded theory informed my qualitative survey and interview tools through which I examined belonging through three standards: social, which explored belonging through peers, groups, and the environment; personal, which explored belonging through the respondent’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions; and institutional, which explored belonging through practice, policy, norms, and traditions. The subsequent evaluation of narrative trends and emerging themes illustrates a poignant corollary between spaces that center Whiteness and Eurocentric standards and challenged acclamation and belonging for students of color. The research also supports existing data regarding more positive experiences for students of color where they are centered, valued, and celebrated. Results of the research help define several areas for institutional application of these outcomes.