Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, PhD


School of Educational Studies

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Susan Bush-Mecenas

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Frances Gipson

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Darneika Watson-Davis

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2024 La Quirshia Fennell


African American/ Black Students, Black Identity, Community College, Culturally Engaging Campuses, Sense of Belonging, Systemic Racism

Subject Categories

Cultural Resource Management and Policy Analysis | Higher Education | Race and Ethnicity


At present, California community colleges serve a large proportion of Black students, but these students are not adequately supported to reach their educational goals (The Campaign for College Opportunity, 2019; National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2022; Cross & Carman, 2022 Simpson, J., & Bista, K., 2021). Extensive research documents the importance of culturally engaging campuses and student sense of belonging to academic success (Museus, 2014; Museus et al., 2017; Harper et al., 2009; Strayhorn et al., 2010; Sanders, 2016; Tichavakunda, 2020). A puzzle remains in understanding why these aspects of campus support may be falling short for Black students. I hypothesize that Black Identity Development is a crucial mediator in authentically engaging and supporting students to reach their educational goals. My research aims to explore on how elements of the Culturally Engaging Campus Environment Model (Museus et., 2017) support Cross’ (1994) Black student identity development to enhance and ultimately encourage a stronger sense of belonging for Black students enrolled in Southern California community colleges. This is a particularly important perspective, as it is essential that culturally engaging campuses are centered on honoring and affirming Black identity to authentically develop sense of belonging, rather than encouraging students to deny their Black identity in favor of assimilation (Harper and Quaye, 2007). To do this I developed an exploratory mixed methods study that contains three research questions to investigate how these concepts impact the Black student community college experience. I present a literature review that focuses the history of Black students in the American education system; sense of belonging; and the complexity of Black identity in higher education. This literature review contextualizes how and why the education systems are structured the way they are today, as a function of the historical context of the disproportionate and policies that were designed to marginalize the Black community. From the literature, I propose a conceptual framework that encompassed the nine elements of the Culturally Engaging Campus Environment Model (Museus et al. 2017) to assess which elements Black students interact with on their campuses. Following this, are the stages of the Black Identity Model, (Cross, 1994; Ritchey, 2014) to discern how the elements of the Culturally Engaging Campus Environment Model influences Black identity development to ultimately contribute to sense of belonging. To test my hypothesis, I collected survey (n=51) and interview data (n=10). I utilize descriptive statistics, correlation, and simple linear regression of survey data alongside thematic analysis of interview data to understand the experience and perspectives of Black community college students. I find that Black students are looking to connect with their community college campuses through aspects that affirm and support their black identity. Examples of these aspects are cultural familiarity and culturally validating environments (Museus et al. 2017) to contribute to their sense of belonging. Described by students, I also find that there are three enabling elements that contribute to Black students’ sense of belonging as well as three constraining elements that hinder students from connecting to their campus. Findings from this study align with the testaments of other scholars; however, this study highlights that incorporating identity development through the Culturally Engaging Campus Environment Model is impactful for Black students’ sense of belonging. My findings demonstrate that there is still work to be done in this space as students reported they experience systemic racism through microaggressions and stereotypes at the hand of campus employees and students. I provide recommendations for Administrators, faculty and student affairs professionals, and students. At the Administrator level, I provide three recommendations: culturally competent representation, an accountability policy, and a SWOT analysis. For professionals, I give four recommendations: creating a more welcoming and sustaining environment, advocating against microaggressions and stereotypes, diverse hiring practices, and reconsidering curriculum. For students I offer two recommendations: create social connection on campus and building your Black professional network. Ultimately, the ability to connect with the campus through cultural representation is a large facilitator to sense of belonging for Black students. Participants in this student brought forth enabling and constraining elements that contribute to Black student sense of belonging.