Monday, July 13, 2009

Student-Athlete Advocacy: A Review of the Literature

"One Foot In", cont.

Research on student-athlete advocacy in college athletics is informed by scholarship on educational inequality, particularly as it impacts black students in public school systems and predominantly white institutions, cultural criticism and historical analyses of college athletics, and social movement rhetoric literature and theory.

Educational Inequality
Philosophers and researchers have considered the pernicious effects of racism on the social and educational experiences of black Americans extensively. These effects extend to many areas within American society, from forms of racism both overt and covert (such as “institutionalized racism,” coined by Ture in Black Power) and forms of oppression both direct and indirect (Young, 2000). From the considerations of educational sociologists and historians (DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk, Woodson’s Miseducation of the Negro and E. Franklin Frazier’s The Negro Family in the United States seem especially relevant) to cultural and social critics (Baraka’s Blues People and the incendiary yet often astute rhetoric of Malcolm X, the Black Liberation Movement, and the Black Panthers) to contemporary “cultural-ecological” theorists such as Johnathan Kozol (Savage Inequalities), John Ogbu (“Voluntary and Involuntary Minorities: A Cultural-Ecological Theory of School Performance with Some Implications for Education,” and “Minority Education in Comparative Perspective”), Angela Valenzuela (Subtractive Schooling) and Jabari Mahiri (Shooting for Excellence), the literature suggests that a collision of environmental, historical, and economic forces have led to a general underperformance among black public school students compared to their white (Caucasian) peers in formal, public educational settings. The lack of college preparation opportunities and resources available to inner-city youth in urban areas, under-resourced, and disproportionately poor rural public education systems, and the pernicious experiences that youth of color face in many of well-resourced schools indeed converge to deny many persons of color the chance to gain entry into the academy and obtain a degree.

Scholarship (Atkinson, Jennings, and Lionson, L. 1990, Hraba, Radloff, & Gray-Ray 1999, Laird, et al. 2004, Sparrow and Chretien 1993) also suggests that black students who beat the odds and successfully matriculate to college face further obstacles to their success in obtaining college degrees because of feelings of alienation, the vestiges of racism, and a lack of services to help them counteract the multiple stressors of being minorities at predominantly white institutions. These stressors also include being first-generation college students and having a general lack of black faculty and staff role models. It’s likely that a confluence of these experiences contributes to the disproportionately lower success rates among African-American student-athletes, according to NCAA statistics, much of which occurs before they arrive on college campuses to begin with. Research in the areas pertaining to educational inequality suggest that though black male student-athletes at Division I-A schools share some degree of privilege in that they are college students, for the most part many of them suffer through various forms of discrimination as they alternately (or concurrently) are assumed to be academic underperformers either because of their ethnic or athletic affiliations (Lumas 1997; Mangold, Bean, and Douglas 2003). The intersections between the institutional racism that under girds the educational inequalities in the public school system and the level of educational quality for college student-athletes precipitates the need for a more robust advocacy than is provided in many institutions.
Research regarding the travails of African-American students in institutions of higher education indicates that these students are often unduly hampered in their endeavors to be successful students, matriculate, graduate, and transition into their chosen careers and professions. Researchers have identified myriad reasons for the sub-par academic performance among Students of Color, including among others: (a) feelings of isolation and alienation on college campuses, (b) the vestiges of racism and racial discrimination, (c) the sense that public education divests Students of Color from meaningful cultural capital, and (d) cultural differences between learning environments and home/familial environments (Smith and Moore, 2000; Laird, 2004; Valenzuela, 1999; Ogbu, 1990). These struggles have, historically, led to high attrition rates and lower levels of student satisfaction with their college experiences, particularly at Predominantly Caucasian Institutions of higher learning.

Research on issues in areas as varied as graduation rates, job opportunities, and feelings of acceptance and belongingness among minority student-athletes, coaches, and administrators suggest that the hardships that these individuals routinely face jeopardize the prospect of their success as college students. A study released by the NCAA in 2003[1] proclaims that student-athletes are more likely to graduate over a six year period than non-student-athletes, but notes that black student-athletes are not only less likely to graduate than their white peers, but that there are “fewer black athletes” competing as student-athletes than in past data sets (“NCAA Graduation Success Rate – 1996-2002 Cohort” 2). This translates into a lower proportion of student-athletes having the opportunity to compete at the college level, likely because Proposition 16, a stringent eligibility standard mandated in 1996 “affects access to higher education for minorities” because the sliding scale used to determine eligibility is 50 percent based on standardized test scores (“NCAA Graduation Success Rate – 1996-2002 Cohort” 2). Recent updates to the Satisfactory Progress model (the “40-60-80[2]” model) also restrict access further for junior-college transfers, which in football and basketball tend to include significant populations of black and minority student-athletes.

Though graduation rates for black student-athletes are slowly rising, black student-athletes are still much less likely to graduate than their white peers. In the 2003 study, black male athletes in football and basketball graduated at rates substantially lower than their white counterparts (52 percent vs. 41 percent in basketball, and 61 percent vs. 49 percent in football) (“NCAA Graduation Success Rate – 1996-2002 Cohort” 3). These numbers, Lapchick claims (Lapchick 2), reinforce already-existent stereotypes about the intellectual capability and potential of black male student-athletes and substantiate them with data – even though many people are unwilling to examine the disparities of these numbers in order to determine why they exist. It can easily be contended, because of these disparities, that the most significant interventions that the NCAA and its member institutions have introduced on the past three decades have improved graduation success rates for black male student-athletes in revenue sports, but for the majority of those students, more significant interventions must take place to ensure their success.

[1] NCAA Graduation Success Rate – 1996-2002 Cohort.
[2] Requirement that student athletes complete 40% of their major requirements by the end of their second year of eligibility, 60% by the end of their third year of eligibility, and 80% before the beginning of their final year of eligibility to remain eligible to complete.

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