Date of Award

Spring 2011

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michael J Middleton


African American students face many challenges when they attend highly selective, predominantly White institutions. Lack of support for or belief in their academic success on the part of White faculty and peers may contribute to a climate in which it becomes increasingly difficult for African American students to be motivated and believe in their ability to excel academically. Studies suggest that an unsupportive racial climate on campus perpetuates "stereotype threat"---the conception that task performance can be affected by a fear of being evaluated on the basis of, or inadvertently perpetuating a stereotype about one's racial group, and a decade of research has concluded that stereotype threat impedes academic performance among African American college students. Yet, the exact nature of how stereotype threat affects academic performance is less understood.

One purpose of this study is to investigate more deeply the motivational orientations of African American college students and to examine the impact of negative campus racial climate on the academic experiences of African American students. A further goal, however, is to explore the integration of motivation with the literature on stereotype threat and observe the complex interplay between campus climate, the application and impact of racial stigma, and academic performance among African American college students at a highly selective, predominantly White, small liberal arts institution.

Conducted at a selective, predominantly White, liberal arts college in the northeastern U.S., this study uses both survey and interview data to assess campus racial climate as perceived by White students, and capture and discrepancies between reported beliefs and actions; and, ascertain the achievement goal orientation of African American students, as well as their individual perceptions of the existence or application of stereotypes and their sensitivity to personal rejection based on those stereotypes.