Norm miscommunication: does it affect the academic success of black college students?
Davies, Blossom Rachel
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When compared to White students, Black students underperform at every level of academics. Yet, Black students tend to report significantly higher attitudes toward doing well in school than do White students. One explanation for this apparent attitudebehavior discrepancy between Black and White students is the miscommunication of academic norms. Social norms become known through public behavior and one's public behavior is assumed to reflect one's true attitudes. When public behavior is used to determine social norms but does not reflect one's true attitudes, social norms are miscommunicated. In the case of academic achievement, Black students' public behavior (such as not studying or performing below ability) may convey to their peers an attitude that school achievement is unimportant when in reality, their private school attitudes are very positive. This miscommunication may occur to a greater degree for Black than White students due to actual social norms (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986) as well as high levels of collectivism that have been found for Blacks (Gaines, et al., 1997). Study 1 investigated whether the miscommunication of academic norms occurred differentially for Black and White students by examining the discrepancy between their private attitudes toward academic achievement and the perception of their friends' attitudes toward academic achievement. The results indicated no racial differences in the miscommunication of academic norms and the discussion focuses on the limitations of the study. Study 2 served as a conceptual replication of Study 1 and explored how different reference group norms toward academic achievement (i.e., own attitudes, friends' attitudes and behaviors, and parents' attitudes) contributed to the prediction of academic achievement behavior (i.e., GPA). The results revealed that for White students friends' academic behavior tended to influence one's own GPA positively whereas for Black students, parents' attitudes toward academics tended to affect their children's academic behavior negatively. Additionally, Black students, to a greater degree than White students, perceived themselves to be under a lot of pressure to do well in school (especially from themselves and their parents). Unexpectedly, White students felt that it was more important to be close to their friends and perceived greater pressure to maintain closeness to them in comparison to Black students. Generally, the results of Study 1 and Study 2 did not provide support for the idea of racial disparity in the miscommunication of social norms. However, the results of Study 2 did reveal some important racial differences in the perception of academic achievement attitudes and behaviors for this college sample.