“It’s a Tug of War”: Reflections and Stories of Afrolatinx Collegians and Sense of Belonging at a Diverse Public University

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Alfredo Medina, Jr.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2016), Latinxs are the largest ethnic group comprising 17 percent, or 53 million people, of the overall U.S. population. Latinxs come from more than 20 countries sharing a common language with the three largest ethnic identity groups being Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban (Davis & Engel, 2011).

This qualitative study investigated the racialized experiences of AfroLatinx collegians at a diverse public university. Sixteen (16) self-identified AfroLatinx students participated in semi-structured interviews and a focus group to share their stories in negotiating their ethnoracial identity as it relates to sense of belonging. Drawing on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Latino Critical Theory (LatCrit), the study examined the experiences of AfroLatinx students growing up in traditional Latinx homes and how their neighborhoods and social networks influenced their racialized identity formation. Rendón’s (1994) Theory of Validation and Tucker’s (1999) modified version of Tinto’s (1993) Theory of Student Integration shed light on AfroLatinx collegian experiences among their collegiate peers. Utilizing narrative research, a method of qualitative interviewing that emphasized participant’s’ perspective, and counter storytelling, a story re-telling method that challenges deficit-thinking usually linked to minoritized students, participants shared their experiences as being Black and Latinx, simultaneously. Qualitative analysis revealed that AfroLatinx collegians had varied experiences growing up. Many reported being exposed to anti-Black and anti-AfroLatinidad messaging that contributed to identity confusion. Strong sense of belonging was attributed to student life diversity; yet findings suggest that collegians involved in programs and services that embraced and acknowledged their racialized identity were more likely to report being satisfied and motivated. Based on these stories, academic and student affairs practitioners can use this knowledge to address institutional challenges and pitfalls relative to transition, adjustment, and persistence affecting Latinx students.

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