Religious Identity, Spirituality, and College Persistence Among African American and Latinx Students

By: Felicia Wiltz   Carmen Veloria  

While African American and Latinx students have experienced modest gains in U.S. college enrollment (U.S. Department of Education, 2018 and Krogstad & Fry, 2014), graduation rates among these students lag significantly behind their White and Asian counterparts. According to Inside Higher Ed, African American and Latinx graduation rates were 38% and 45.8%, respectively, as compared to White and Asian rates, which were 62% and 63.2% respectively (Tate, 2017). Much has been written about the various reasons for these disparities and the barriers that contribute to low completion rates of African American and Latinx college students, including the inhospitable environments of predominantly white colleges and universities. This exploratory study seeks to investigate how African American and Latinx students who self identify as religious or spiritual experience college life on predominantly white campuses. While overall religiosity in the United States has declined over the years, African Americans are reported to be more religious than Whites and Latinx (Masci 2018). While younger African Americans are reported to be less religious than older African Americans, they are more religious than other racial groups of their age group (Diamant & Mohamed, 2018). During fall 2018 and spring 2019, we investigate the role that religion and spirituality play in the identity formation and college persistence of African American and Latinx students, many of whom face various exclusionary –isms based on, but not exclusive to, their race and ethnicity. This research has implications for higher education and community organizations, including religious institutions that support these students.

African American College Students, Latinx College Students, Religion, College Persistence
Identity and Belonging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Dr. Felicia Wiltz

Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Suffolk University, United States
MA, United States

I am an Associate Professor in Sociology with research interests in diversity & inequalities in higher education and the workplace. My current research focuses on the experiences of African American and Latinx students on predominantly white college campuses in the United States. It explores the impact a religious or spiritual identity has on the persistence of African American and Latinx college students, particularly while many of them experience discrimination and exclusion because of their race and ethnicity, as well as other dimensions of identity. Recent publications include: a journal article (Wiltz, F.P., Veloria, C., Harkins, D., & Bernasconi, A. 2017. "We're in this Together: Exploring Challenges Related to Service-Learning." Journal of Modern Education Review, 7(7), 463-476.); a book chapter (Wiltz, F.P. 2018. "Becoming Culturally Sensitive" in Alongside Community: Learning in Service Harkins, D., editor. New York: Routledge.); and a book review (Wiltz, F.P. 2018. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Humanity & Society, 2nd ed., vol 42). My teaching interests include Immigration Law and Policy; The Immigrant Experience; Community Organizing; Cultural Diversity & Human Need; Statistics; Research Methods; Introduction to Sociology; and Internship in Sociology.

Carmen Veloria

Associate Professor, Suffolk University, United States
United States