Social and Resistant Cultural Capital and Latina STEM Undergraduates

Gender and racial inequities in higher education persist within STEM fields because of the STEM cultural values of meritocracy, which focus on grades and classroom performance, thus dismissing students’ social identities (e.g., Carter, Duenas, Mendoza, 2019; Rainey, Dancy, Mickelson, Stearns, & Moller, 2019). The historical institutionalized practices of science contribute to the idea that science is universal and is dismissive of a person s social identity in scientific practice (Harding, 1998). Harding argues that science excludes anyone who is viewed as “other” to the dominant people, such as women and underrepresented minorities. This exclusion can be amplified for Latinas because they encounter dual systems of oppression in the form of both racism and sexism (Crenshaw, 1991), which can prevent their acceptance not only in college but specifically in STEM spaces, which are dominated by White men.

Studies on Latinx student experiences in college and STEM reveal how social capital and resistant cultural capital contribute to their success and persistence in college (Espinoza, 2013; Martin, Simmons, & Yu, 2013; Sanchez-Connally, 2018). Yosso (2005), in her Community Cultural Wealth Framework, discusses how communities of color build their cultural capital as “an array of knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed and utilized by Communities of Color to survive and resist macro and micro-forms of oppression” (p. 77). In her model, she identifies one of the forms as resistant capital, which is behavior that challenges inequality through resistance.

Resistant capital is evident in Latinx communities as they combat oppression based on race, gender, and immigrant status (Sanchez-Connally, 2018). Sanchez-Connally (2018) studied 21 first-generation Latinx students at four-year college campuses and documented the ways in which they overcame racism, sexism, and classism through resistant cultural capital. Sanchez-Connally (2018) found that Latinx students developed ways to adapt to their environments and succeed. All the participants in the study described their lack of confidence in their academic abilities, which was furthered through negative interactions with peers, faculty, and administrators. In order to overcome the challenges, the students developed a “resistant cultural capital" that relied on counterspaces, such as Latinx affinity groups or organizations, peer networks, and the recognition that they could not quit because of expectations from family as well as their personal expectations.

Peer networks appear to have a significant role in providing both academic assistance and social support for Latinx students, thus contributing to their social capital (Espinoza, 2013; Sanchez-Connally, 2018). Latinx students pursuing STEM degrees appear to benefit from building a community of support made up of friends and family. According to Peralta, Caspary, and Boothe (2013), in their mixed-method study at two universities on Mexican immigrant and first-generation Mexican students, they found that the students were more likely to persist in STEM fields if they had family, friends, and community support. Martin et al. (2013), in a multiple case study of four Latina engineering students in college, found that both peers and institutional supports served as prominent sources of social capital. Therefore, Latinas may benefit from connections to the university, particularly through peers and faculty, in order to persist. The literature suggests that HIPs may be a tool that can foster positive connections for Latinas with faculty, peers, and their community to contribute to their social and resistant cultural capital, particularly if they are navigating exclusionary spaces that consist predominately of White men.

Effects of High-Impact Practices on Different Populations

HIPs have been identified as a means to further engage students in the university and to achieve specific student learning outcomes (Kilgo, Sheets, & Pascarella, 2015). In HIPs, first-year experience courses, undergraduate research, and both experiential and service learning have proven beneficial to students, especially in STEM (Farinde, Tempest, & Merriweather, 2014; Kilgo & Pascarella, 2016; Koch et al., 2018). Koch et al. (2018) found that first-year experience courses at a Hispanic-Serving Institution contributed to students’ “learning power” or their experiences with changing and learning, critical curiosity, meaning-making, creativity, learning relationships, strategic awareness, and resilience (p. 23). Kilgo and Pascarella (2016) found that STEM students’ involvement positively influenced student learning, time to degree, and educational goals in faculty research. Farinde et al. (2014) studied college-bound high school students and found that underrepresented students (women, Black, Latinx, and Native American) who participated in a service learning program before college had increased comprehension of engineering concepts, broadened their understanding of the engineering field, and developed an engineering identity by “performing” engineering tasks.

The accessibility and differing developmental needs of minoritized students may be connected to a lack of participation in HIPs (Lange & Stewart,

2019). Lange and Stewart explain that although HIPs vary from institution to institution, they have many aspects in common, which include a focus on writing expression, cognitive and intellectual development, problem solving, and practical application. These particular areas of student learning are valued in academia but frequently can be exclusionary to minoritized populations that may not conform to these dominant forms of epistemology. For instance, traditionally, HIPs place less emphasis on equity, social justice, and community engagement (Lange & Stewart, 2019). Lange and Stewart further suggest that racism and classism may contribute to lower participation of minoritized groups in HIPs, such as low-income students and Students of Color. By considering the implications of social class and immigrant-generation status on Latinas in STEM participation in HIPs and the types of HIPs they participate in, we hope to inform both practitioners and faculty on how to better support Latinas in STEM involvement in HIPs.

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