Looking for students in all the right places

Imagine you are responsible for recruiting high quality students for your university. What if you knew of a group of prospective students who would add rich diversity and bring their unique experiences and skills to your university?  What if these students created an environment in which learning was enriched for your other students and them?

Here are some of the characteristics of the group.  They are hopeful and believe they can overcome substantial obstacles that many of your other students will never have to face.  They are multilingual with good cross-cultural awareness, literacy and math skills, teaching and tutoring skills, civic and familial responsibility, and are socially mature.  They draw from and give back to a strong network of social contacts (Yosso, 2005).  The individuals in this group have and rely on a strong family orientation and possess a deep sense of community history and culture.  They are adept at finding their way in unfamiliar situations and have developed capabilities by opposing societal inequities (Yosso, 2005).

Who are these students?  They are People of Color in groups who have been historically marginalized in our society.

Tara Yosso’s (2005) “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth” provides an opportunity for institutions of higher learning to positively transform the access, scholarship, and impact they provide by including groups that have historically been marginalized.  The article details the concept of critical race theory, which is called community cultural wealth.  Yosso (2005) describes critical race theory as a framework that can be used to theorize, examine, and change the ways race and racism affect social structures, practices, and discourses.  Community cultural wealth as defined in the article is 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 (Yosso, 2005).

Yosso (2005) believes that deficit thinking is one of the most prevalent forms of contemporary racism in United States’ schools.  Deficit thinking blames minority students and families for poor academic performance because: 1) students enter school without the normative cultural knowledge and skills and 2) parents neither value nor support their child’s education.  Basically, deficit thinking says it’s your fault you don’t fit in our model, we know our model is right, and we’re not interested in changing it.  In stark contrast, community cultural wealth calls attention to the unique aspects and contributions of marginalized groups.

Communities of Color nurture cultural wealth via at least six forms of capital including aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational,  and resistant (Yosso, 2005).  Aspirational capital is the ability to maintain hope for the future, despite real and perceived obstacles.  This capital is about the community dreaming beyond their present circumstances.  What if?

Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained through experiences with more than one language or style.  When I studied for my masters I had the opportunity to take a foreign language. As a result of this experience I developed a deeper appreciation for the culture of the language I was studying.  An additional bonus was an improvement in understanding my native language.  Non-native English speakers possess a rich cultural heritage that complements the study and acquisition of English.  Children in these communities often have engaged in storytelling, which involves memorization, attention to detail, vocal tone, and rhyme(Yosso, 2005).

Familial capital is the cultural knowledge nurtured by family that consists of community history, memory, and cultural intuition.  Through the strong family bond, individuals learn the importance of maintaining a healthy connection to the community and its resources.  Social capital includes networks of people and community resources (Yosso, 2005).  An example of social capital is the importance of community support in Latina/o students going to college (Liou, Antrop-Gonzalez, & Cooper, 2009).

Navigational capital is being able to find the way through social institutions, particularly those that were not designed with Communities of Color in mind.  Lastly, resistant capital is the knowledge and skills that have developed by opposing inequity (Yosso, 2005).

There is a great need for universities to welcome individuals from Communities of Color.  By valuing community cultural wealth and changing the lens through which prospective students are viewed, we will improve access to our institutions and increase the excellence and impact we create.


Liou, D. D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

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Phil Schlesinger

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