Theses Doctoral

Conceptualizing the Learning of First-Generation Students of Color in Two College Classrooms Dedicated to the Study of Human Diversity

Delima, Dianne Grace

While it is well established that White students have positive experiences in taking diversity courses, little is known about the experiences of first-generation college students of color in these courses. This study addressed this gap by examining the learning experiences of 10 first-generation college students of color in two diversity courses in a 4-year public university. The study aim was to explore whether and how these first-generation college students of color drew from their prior knowledge and experiences to engage with the courses’ subject matter, and whether and how they used the knowledge gained in these courses in their lives beyond school.

This study was informed by a three-part conceptual framework emphasizing faculty teaching practices, sociocultural features of students’ lives shaping their classroom learning, and transfer of knowledge from one learning site to another. I interviewed 10 first-generation college students of color, enrolled in one of two diversity courses and observed their learning. I learned that participants drew from their classmates’ prior knowledge and experiences to engage with and get a foothold on the diversity course content since often classmates’ lives offered examples for new ways of thinking about diversity issues and concepts. Moreover, participants drew from their own prior knowledge and experiences to offer counterarguments challenging classmates’ inaccurate views of class topics, thus relying on their lives as valuable resources for framing such arguments. Additionally, participants thought about how the knowledge they gained from the courses related to their lives beyond school; they did this by sharing knowledge with family members and friends as a way to expand their thinking of their world. They also used the knowledge gained from the courses to think about the circumstances of their neighborhoods, how to help their neighbors, and how to better support those they want to help in their future careers.

Recommendations were made for (a) new research on the experiences of first-generation college students of color in diversity courses, (b) changes in institutional policy toward supporting these students’ learning in college classrooms, and (c) development of classroom (instructional) and institutional practices for supporting these students’ learning.


  • thumnail for Delima_tc.columbia_0055E_11063.pdf Delima_tc.columbia_0055E_11063.pdf application/pdf 818 KB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Neumann, Anna
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 8, 2020