Together with our two fellow psychology students Elijah Nieto and Chris Roberts, the four of us spent a day in November working with high school students in Morgan State University’s Upward Bound Program as a part of the service-learning component of PSY 350: Psychology of the Black Experience. Taught by Dr. Leary, this course focuses on understanding the experiences of Black individuals in the U.S and globally through the lens of psychology. The students are required to draw upon the topics discussed in class and conduct an intervention to assist the students in the Upward Bound (UB) program.

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Gloria Collier (in yellow shirt) and some of the UB students

UB is a program dedicated to motivating low-income, potential first-generation college students to seek higher education while simultaneously assisting them with core academics and their college application process. Mrs. McDonald, the program director, along with Dr. Elliott (who serves as a UB’s counselor), Inga Williams, and Darrin Coley, all welcomed us with open arms.

We started off with an icebreaker before implementing our intervention. The icebreaker helped us get to know the UB students a little better. After the icebreaker, we shared with the students a poster with the stages of the Nigrescence model written on it.

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The poster that we shared with the UB students with the Nigrescence model

The Nigrescence model, developed by William Cross, Jr. in 1971, explains the Black identity in four stages—pre-encounter, dissonance, immersion/emersion, and internalization/internalization-commitment. The pre-encounter stage describes when a Black individual has an affinity towards all things White and a dislike toward all things associated with being Black. The dissonance stage describes the experience of the Black individual encountering an event that opens his/her eyes up to the harsh reality that Black people go through. The immersion/emersion stage refers to a Black individual who is completely emerged in Black culture and not interested in paying attention to the other cultures around him/her. The final stage internalization/internalization-commitment is one in which the Black individual is secure in the understanding of his/her Blackness and focuses on issues not only inclusive to Black people but other races and ethnicities as well.

After explaining the Nigrescence model to the UB students, each student placed their name near the stage that they felt was appropriate. Many of the students found themselves in between the stages of dissonance and immersion/emersion or immersion/emersion and internalization/internalization-commitment. Surprisingly, the stage that harbored the most students was the internalization/internalization commitment stage. Many of the students discussed how they felt this would affect them once they were in college. After listening to their stories about why they were in each stage and how their current placement in the model would affect their experience at either a historically black college or university (HBCU) or predominantly white institution (PWI), we shared with them where we saw ourselves on the model. We also explained how college has been for us as Black students at a PWI, how we have grown through stages in the Nigresence model, and how successful we have been on our journey thus far.

Overall, spending a day with the UB students was a very fulfilling experience. We found these students to be extremely thoughtful, mature, and knowledgeable. We hope that this experience impacted them as much as it has impacted us.

By: Gloria Collier and Alzariyat Abdalla