Dissertation

Empathic Empowerment: Supporting Latina/o First-Generation College-Bound Students

There is a significant achievement gap for Latina/o students, evidenced by low rates of high school graduation and enrollment in post-secondary education. This dissertation summarizes literature on factors that promote academic success for Latina/o student’s success employing two theoretical perspectives: resiliency and social capital. Research in these areas points to the significance of supportive relationships with educators to fostering academic success for students from underserved populations. Nevertheless, many students from Latino backgrounds report a lack of caring relationships with adults at school. Empathy has been identified as a foundational element of human relationships and essential for caring and cultural sensitivity. This study defines empathy, and suggests that educator empathy is essential to creating supportive relationships between Latina/o students and teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. A mixed-method study explored the attitudes and behaviors of educators who demonstrate empathic understanding for students in order to learn what is needed to replicate and spread empathic attitudes and behaviors in the school environment. Findings from this study suggest that Latina/o first-generation college-bound students perceive supportive high school educators as empathic and non-judgmental. Analysis of student and educator descriptions of supportive relationships reveals six thematic clusters: relationship building, perspective taking, cultural empathy, high expectations, undocumented students, and organizational context. These findings suggest a conceptual model showing how educator competencies and organizational context can support or constrain empathic relationship building in schools.

There is a significant achievement gap for Latina/o students, evidenced by low rates of high school graduation and enrollment in post-secondary education. This dissertation summarizes literature on factors that promote academic success for Latina/o student’s success employing two theoretical perspectives: resiliency and social capital. Research in these areas points to the significance of supportive relationships with educators to fostering academic success for students from underserved populations. Nevertheless, many students from Latino backgrounds report a lack of caring relationships with adults at school. Empathy has been identified as a foundational element of human relationships and essential for caring and cultural sensitivity. This study defines empathy, and suggests that educator empathy is essential to creating supportive relationships between Latina/o students and teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. A mixed-method study explored the attitudes and behaviors of educators who demonstrate empathic understanding for students in order to learn what is needed to replicate and spread empathic attitudes and behaviors in the school environment. Findings from this study suggest that Latina/o first-generation college-bound students perceive supportive high school educators as empathic and non-judgmental. Analysis of student and educator descriptions of supportive relationships reveals six thematic clusters: relationship building, perspective taking, cultural empathy, high expectations, undocumented students, and organizational context. These findings suggest a conceptual model showing how educator competencies and organizational context can support or constrain empathic relationship building in schools.

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