Cultural center staff: a grounded theory of distributed relational leadership and retention

Changing demographics and the widening educational achievement gap called for this examination of underserved university student retention (Castillo-Cullather & Stuart, 2002; Miller & Garcia, 2004; Singleton & Linton, 2006). University cultural centers promote retention and sense of belonging for underserved students (June, 1996; Patton, xu 2006; Welch, 2008).This study included Schlossberg's (1989) theory of mattering to investigate underserved student retention. Using constructivist grounded theory data analysis methods, this study examined the influences of sense of belonging and mattering on underserved student retention in a university cultural center (Charmaz, 2006). Qualitative data collection methods were implemented to analyze cultural center and cultural center staff influence on sense ofbelonging and mattering ofunderserved students. Seven undergraduate students and one full-time staff member in the CrossCultural Center at California State University, San Marcos, participated in focus groups and an interview. Document analysis contributed to the trustworthiness of the data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). A theory grounded in the experiences of the students, student staff, and staff of the Cross-Cultural Center emerged from the data. The emerging theory was called "Cultural Center Staff: A Grounded Theory of Distributed Relational Leadership and Retention." Distributed relational leadership was the core or central phenomenon of the grounded theory. As a rich emergent finding, identity development was added to this study's conceptual framework of sense of belonging, mattering, and retention. Distributed relational leadership, sense of community, the physical space of the Center, and programs influenced the sense of belonging, mattering, identity development, and retention ofunderserved students. This study's grounded theory guides ongoing retention theory research and university cultural center practices.