Campus & Community

Dr. Rachel Deleveaux Produces Promising Research on Black Mentorship

Dr. Rachel Deleveaux, Assistant Vice President of Organizational Culture, Inclusion, & Equity at Simmons (OCIE), recently completed her doctorate in Education from Northeastern University. Her doctoral dissertation, The Effects of Predominantly White School Culture and Black Mentorship on Black Academic Identity Development, is now available on Proquest.

"My research in education focuses on how predominantly white culture and Black mentorship have impacted Black academic identity development," says Dr. Rachel Deleveaux, sharing the impetus behind her doctoral dissertation, The Effects of Predominantly White School Culture and Black Mentorship on Black Academic Identity Development. In this context, "white school culture" pertains to schools in which approximately 80% of teachers and administrators are white.

"I believe that people make up the culture, and in this case, it's primarily white teachers and white administrators building that culture," says Dr. Deleveaux, who notes that, with the exception of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and mission-driven schools that focus on Black identity development, educational institutions across the United States are majority white.

This fact of the higher education landscape inspired her to ask questions. "What does this mean for the Black student experience, in terms of their own identity development?" Deleveaux posits. "Moreover, is there room for Black mentorship to impact Black academic identity development, which could increase self-efficacy and, ultimately, lead to higher academic achievement?"

The catalyst for conducting research on Black student's experiences and academic performance at predominantly white schools came from Deleveaux's own background as a person of color growing up in Cambridge. "When I reflect upon the consequences of a mostly white environment on my own academic experiences, it did affect my self-efficacy, and it took me a while to overcome that. I assumed it was an isolated matter until I started the research for my Ph.D. and noticed certain patterns."

When conducting research for her dissertation, Deleveaux targeted Black students between the ages of 10 and 17 who were attending predominantly white schools, either public or private, in Massachusetts. She found that for both public and private schools, "the impact of [predominantly white] environments was the same and, unfortunately, very devastating for Black students."

In terms of methodology, Deleveaux employed a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research. She also did what is called "action research." This method has two phases: the first phase involves understanding the problem, and the second phase tackles the potential response.

During the second phase of her research, Deleveaux designed a mentoring program in which prominent members of the Black community who had attended mostly white schools were paired with Black students currently attending white schools across the country. The mentor and mentee met twice a month, and their meetings were relatively unstructured and unscripted. "I wanted to see how these authentic mentoring matches would impact the students' academic performance, confidence, and self-efficacy," explains Dr. Deleveaux. "And the results were astonishing. In every match, the academic performance increased for each student, in addition to other positive outcomes. I concluded that Black mentorship is very important, especially for Black students attending predominantly white schools."

Dr. Deleveaux's dissertation is a major contribution to existing scholarly literature on Black students' experiences and academic performance. While there are abundant studies on Black students underperforming in schools, very few researchers have examined the extent to which institutional environments and cultures affect students.

The findings from her dissertation resonate with why Dr. Deleveaux pursued a doctorate in the field of Education. "Education intersects so many different industries. Understanding the business of education facilitates making changes and making a difference. If you change the system, you can change the outcome," she emphasizes. "With my research, people can begin to see behind the curtain, in terms of how the system impacts students' academic outcomes. We need this kind of blueprint in order to change the system and support students' academic success. This is why I pursued the discipline of Education."

At OCIE, Dr. Deleveaux is thrilled to bolster and realize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. "This is an amazing department. We really pride ourselves on how the vision of Simmons University, originally founded upon gender equality, lives on in a DEI space. We are not changing Simmons' history, but rather building upon its history," she says.

Dr. Deleveaux consciously reframes conversations about DEI, so that people understand the conversation is really about humanism. "It is hard to get people to engage in DEI conversations without first helping them to acknowledge and respect everyone as human beings." Recently, OCIE (in collaboration with The Center for Leadership and Engagement, or CLE, The Provost Office, and the Human Resource Office) hosted a Diversity in the Workplace panel discussion, where DEI practitioners from other industries — like conservation and tech, shared what DEI work looks like in their respective industries.

Further, OCIE is currently working on a series dedicated to elevating and celebrating women from all walks of life. Through a multifaceted approach, this series delves into women's rights, advocacy, and self-esteem enhancement to create a transformative and supportive platform for personal growth. "We want people to feel comfortable leaning into conversations about DEI, because we want people to understand that we are better together. We work hard to develop workshops and create events in spaces in which everyone is welcomed and included," she explains.

Dr. Deleveaux's advice for those who want to go into DEI-related work is to prioritize practice over theorizing. "If someone is truly interested in DEI, I encourage them to immerse themselves in lived experiences. Go out and connect with people. Don't focus on trendy terminology, arcane theories, or pedagogical perspectives. You need to be able to understand people as people."

She recommends that everyone gets involved in their community, through volunteer work, sitting on boards, and other humanizing activities. "We like to be surrounded by like-minded people who tell us we are right, but it is important to challenge your preexisting assumptions and expose yourself to different points of view," says Deleveaux. "In this field, it is crucial to have lived experiences that are authentic and diverse because they will expand your conversations, feelings, and perspectives."

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