Yolanda Wiggins, a new assistant professor in the Department of Sociology & Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, has focused her research on a question germane to colleges and universities as they work toward building a level playing field for students of all races and economic backgrounds.
“My specific focus is on how Black college students give back to their families in a variety of ways during college,” Wiggins says, “and how that creates tension and tradeoffs between students progressing in college and students’ involvement in their families.” In a study of students at a large, predominantly white university in the Northeast, Wiggins found African-American students did not share the typical college experience of leaving family behind and concentrating fully on themselves and their studies.
“What I’m finding is that Black students don’t break away from their families,” Wiggins says. “They’re very much immersed in their families during college and because of that they delay their progression in school or they withdraw from school.”
Involvement ranged from providing their families with financial support to returning home mid-week or on the weekends to help care for relatives. Growing up in Flint, Mich., and Washington, D.C., “I had a front-row seat to nearly every inequity imaginable,” Wiggins says. She attended West Virginia University, where she earned a B.A. in political science and women’s studies, on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. She decided not to commission as an officer in the Air Force, and instead further her understanding of systemic educational inequality in sociology. She received a master’s and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Wiggins was attracted to SJSU in part because of the university’s awareness of the demographics of students and its programs to help minority and disadvantaged students succeed in college.
“I would love in the future to do a policy analysis of the ways in which white-serving institutions can learn from historically Black colleges in going into communities, understanding family dynamics and supporting family structures to lead to better outcomes for Black students,” Wiggins says.