College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 6-13-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Christopher B. Keys, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Bernadette Sanchez, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Yan Li, Ph.D.


Empowerment, a core value of community psychology, is defined as a process by which people, organizations, and communities gain mastery over issues of concern to them in their lives (Rappaport, 1987). In community psychology, empowerment is understood as a construct particularly and primarily salient for minority t,>roups who hold a marginalized position in society, as psychological empowerment is a product of an individual's interaction with his or her context. Consistent with a social justice framework, community psychology attempts to empower those who have traditionally been disenfranchised in particular contexts. One such population is underrepresented racial/ethnic minority students in higher education. This group has historically experienced segregation and discrimination, a point reflected in the achievement gap between minority students and their majority counterparts. Previous theoretical work suggests that students who are empowered by their school experiences develop the ability, confidence, and motivation to succeed academically. They participate competently in instruction as a result of having developed a positive cultural identity, as well as appropriate knowledge of interactional structures within the school setting (Altschul, Oyserman, & Bybee, 2006; Cummins, 1983; Horvat & Lewis, 2003; McQuillan, 2005; Tikunoff, 1983). In this way, an empowerment perspective could conceivably improve the educational outcomes of minority college students. Despite its appropriateness and potential, an empowerment perspective with racial/ethnic minority students in higher education has been neglected in research, such that it is not well understood, quantified nor applied. Drawing from literature in both the community and education fields, the current study uses a participatory mixed methods approach to define empowerment for this population, and to develop a tool to measure it. In Study I, qualitative interviews were conducted with 17 racial/ethnic minority college students, yielding empowerment themes at the Individual, University, and Societal levels. These themes were then used to develop quantitative survey items. In Study 2, the quantitative survey was administered to 601 racial/ethnic minority students at one time point, and 124 students at a second time point. Using exploratory factor analysis, researchers identified 4 underlying factors of empowerment: Supportive University Environment, Self-Efficacy/Control, Student Racial/Ethnic Identity, and Financial Confidence. These factors form the College Student Empowerment Scales for Racial/Ethnic Minorities. Overall, the measure demonstrates strong psychometric properties, including good content, constituent, and convergent validity, as well as test-retest reliability. Findings indicate that racial/ethnic minority college students experience aspects of empowerment similar to previous research (Frymier, Shulman, & Houser, 1996; Zimmerman, 1995), as well as in distinctive ways. These experiences are a result of both the historical marginalization of racial/ethnic minority students and the motivation drawn from the desire to positively represent and inspire their communities. Specifically, the College Student Empowerment Scales highlight the role of context, both organizational and societal, within a conceptualization of psychological empowerment for racial/ethnic minority students. Additionally, empowerment factors are related to academic achievement, suggesting that by improving these aspects of the college experience, it may be possible to facilitate the academic success of a group often considered at-risk. In general, the development of the College Student Empowerment Scales for Racial/Ethnic Minorities, based on lived experiences, is an important first step in understanding the construct and its role in higher education.

SLP Collection