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By Dr. Gail Stewart

Over the last fifteen years, I have developed and maintained an interest in equity, retention and social justice in higher education, especially among historically disadvantaged/marginalized social groups attending colleges and universities (such as students of color, for example). In addition, my experiences as a doctoral student at Seattle Pacific University have sparked an interest in sociolinguistics and assessment; specifically, the relationship between language attitudes, racial identity and the quality of classroom experiences.  The aforementioned influences, along with consistent questions from colleagues regarding classroom engagement among African American males attending community colleges, served as the motivation for my recently completed dissertation Racial Identity, Language Attitudes and Educational Experiences: The Voices of African American College Students.

This study provided an opportunity for me to develop a new research instrument that measures language attitudes and racial identity- The Language Attitudes Questionnaire (LAQ).  The results of my research also indicate several issues for consideration: 1) the power of language dictates to a large extent, the language one speaks, and is intimately tied to one’s sense of identity, 3) understanding of students’ home language or dialect has a major influence on classroom performance, especially among African American students, 3) in a classroom setting, the way students are evaluated and labeled by teachers may have a major lifelong impact on their educational trajectory and 4) language attitudes may serve as a retention issue that has a profound impact on students of color.

I look forward to conducting follow-up studies on language and racial identity among diverse racial-ethnic populations attending colleges and universities to further develop my research instrument.

I am extremely grateful to the faculty at Seattle Pacific University, especially my dissertation committee, Dr. William Nagy, Dr. Nyarazdo Mvududu and Dr. Cher Edwards. I feel truly blessed to have had such wonderful mentors who provided me with an outstanding quality of education, guidance and support that will have a positive influence on my future professional endeavors and personal growth.

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Gail Stewart successfully defended her doctoral dissertation in April 2012. She earned a master’s degree from Pacific Lutheran University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington. She has taught at the community college level for 11 years. She is a classically trained musician who enjoys anything pertaining to the arts.

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