Veda Hawkins

Veda  Hawkins
  • Ph.D.
  • Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences
  • Geography Building
  • 673 Auditorium Road
  • East Lansing, MI 48824


Cultural and Poltical Geography


Geography of education is an area that has been under-researched in geographic literature. Looking at the spatial variance of degree attainment can speak to a number of unanswered questions as it relates to equity, inclusion and economic mobility.  When examining education, you will find that the influence of geographical and spatial variations in structures, policies, social composition, and the segregation of different social groups matters (Butler & Hamnett, 2007).  My examination will provide a new narrative and broader scope by positioning the discussion of the impact of socioeconomic status (SES), neighborhood characteristics and higher education.

Neighborhoods operate as a spatial social system meaning that neighborhood characteristics work in tandem to create inequalities between Black and White households based on the neighborhood where they reside (Darden et al., 2019, p. 118). The variance in income of whites allows them to live in high-quality neighborhoods, compared to Blacks with similar incomes that live in neighborhoods that are lower quality (Darden et al., 2019).

The Influence of socioeconomic status of parents has begun to take a front seat in being one of the largest impacts of the achievement gap.  Since 1970 the income gap has widened substantially which is in direct correlation with the achievement gap (Reardon, 2011).  This factor leads you to believe that income plays a significant role in the achievement of children.  There has been far less research on the SES gap between children from families with high and low incomes or between children with parents with high and low educational attainment (Reardon, 2011). 

Scholars have not clearly defined urban education and have alleged that urban education embodies deficit thinking (Welsh & Swain, 2020).  Empirical research indicates there are six categories that are typically used to define urban education: (1) Population/location/geography, (2) enrollment, (3) demographic composition of students, (4) resources in schools, (5) disparities and educational inequalities, and (6) social and economic context (Welsh & Swain, 2020).  The exploration of urban education in the context of the neighborhood effect will further provide an understanding of factors that contribute to barriers faced by black students and the obtainment of a 4-year degree.

Scholars have researched the racialized tensions on college campuses and how it is integral to policy issues, such issues inhibit the retention of students of color (Harwood et al., 2018).  Woods (2002) states that informal, blatant, institutional discrimination and bias contribute to the continuation of racial inequalities (as cited by Harwood et al., 2018).  Marginalized students attending predominantly white institutions (PWI’s) can face inequities that place excessive barriers to successful completion. Oftentimes students experience micro-aggressions in the classroom, online, and in advising, students are juxtaposed to being invisible and hyper-visible in classroom spaces (Harwood et al., 2018). This feeling can contribute to an intrinsic notion of not belonging, just as there are countless accounts of people of color being policed in spaces where they are perceived not to belong (Harwood et al., 2018).  Hall’s (2017) findings reveals that regardless of race, academic, or non-cognitive factors students of color reported experiences of microaggressions, which impeded or redirected their motivation to persist in their pursuit of degree completion (Hall, 2017).  Additionally, participants recall experiences of faculty having low expectations and stereotyping them as less intelligent or athletes (Hall, 2017).  

The importance of faculty of color on a PWI campus is imperative. The relational factor for students of color provides additional support that sometimes White faculty cannot provide and appear to be less empathetic to the challenges of students of color (Mcclain & Perry, 2017). Retention of students of color is influenced by the campus racial climate and plays a role in the matriculation, persistence and graduation of students of color from PWI’s as noted by Hurtado et al. (1999). Additionally, Black students persist at a greater number if they have support systems especially when attending a PWI.  In short, to increase retention of students and the completion of the 4-year degree on PWI campuses there must be a recognition of the experiences faced by students of color. My research will build on prior research by examining the retention and 4-year degree completion through the lens of the neighbor characteristics.  The data that I will examine will be of students from the tri-county (Wayne, Macomb, Oakland) area in Detroit, MI which is considered a metropolitan area and includes urban areas. Metropolitan areas include the population inside the counties as well as surrounding suburban areas, and urban areas use the population inside the city and its suburbs.