Entering the world of university: The literacies and identities of Latino/a youth in their transitions from high school to college

Luciene Soares Wandermurem, University of Texas at El Paso


This year-long ethnographic case study seeks to contribute to the body of literature on minoritized students’ transitions from high school to college by drawing on sociocultural theories of literacies and identities to examine seven bilingual Latino/a students’ academic trajectories from the spring semester of their senior year in high school through the fall semester of their first year in college. Specifically, this study explores how Latino/a youth’s identities and academic aspirations were shaped by literacy practices across spaces—out-of-school, at a high school, and in college classrooms—over the course of a year. The study was conduct in the U.S-Mexico Southwest border region and involved three research sites: a high school, where college-bound participants were recruited; a community college and a four-year university, where the participants matriculated soon after graduating from high school. All of the participants were considered first-generation college students, that is, “students who are the first members of their immediate families to attend college” (Chen, 2005, p. iii). The analysis of multiple data sources revealed that in the high school, bilingual youth had limited chances to draw on their everyday bilingual/bicultural literacy practices as resources to support their learning of academic literacies. The gap between in and out-of-school practices were also found in relation to expectations towards students’ academic aspirations: in the space of home, Latino/a youth’s academic aspirations were nurtured by their parents’ expectations that they would become role models for their siblings by being the first in their families to attend college. In the space of the high school, however, the participants reported feeling that their teachers held very low expectations for them, which in turn, negatively affected their preparation for college-level coursework. In addition to these findings, the analysis of data collected during participants’ first semester in college revealed that all of the students faced some sort of challenge regarding the acquisition of the academic literacies associated with college success—managing time wisely, taking notes during lectures, applying study strategies, and understanding professors’ expectations for exams and assignments are examples of their challenges. Even though these challenges partially relate to participants’ poor academic preparation at the secondary level, they are also a consequence of structural factors as some of the participants struggled with balancing full-time jobs, school, and family responsibilities. The findings of this study have implications for secondary and postsecondary-level policy and practice as well as for research and theory related to academic preparations and college readiness among minoritized students, particularly first-generation college students.

Subject Area

Multicultural Education|Secondary education|Hispanic American studies|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Wandermurem, Luciene Soares, "Entering the world of university: The literacies and identities of Latino/a youth in their transitions from high school to college" (2016). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10118179.