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Power to the Transfer: Critical Race Theory and a Transfer Receptive Culture

reviewed by Saskias Casanova & Valeria Alonso Blanco - October 18, 2021

coverTitle: Power to the Transfer: Critical Race Theory and a Transfer Receptive Culture
Author(s): Dimpal Jain, Santiago N. Bernal Melendez, and Alfred R. Herrera
Publisher: Michigan State University Press, East Lansing
ISBN: 1611863430, Pages: 144, Year: 2020
Search for book at Amazon.com

Research about students of color in higher education has primarily centered on non-transfer students in baccalaureate-granting institutions (universities). Yet, community colleges (CCs) are often the first step for students of color in their higher education trajectory (AACC, 2021). Dimpal Jain, Santiago N. Bernal Melendez, and Alfred R. Herrera explain in Power to the Transfer: Critical Race Theory and a Transfer Receptive Culture that vertical transfer rates from CCs to universities and subsequent degree attainment remain disproportionately lower for students of color than for their White peers (2020, p.7). Additionally, the responsibility of transferring students to universities is consistently placed on CCs and not the receiving universities. It is crucial to confront the impact of race and racism on transfer students and how universities can support these students. Power to the Transfer introduces the Transfer Receptive Culture (TRC) framework to address these racial inequities. The book consists of five chapters, each with a helpful concluding summary, a list of key terms, and thought-provoking discussion questions for readers to reflect and apply TRC to their practice and research.

In Chapter 1, Jain and colleagues describe TRC as rooted in Critical Race Theory (CRT), which examines how racism permeates systems (e.g., education) and institutions (e.g., universities) to maintain racial inequalities through hegemonic practices. They review the historical exclusion of minoritized students in higher education and how community colleges should function as a transfer pathway to baccalaureate-granting institutions. Just as CRT centers on the expertise and lived experiences of people of color to resist racism, TRC centers on transfer students of color and calls for universities to support these students in successfully navigating the transfer process. Universities must take equal responsibility as CCs in providing students with resources before transferring and continued retention and graduation support while at the university. Power to the Transfer presents the five elements of TRC: 1) make transfer students of color an institutional priority, 2) provide outreach and resources, 3) allocate enough financial and academic support, 4) acknowledge the intersectional lived experiences of transfer students and their community and families, and 5) develop appropriate frameworks for research and assessment to evaluate and enhance transfer receptive programs (Jain et al., 2020, p. 15).

Before describing each element, Chapter 2 positions TRC in relation to Transfer Affirming Culture (TAC; Handel, 2011) and Transfer Student Receptive Ecosystem (Strempel, 2013). Like TRC, TAC incorporates a transfer receptivity culture component centering on the transfer students, and Strempel encourages universities to commit to transfer friendly policies. However, TRC is the only framework that explicitly recognizes the racialized experiences of transfers by adopting a CRT lens and intentionally centering on students of color. The authors also establish the efficacy of TRC by reviewing five research studies using the framework.  

The remaining chapters focus on the five TRC elements. Chapter 3 elaborates on making transfer students of color a high institutional priority (element 1). The authors contextualize the importance of seeing transfer students of color as scholars with complicated lives and not as bodies to meet admission targets. Jain et al. (2020) define high institutional priority as the commitment, resources, policies and practices that an institution allocated to a particular population, idea or cause...permeat[ing] the daily activities of the... campus (p. 52). By prioritizing transfers, universities can counter the stigmatizing stereotypes and intelligence-demeaning microaggressions community college students face (Casanova et al., 2018). Equally important is the universitys commitment to outreach and resources for community college students to build a clear pathway to transfer (element 2). Jain and colleagues share their experience at UCLAs Center for Community College Partnerships as an example of the importance of peer mentors for pre-transfer outreach. The peer mentors, who were transfer students at the university, became a bridge between the CCs and universities, sharing similar experiences and creating counternarratives to deficit-based microaggressions and spaces where CC students and the mentors felt validated and empowered.                         

Chapter 4 expands on the third and fourth elements. Element 3 explains that universities should offer transfer students financial and academic support that meets their specific needs, not just adopted from non-transfer student programs. Element 4 is the heart of this chapter and, arguably, the TRC framework. It emphasizes the need to understand and respect transfer students complex, intersectional lives that also consist of their families and communities. Universities should recognize the systemic oppression that impacts transfer students with varying intersecting identities in different ways. To illustrate this, Jain and colleagues discuss the financial and academic support given to undocumented transfer students and transfer students with dependents (SWDs). They outline the different federal, state, and university policies that impact undocumented students by limiting financial aid access, which increases the stress of funding their education and ultimately affects their academic success. Like their undocumented peers, SWDs are often stressed about funding and their competing obligations as caregivers, making it difficult to complete school on time. These examples highlight the need for universities to offer transfer students of color academic and financial resources that consider their intersectional experiences to counter the legacy of racism that permeates university policies and practices and sustains educational inequities.

The concluding chapter details viable ways to create appropriate frameworks to assess, evaluate, and enhance transfer receptive programs (element 5). If it is challenging to establish an institutional transfer receptive culture, the authors suggest starting at a smaller scale, such as in ones department. Personnel can be transfer agents who validate and support transfer students as they navigate the transfer pipeline, or transfer champions who advocate for transfer students in larger leadership circles and at the structural level (Jain et al., 2020, p. 98-99). Chapter 5 suggests making transfer receptivity maps and labeling units/departments as either 1) transfer hotspots that directly and explicitly cater to transfer students, 2) transfer friendly spaces that cater to all students but where transfers feel welcomed, or 3) transfer must-be spaces which are not intentional in their support of transfers and need to improve transfer services. These maps can reveal patterns of accessibility across the campus and be a conversation starter with university leadership. Jain and colleagues also share types of data collection that can better assess the transfer receptivity of an institution. For example, their Summer Transfer Enrichment Program (STEP) study demonstrates how to conduct mixed-method research assessing transfer receptive programming from a TRC framework. They gathered data over five years, and their findings led to recommendations for program staff to include more students as organizers and presenters. Jain and colleagues conclude that TRC has faced pushback due to its centrality of race and racism. Despite this, their goal is to ensure that universities are equipped to serve transfer students in a way that secures academic resources equivalent to those available to freshman students. To do this, universities need to acknowledge their role in institutional racism, both historically and contemporarily (Jain et al., 2020, p. 113) and see transfer students of color as assets.                           

Overall, Power to the Transfer is a practical guide for higher education researchers, staff, faculty, and administrators working toward educational equity for transfer students of color. Jain, Bernal Melendez, and Herrera resolutely send a powerful message throughout the book regarding the urgency of validating and humanizing the experiences of transfer students of color in higher education. They combine evidence-based research and examples from their many years of working with transfer students to share practical suggestions for university professionals. There is a growing debate about whether CRT is divisive rhetoric that should not be taught in American schools; several states have passed bills restricting it from curricula (Cokley, 2021; Iati, 2021). It is timely that Power to the Transfer illustrates how CRT can positively contribute to developing a transfer receptive culture that promotes an equitable educational pipeline for students of color.


American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). (2021, July). AACC fast facts 2021. https://www.aacc.nche.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/AACC_2021_FastFacts.pdf

Casanova, S., McGuire, K., & Martin, M. (2018). Why you throwing subs?: Immediate effects of and student responses to microaggressions in community college. Teachers College Record, 120(9), 122. https://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=22159

Cokley, K. (2021, July). Teaching critical race theory is patriotic, not anti-American. USA Today, 7A.

Handel, S. J. (2011). Increasing higher education access and success using new pathways to the baccalaureate: The emergence of a transfer-affirming culture. The College Board. https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/pdf/rd/StephenJHandel-IncreasingHigherEducationAccess.pdf

Iati, M. (2021, May 29). What is critical race theory, and why do Republicans want to ban it in schools? Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/05/29/critical-race-theory-bans-schools

Jain, D., Melendez, S. N. B., & Herrera, A. R. (2020). Power to the transfer: Critical race theory and a transfer receptive culture. MSU Press.

Strempel, E. (2013). Fostering a transfer student receptive ecosystem. Planning for Higher Education Journal, 41(4), 1217.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 18, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23872, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 12:43:06 PM

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About the Author
  • Saskias Casanova
    UC Santa Cruz
    E-mail Author
    SASKIAS CASANOVA, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at UC Santa Cruz. She researches individual and contextual factors that relate to the psychological processes and educational outcomes of Latinx and immigrant-origin, minoritized students. She has examined the impact of classroom microaggressions on the experiences of community college students of color. Currently, she is working with university faculty and staff to expand transfer receptivity for students of color. Her work appears in journals such as the Teachers College Record, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, and Educational Researcher.
  • Valeria Alonso Blanco
    UC Santa Cruz
    E-mail Author
    VALERIA ALONSO BLANCO is a doctoral student in social psychology at UC Santa Cruz. Her research interests focus on Latinx, first-generation, and undocumented studentsí educational experiences and cultural and familial values. She has served as a graduate researcher for Cultivamos Excelencia, a Hispanic Serving Institution Initiative focused on community college student outreach and developing a transfer receptive culture at UC Santa Cruz. She has published in journals such as the American Journal of Community Psychology and Educational Studies.
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