I’m ‘Bad and Boujee’—The Metacognition of the ‘Nontraditional’ College Student

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 17–18, 2017

Dillard University
New Orleans, Louisiana


Musical group Migos provided the world an internet sensation in 2016 with their chart-topping track “Bad and Boujee.” Albeit controversial, the lyrics to the rap song serve as one American cultural marker as higher education organizations grapple with yet another generational shift in student foci and thinking. As the trend of demanding more market-driven curricula heightens among American college students, smaller liberal arts colleges and universities are finding ways to re-tool themselves. Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), both small and private, has taken on what many practitioners consider to be a rather risky approach to re-tooling: providing equal access higher education to those populations of young adults across the country who are deemed most at risk for the pitfalls of contemporary society. Using a standardized list of six non-cognitive indicators as well as personal statements and face-to-face interviews, the Biddle Institute at JCSU seeks to provide mostly first generation and often at-risk freshmen students with a quality higher education tantamount to their peers. Educational researcher Yan (2018) confirms, “Knowing the cognitive strategies, students can quickly get used to higher professional education and become people who know how to study” (p. 92).

As part of our ongoing research in conjunction with JCSU’s Center for the Study of Metacognitive Variables, we share our successful deployment of diverse learning pedagogy to meet the unique challenges of executing and sustaining a new University program built on strengths-based assessments. As professors of English and Spanish, our collaborative research is a demonstration of the increase in diverse learning access tools—including, but not limited to, non-traditional gaming, webinars, mobile applications, and student advising/tracking software—that enrich freshmen engagement with rhetoric and composition, foreign languages, and undergraduate research. Our aim with this metacognitive pedagogical research is to assist other higher learning educators in their striving to mold all entering university freshmen—including the less traditional ones—into engaged, lifelong learners. Yen (2018) states, “As for teachers, it is of positive significance to apply metacognitive strategy to classroom-based teaching in that it can help students to extricate themselves from mechanical learning into autonomous learning” (p. 92). Because of our own metacognitive strategies, our students can impact their communities as successful, global citizens who will thrive in both their personal and professional pursuits.

“Bad” and “Boujee” Defined

The all too clear objectives of the 2020 student are to: (1) design his or her own curriculum in the learning style of his or her choice; (2) use a variety of technological aids to advance his or her education; and (3) seek part-time employment and career mentors while matriculating at the university or college level. This new type of student arriving on the university or college scene is, in essence, “bad” and “boujee”—meaning, this new nontraditional student is very confident in his or her abilities to successfully will themselves through the university/college system granted certain financial and material privileges are a part of the higher learning package. Just as street artists, musicians, YouTube sensations, and reality show personalities have willed themselves into material culture success, the new nontraditional university student desires to break from the traditional mold of achieving higher education success.

To address the desires of this new nontraditional student, professors, staff, and administrators working within the non-cognitive, strengths-based teaching and learning framework utilized by the University College at Johnson C. Smith University have become well versed in the six non-cognitive skills indicators that guide all things teaching and advising for incoming freshman students during their first-year experience. These indicators are: leadership, resilience, academic motivation, education commitment, service/engagement, and academic self-efficacy. JCSU’s University College non-cognitive objectives are to: (1) help students recognize the importance of service and civic activities; (2) encourage students to make differences in their communities; and (3) provide students with knowledge, skills, and resources to make those differences.

Engaging Diversity in the Freshman Composition Classroom

In the humanities classroom, the overarching objectives are to: (1) foster and sharpen students’ skills in critical and analytical reading and evaluation of nonfictional persuasive writing, visual images, and the messages generated by the media, popular culture, and authority figures; (2) encourage students to use all of these skills to enter wider societal conversations about educational, social, political, religious, international, and ethical issues; and (3) ask students to reflect on what they have learned and to use the communication skills taught in their freshman liberal studies pillar courses to discuss the connections among all of their Core/Block courses.

In the freshman rhetoric/composition classroom, the deployment of the service/engagement indicator increases inclusion and engagement of mostly nontraditional freshman students. For the purposes of this study, we developed a community action research project that involved direct exchanges among domestic and international agencies, the researcher, and 50 freshman composition students. An array of formal and informal assessment tools were used to determine the results of the non-cognitive variable, namely, service/engagement. By the end of the semester, students were able to evaluate rhetorical strategies in written and oral formats and to test classroom knowledge via related service experiences in the local community with 90% accuracy. The service component in the freshman rhetoric/composition classroom provided incoming freshman students with meaningful connections to community leaders, organizations, and internships. Alderton and Manzi (2017) note, “Life benefits also result from this undergraduate research experience, especially in the areas of critical thinking and knowledge, collaborative learning, refined communication and social skills, increased self-efficacy, improved student-faculty relationships, and graduate school choices” (p. 10). Students demonstrated a heightened sense of vocation and an informed commitment to social justice—all of which satisfies their sense of being both “bad” and “boujee” in his or her first year of college.

The outline of classroom lessons/strategies/activities in a given semester of service/engagement is as follows:

  • Team Portfolio
    • Cover Letter
    • Letters of Introduction
    • Social Media Service Reflections
    • Individual Course Essays (Rhetorical Analysis, Definition, Argument)
    • Visual Rhetoric Activity
    • Annotated Bibliography
  • Conflict Board
    • Weekly online discussion board linking ideas and research to assigned course readings
  • Team Talk
    • Weekly formatted in-class analysis and evaluation of course readings with rotating discussion leaders

Engaging Diversity in the Freshman Spanish Classroom

Spanish language educators Bartolomé-Pina et al. explain:

Blended learning, eLearning, mobile learning, flipped classroom, gamification, augmented reality, MOOC, etc., are new terms that open up to new educational horizons, and only to the extent that we study them in depth and start from good practices, can we make profitable the infinite possibilities [. . .] that the new interactive and digital means put already in our hands. The teaching of the future may already be present. (p. 48)

Given the contemporary moment in higher education, what should foreign language educators consider when attempting to “rub” the new nontraditional student the right way? Well, while the approaches may differ from student to student or from university to university, we must understand the psyche and experience that this nontraditional student is bringing into the classroom setting. In addition to coming from single-parent homes, being forced to become adults prematurely, and having not been taught proper etiquette in terms of listening during a class lecture and/or respecting authority, nontraditional students have embraced an American youth culture that glorifies the lavish lifestyles of various icons in the world of hip hop and professional sports. Moreover, these students prefer to learn with peers and generally learn better from each other than from those of us who attempt to teach them.

In the freshman Spanish classroom, the Spanish language educator is significantly challenged to engage these new learners. As the learning style(s) of the “bad” and “boujee” student tends to be visual, hands-on, and kinesthetic, Spanish language professors are faced with the quest of developing student-based activities that still lead to a higher education and preparation for the “bad” and “boujee” student to effectively work and live in a global, high-tech society.

The following activities successfully engage the new nontraditional student in the freshman level Spanish curriculum and are, in fact, applicable across university disciplines:

Pictionary. Suitable for visual learners, this game can be played with teams or individually, depending on the number of students present. A student draws a picture of a vocabulary word on the board, and the first student/team to give the correct vocabulary word wins the round. It is helpful to have a buzzer for each team to determine who is the first to respond.

Trash ball. This game is a favorite for kinesthetic learners and basketball enthusiasts. The student who correctly answers a question earns the opportunity to shoot a ball into the trash can. The student may choose the distance of the shot, which will determine the number of points earned from the shot.

Running game. Another favorite for the kinesthetic learner, this game allows students to race to the board to write and spell correctly the given vocabulary word. The class is divided into two teams and move quickly as one student from each team has the task of racing to the board to correctly spell the word given by the teacher. For each word, two students from opposing teams are given a time limit so that the next two students may proceed with the next word. At the end of the game the team with more correctly spelled words is the winning team.

Charades. This game encourages fun and laughter among students as one student attempts a physical interpretation of a vocabulary word for other students to guess. This game may be played with teams or individually, depending on the number of students present. It is helpful to provide buzzers for the students to determine the first response fairly.

Sparkle. Providing useful practice for spelling, this game requires students to form a line and spell, one by one, the vocabulary word given by the teacher. After the line is formed the teacher gives a word, the student who is first in line begins to spell the given word. Students in line spell the word, one after the other, and the student following the student with the final letter of the word says “sparkle,” indicating the end of the word. The student who says “sparkle” is out of the game, and the teacher gives the remaining students a new vocabulary word. Also, any student who misspells a word is out of the game. This game may work well with a small class to have one student as the winner at the end of the game.

Puzzle board game. This game is recommended for English and foreign language classes. Played either in teams or individually depending on the number of students present, the teacher draws a blank puzzle on the board and calls on a student/team to give a letter. If the letter is in the puzzle, that student/team has a chance to solve the puzzle. If the puzzle is not solved, the next student/team gives a letter. Likewise, if this student/team is able to solve the puzzle, they win the round and earn a point. If the student/team is able to translate the puzzle (foreign language class), they earn an additional point.

Group card game. This highly competitive game provides reinforcement of grammatical structures in foreign language classes. Divide the class into teams, giving each team cards with the words that will be included in sentences. After distributing the cards to each team, a sentence in English is read and the first team to properly form the sentence in the target language with the cards wins that round. This game is also helpful when reviewing the alphabet. In that case, instead of word cards, letter cards are used. After the letter cards are distributed among all team members, the teacher spells a word in the target language, and the first team to correctly spell the word wins the round. You may want to provide buzzers to correctly determine which team is first to submit their response.

All of these activities prove to be helpful with engaging students in various subjects and disciplines, including Spanish, although it may be necessary to alter or modify games to fit particular topics or objectives. As a disclaimer, any academician should keep in mind that these activities can create a highly competitive environment, and some of our “bad” and “boujee” students may tend to become hostile. However, by maintaining a non-threatening, impartial atmosphere during these activities, students will discover that the activities are enjoyable diversions from classroom lectures and what they would consider to be “work as usual.”


It has increasingly become the mission of universities and colleges to connect with the “bad” and “boujee” student. HBCUs, in particular, struggle with recruitment and retention rates amid a long-standing history within the American higher education scaffold. Researcher Monica Anderson (2017) aptly points out:

As desegregation, rising incomes and increased access to financial aid resulted in more college options for blacks, the share of blacks attending HBCUs began to shrink. By fall 1980, 17% of black students enrolled in degree-granting institutions were enrolled at an HBCU. By 2000, that share had declined to 13%, and it stood at 9% in 2015. (para. 6)

As the struggle to increase enrollment at our HBCUs continues, it behooves higher education academicians to ponder possible metacognitive strategies and teaching methods to engage this type of student. It is necessary to point out the fact that, contrary to popular belief, the “bad” and “boujee” student has the potential to be one of the best and brightest students in any college classroom. While the response to this affirmation statement may be, “How can that be?”, nonetheless, it is true. The “bad” and “boujee” student is usually that diamond in the rough just waiting to be rubbed the right way, so to speak.


Anderson, M. (2017, February 28). A look at historically black colleges and universities as Howard turns 150. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org

Alderton, E., & Manzi, M. (2017). Engaging students: An authentic undergraduate research experience.
The Professional Educator, 42(1), 1-12.

Bartolomé-Pina, A., García-Ruiz, R., & Aguaded, I. (2018). Blended learning: Panorama and perspectives. Iberoamerican Journal of Distance Education, 21(1), 33-56.

Yan, Y. (2018). A study on the non-english majors’ use of metacognitive strategies in English learning.
Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 8(1), 92-99.

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Spring 2018: Engaging With Diversity in the College Classroom