A Brief Intervention on Belonging for Blacks Entering College Can Have Lifetime Benefits

A new study led by Shannon Brady, an assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has found that the benefits of a brief “social belonging” exercise completed by Black students in their first year of college followed them into adulthood, with participants reporting greater career satisfaction, well-being, and community involvement almost a decade later.

“Students from racially minoritized backgrounds enter college aware that their group is underrepresented in higher education and that how people treat them can be shaped by negative stereotypes and discrimination,” Dr. Brady explained. “This reasonably leads students to worry about whether they belong — worries that can be exacerbated when they experience social adversities, like a bad grade on a test or getting left out of a social outing.”

During their first year of college, Black and White students were invited by researchers to participate in a one-hour, in-person intensive exercise during which they heard stories from students of various backgrounds about the difficulties they experienced in their own transition to college. The goal was to help students understand that everyday social difficulties like getting a bad grade are common and often lessen over time, especially when you reach out to professors and friends for support. The study was a randomized experiment so students completed either the social-belonging intervention version of the exercise or a control exercise, also about the transition to college, but lacking the psychological message.

Researchers found that 7 to 11 years later, Black participants who had completed the social-belonging intervention treatment in college reported:

* Greater life satisfaction. In fact, on several different measures of well-being, Black adults reported better outcomes in the treatment group than in the control group.

* More community involvement and leadership. Sixty-eight percent of Black adults in the treatment group, but only 35 percent in the control group, reported having held at least one leadership position outside of work.

* Greater satisfaction and success in their careers.

The career and well-being gains were concentrated among Black participants who reported developing mentor relationships in college, an outcome that the intervention increased. Dr. Brady suggests that a takeaway from this study for colleges is to examine whether their campus environment fosters mentor relationships and does so equally for students from different backgrounds. Colleges might find that they need to clear away structural barriers for students to find mentors, such as prioritizing and making sure faculty have enough time to connect with students and identifying people in the residence halls, religious life and academic departments who can connect with students.

The full study, “A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention in College Improves Adult Outcomes for Black Americans,” was published in the journal Science Advances. It may be accessed here.

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