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A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Greg Walton Stanford University www.stanford.edu/~gwalton.

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Presentation on theme: "A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Greg Walton Stanford University www.stanford.edu/~gwalton."— Presentation transcript:

1 A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Greg Walton Stanford University

2 A worry students have in a new school Do I belong?: When I feel lonely or disrespected, etc., does it mean I don’t belong? (“belonging uncertainty”) Especially when students face negative stereotypes, stigma underrepresentation “My experiences at Princeton have made me far more aware of my “Blackness” than ever before... no matter how liberal and open- minded some of my White professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don’t belong... It often seems as if, to them, I will always be Black first and a student second." -Michelle Robinson Obama (1985)

3 The Social Belonging Intervention What is it?: A minute reading and writing activity; In-person or online; Prematriculation or during the first year Goal: To help students see everyday worries about belonging in college as normal at first and as passing with time: Not as evidence that “people like me” don’t belong in general in college GPA: Selective College Students (Walton & Cohen, 2011) Full-Time 1st Year College Persistence: Urban Charter Graduates (Yeager, Walton, Brady et al, under review)

4 Content of the Intervention Representation to students Students treated as benefactors, not beneficiaries; believe their input will help future students We want to learn more about the transition to college. You are an expert. How has this process played out for you? How do you expect it will play out? Content of materials Survey information about students’ experience in the transition to college + stories from upper-year students All convey: Everyone worries at first about whether they belong; it gets better with time Active not passive: “Saying-is-believing” exercise Students write about how what they have read about is true of their experience Believe that their writings will be shared with future students to improve their transition to college

5 How does it work? (Conclusions from multiple studies) What happens with members of a student in a disadvantaged group in higher education (e.g., ethnic minority, first-gen.) experiences a challenge or setback such as critical feedback or feelings of loneliness? With the social-belonging intervention, their psychological interpretation might be: “This is the kind of thing that everyone goes through in the transition to college.” Without the intervention they might think: “People like me don’t belong in college” With the social-belonging intervention, their behavioral response might be sustained engagement in the academic environment (e.g., greater friendship development, participation in extracurricular activities, interaction with faculty; use of support services). Without the intervention, their response might be: Withdrawal from the academic environment (e.g., less friendship development, participation in extracurricular activities, interaction with faculty; use of support services) With the social belonging intervention, their academic outcome might be better achievement and persistence. Without the intervention, it might be worse achievement and persistence.

6 Considerations for Implementation Materials need to be written with great care; may need to adapt original materials for local contexts through design process with older students Need to feel authentic to students Need to speak to students’ actual worries about and barriers to belonging and how these worries can be overcome with time Don’t raise negative content without resolving it By representing it as normal (experienced by everyone) and as passing with time By representing it as ultimately not a barrier to belonging Feature counter-stereotypical exemplars Majority-group members who describe strong worries about belonging people might assume are typical of students in the minority Where is this intervention not a good fit? School contexts where students don’t want to belong: Designed for circumstances where students want to belong but fear they do not Alternative form: Carefully structured discussion group led by older students See:

7 Resources For abbreviated original materials, tips for getting the belonging message right, and links to scientific articles, see:


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