Date of Award:

2016

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Renee V. Galliher

Abstract

Students of color experience numerous educational disadvantages compared to White students. These disadvantages begin in elementary school and continue into college and adulthood. Ethnic minority students typically have less resources available to them than White students and are typically less prepared for college—academically and financially. Once students of color enroll in college, they face additional barriers due to discrimination and negative attitudes towards diversity. These factors play a key role in student engagement and persistence. The campus racial climate of a university, defined as the overall racial environment of the campus, has been shown to strongly influence students’ feelings of belonging to an institution. This study examined the links among experiences of discrimination, campus openness to diversity, multicultural experiences, academic success, and feelings of school belonging for students of color, in order to identify ways in which we can improve the educational experiences of disadvantaged students.

The current study found evidence that many diversity-related experiences such as cross-racial interactions, campus racial climate, cocurricular diversity activities, and discrimination, strongly influenced feelings of school belonging for students of color. These findings add support to previous research that suggests that diversity experiences on college campuses play a significant role in making students feel welcome at an institution. However, diversity-related experiences examined in this study appeared to have little correlation to academic performance and retention.

School belonging did not correlate with academic performance. It seems students’ grades may be better explained by internal factors, like motivation, rather than external factors, like the campus environment. Perceptions of more negative cross-racial interactions and more discrimination experiences were linked with more negative perceptions of the campus racial climate. Campus racial climate was linked to students’ desire to pursue higher education in the future. As the amount of positive cross-racial interactions students experienced increased, so did the amount of negative cross-racial interactions. This suggests that higher levels of cross-racial interactions result in both positive and negative experiences. More cross-racial interactions and cocurricular diversity activities were associated with more experiences of discrimination. This suggests that students of color are likely to experience discrimination when interacting with persons of different racial backgrounds or engaging in conversations related to diversity. Overall, diversity-related experiences linked to feelings of school belonging more than academic performance. Findings provide guidance for college-based initiatives to improve campus racial climates, in order to create more welcoming environments for students of color.

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Psychology Commons

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