Walton & Cohen, 2011: Reflecting on stories about common challenges to belonging in the transition to college increased GPA, happiness, and health among African American college students over three years.
African American and White students in the first year of a selective college read stories from ethnically diverse older students that conveyed that it is normal to worry at first about whether you belong in college and this improves with time. To highlight that doubts about belonging are due to the transition to college and are not specific to racial-minority students, the materials highlighted stories from White students that described significant worries about belonging and how these improved with time. Students then wrote an essay describing how this process was true for them and delivered this as a speech to a video camera to help future students in their transition. This led African American students to engage more in the academic environment (e.g., emailing professors, meeting with study groups) (Walton & Cohen, 2007) and increased their GPA over the next three years through the end of college, reducing the achievement gap with White students by 50%. This gain was mediated by evidence that treated African American students were less likely to infer from negative daily events in the first year of college that they did not belong on campus. At the end of college, African American students also reported greater confidence in their belonging, being happier, and being healthier. Follow-up surveys found that the intervention, delivered in the first year of college, improved African American graduates’ life and career satisfaction at the age of 25-27, an effect that was mediated by greater reported mentorship in college (Brady et al., in prep B).