The transition to college is stressful for nearly all students. Many students move to a new place, where they become disconnected from their network of support, and expected to quickly integrate socially and academically in a new context. Although anxiety-inducing for any student, the increasing academic demands typical in first-year courses, including high-stakes “gateway” courses, can lead a student to wonder “Do I belong?”
Although the stress of the transition can affect anyone, students from traditionally minoritized and underrepresented backgrounds experience this stress disproportionately. That is, in addition to all the typical stressors college students face, students from these backgrounds also contend with doubts pertaining to their identity. For example, when a first-generation college student faces adversity (e.g., an unexpectedly poor grade), they may wonder, “Maybe there is something about me – something fixed and unchangeable – that means I won’t be successful here.” Such attributions can be highly destructive and demotivating.
Fortunately, social psychological research in higher education has shown that students’ ways of making meaning about their adversity can be successfully changed via targeted and timely intervention. For example, research on the College Transition Collaborative (CTC), led out of Stanford University and implemented at 23 campuses across the nation, has used a brief (30-minute) online experiment to change students’ views about the transition to college while improving critical outcomes like first-year retention and GPA, particularly among underrepresented groups.
Leveraging the insights from research, a researcher-practitioner collaborative is being built that serves as a hub for greater understanding about the barriers to belonging at critical touch-points during the students’ academic journey, and data-driven approaches to cultivate contexts of greater belonging. Working closely with the Office of the Provost, this collaboration brings insights and best-practices captured from researchers, faculty, advisors, and students in order to build a campus where every student can feel they belong to.