New Experimental Study Examines Sense of Belonging for First-Year HBCU Students
The ability to connect socially with others and feel cared about, respected, and valued as a bona fide member of a group have long since been understood as basic human needs, just as fundamental as air, water, food, and shelter. But new quasi-experimental research from Strayhorn and his team of researchers reveals that sense of belonging “takes on heightened importance at times, in settings, and places where individuals are prone to feel vulnerable for alienation, social isolation, or rejection, like the first-year of college,” according to the latest findings just published in Innovative Higher Education. Most importantly, the new research demonstrates the efficacy of a brief academic intervention—a web-based video—designed by the author to positively boost HBCU students’ sense of belonging in the first-year of college.
Using data from students in three “credibly equivalent” groups, the research reveals that HBCU students exposed to the short-term intervention through a 4-week summer bridge program reported higher belonging scores than similarly-situated summer school peers exposed to either (a) a placebo video or (b) no video at all. Results affirm that messages conveyed through the video intervention can “engender sense of belonging in college for [first-year] HBCU students by encouraging nonthreatening interpretations of adversity, feelings of isolation, and self-doubt; (re)framing them as common and transient; and promoting help-seeking via support services available on campus.”
“I’m excited about my current projects that are all intervention-based, focusing on sense of belonging for higher education students and personnel drawing on the framework published in my book on the topic,” shared Professor Terrell Strayhorn, an education scholar who has enjoyed faculty appointments in psychology, sociology, and Black studies. “The belonging framework has contributed to a deeper understanding of the concept in education and learning spaces, especially for historically underserved or misrepresented groups and otherwise vulnerable populations. This project affirms the importance of mattering, culturally-responsive images, ‘the HBCU experience,’ and declaring that ‘Black Lives Matter’ when it comes to fostering belonging at Black colleges.”
The published report highlights a number of important conclusions and implications for educational policy, practice, and future research. Importantly, the study calls attention to specific policies and practices that “hold promise for creating macro-level changes that affirm micro-level outcomes”—like HBCU students matter, they’re valued, and belong.
Effective belonging interventions need not be expensive, according to the study. Higher education personnel—for example, faculty, first-year directors, advisors, and summer bridge staff—can share belonging messages, like those tested in the study, with first-year students through email, early alerts, push campaigns, coaching sessions, and growth-minded feedback. “Partnering with a number of institutions over the years, I’ve witnessed how colleges and schools apply this theory to practice using videos, websites, signage, pedagogy, and so much more...there are many possibilities,” Professor Strayhorn added, who also serves as Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at Virginia Union University and Director of the Center for the Study of HBCUs.
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Virginia Union University is a premier research institution of higher learning, one of the nation's leading historically Black colleges and universities.
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