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Belonging Matters: How Researchers Can Halve the Race Gap in GPA

Belonging Matters: How Researchers Can Halve the Race Gap in GPA
Maia Szalavitz, Time Magazine | March 18, 2011

The racial gap in achievement between African American and white college students has been stubbornly persistent, but an hour-long intervention conducted during students’ freshman year can halve the GPA lag by graduation time while simultaneously improving health, according to a new study published inScience.

The research has implications for all students facing social transitions — whether from high school to college, middle school to high school or even just moving to a new home.

“An exercise designed to change how students understand social events that occur in school had an effect that really transformed the college experience for minority students,” says study co-author Gregory Walton, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University. (More on TIME.com: Who’s White? Who’s Black? Who Knows?)

So how can an hour-long experience make such a big difference? Walton and his colleagues recognized that all college freshmen face problems transitioning from high school life to the new world of a university campus — but the way they interpret these challenges can have a profound influence on their ability to surmount them.

“What the intervention did was to change how students understand negative events that happen to them in school,” he says. If students view the ordinary difficulties that come with being in a new social setting as problems unique to them — or, worse, see them as signs that people of their race or ethnic group don’t belong in college at all — they will be less likely to get over those challenges. Alternatively, if students see college struggles as universal and transient, they should be able handle them better.  (Read more)