One critical predictor of a student’s likelihood to persist (at the same college or university) is the degree to which that student feels like he or she belongs on campus. For this reason, many surveys of college students (including our own freshman and senior surveys) ask for a response to the statement “I feel a strong sense of belonging on campus” on a 5-point scale of strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly disagree. After we collect this data, we converted the responses to a numerical scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) so that we could run a variety of statistical analyses. The average score from our most recent graduating class was 3.94, which roughly translates to an “agree” response. This would seem to suggest that things overall are pretty good. But looking deeper, we found some differences that might help us focus our continuing efforts to ensure that Augustana is indeed a truly inclusive campus.
The first stage of this analysis involves parsing the responses by race/ethnicity. In last spring’s graduating class there were enough students in three race/ethnic categories to analyze separately – White, Black, and Hispanic. Although there were also graduates who identified as Asian, Native American, and multiracial (among others), the numbers in these categories were so small that we were obliged to organize them into one group for the purposes of this analysis.
When we generated average sense of belonging scores for each of these four groups (White, Black, Hispanic, and other), a particularly important difference appeared. Here are the average scores for each of the four groups.
- White – 4.00
- Hispanic – 3.91
- Black – 3.29
- Other – 4.16
Clearly, the Black students’ average response suggests a substantial gap between their sense of belonging on campus and each of the other groups. Further testing determined this difference to be statistically significant, validating what faculty and staff who interact closely with our Black students often report that they hear about these student’s experiences at Augustana.
Since we often find that sex also plays a role in shaping our students’ experience, we added a second layer to our analysis to see if the interaction of race/ethnicity and sex would produce even more exacting differences in the data. Interestingly, we did find such a difference among one specific group. Here is how this additional stage of analysis played out.
Race/Ethnic Category Male Female
White 3.90 4.06
Hispanic 3.46 4.14
Black 3.25 3.30
Other 4.00 4.25
In addition to male and female Black students experiencing a lesser sense of belonging on campus, Hispanic men also expressed a lower sense of belonging on campus. This difference was statistically significant when compared to either the overall average or Hispanic women.
So what should we make of these findings? First, I think it’s important to be reminded that the multiple dimensions of diversity within our student body play out it in tangible ways that can profoundly shape our students’ sense of belonging at Augustana College. Second, these findings further affirm that race/ethnicity and sex are still influential lenses through which students see and experience this community. No matter what we would like to hope to be true, the sense of belonging on campus among Black students and Hispanic men at Augustana appears to differ in a way that can have powerfully detrimental consequences. Third, designing ways to help students who feel less of a sense of belonging is complicated. There are very few universal quick fixes, and the ones that exist were likely put into place a long time ago. Now our work requires a recognition of nuance and the degree to which different perspectives shaped before coming to college can impact students’ lives. Finally, all of us – students and educators – play a critical role in addressing this dynamic.
Make it a good day,