Empowerment Through Difference: An Online Difference-Education Intervention Closes the Social Class Achievement Gap

  • Sarah S M Townsend (Creator)
  • Nicole Stephens (Creator)
  • Stephanie Smallets (Creator)
  • MarYam G. Hamedani (Contributor)



A growing body of work suggests that teaching college students a contextual understanding of difference—that students’ different experiences in college are the result of participating in different contexts before college—can improve the academic performance of first-generation students (i.e., students whose parents do not have 4-year college degrees). However, only one empirical study, using an in-person panel format, has demonstrated the benefits of this intervention approach. In the present research, we conduct two studies to test the effectiveness of a new difference-education intervention administered online to individual students. In both studies, first-year students read senior students’ and recent graduates’ stories about how they adjusted to college. In the difference-education condition, stories conveyed a contextual understanding of difference. We found that the online intervention effectively taught students a contextual understanding of difference and closed the social class achievement gap by increasing first-generation students’ psychological empowerment and, thereby, end-of-second-year grades.
Date made available2018

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