Institutional Characteristics as Potential Determinants of Marginalized Students' Experiences of Identity Affirmation and Belonging

Project: Research project

Project Details


Background Research on college choice suggests that, all else being equal, students who attend more selective colleges are more likely to graduate than their peers at less selective colleges (see Dillon & Smith, 2020; Ovink et al., 2018; Shamsuddin, 2016). Given this, scholars and practitioners have developed interventions to encourage students, particularly those from lower SES and historically minoritized racial and ethnic backgrounds, to attend selective, four-year institutions (see Castleman & Sullivan, 2019; Dynarski et al., 2018). However, qualitative research suggests that, for some students, there could be tradeoffs to attending selective colleges (Armstrong & Hamilton, 2013; Jack, 2019). Students from historically marginalized backgrounds frequently experience these institutions as isolating and unsupportive. Thus, while they may be more likely to complete their degrees, this could come at a psychological cost, with potential implications for their physical health (see Destin, 2019; Gaydosh et al., 2018). Currently, there is a lack of research comparing student experiences across different college settings, so it is difficult to quantify the magnitude of the tradeoff students may be facing. The proposed study will examine this question in a preliminary manner using data from a survey of college students from low-income and historically minoritized racial and ethnic backgrounds. My main objective will be to determine whether students’ experiences of identity affirmation and belonging are associated with the characteristics of the colleges they attend (e.g., college selectivity, student demographics, faculty demographics). In addition to examining overall trends, I will look at variation by race, ethnicity, and gender identity. This study will contribute to the literature on college choice by shedding light on the tradeoffs students may face during the college selection process. This has the potential to inform college advising practices at the high school level. By focusing on students’ experiences of identity affirmation and belonging, this study will also encourage scholars and practitioners to adopt a more expansive notion of what it means for colleges to promote equitable outcomes. Theoretical Framework I will examine the association between college characteristics and students’ lived experiences, as they relate to identity affirmation and belonging. The main questions for this study are as follows: In what ways do the lived experiences of students from lower SES and historically minoritized racial and ethnic backgrounds vary across different types of colleges? Is there an association between students’ sense of belonging and identity affirmation, on the one hand, and college characteristics, on the other? Methods For this project, I will use data from the Gates Millennium Scholars Survey, a survey of academically high-achieving students from low-income and historically minoritized racial and ethnic backgrounds. I will obtain data on college characteristics by linking respondents’ college identification codes (i.e., IPEDS IDs) with government data sources. Data on identity affirmation and belonging will come from survey items related to students’ experiences at college (e.g., Do they feel like part of their campus community?; Do faculty encourage their work?). The modeling approach for this project is still in development and will benefit from additional resources and training. Preliminary analyses will use logistic and ordinary least squares regression models. I anticipate that subsequent models, including pot
Effective start/end date4/30/2112/31/21


  • New Venture Fund (NVF-MSNW-Northwestern University-Subgrant-014403-2021-06-16)


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.