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The Research that Inspired the #WeBelongInCollege Campaign

Research has proven that when students share their stories and advice in order to help others, the likelihood that they will graduate college increases significantly. 

Research by David Yeager & Greg Walton as well as Lauren Eskreis-Winkler & Katherine L. Milkman (among others) has shown:

  • It’s helpful for students to understand that all students struggle.

  • Messages are most powerfully absorbed when students also share their own stories in order to help others.

  • When students are asked to give advice, their own outcomes improve.


The article, Who Gets To Graduate by Paul Tough describes some of the research that inspired this campaign.

Here are excerpts from the article:

The researchers found that, “students were often blocked from living up to their potential by the presence of certain fears and anxieties and doubts about their ability...It is only students facing the particular fears and anxieties and experiences of exclusion that come with being a minority — whether by race or by class — who are susceptible to this problem. Those students often misinterpret temporary setbacks as a permanent indication that they can’t succeed or don’t belong... And when, six months or two years later, the germs of self-doubt try to infect them, the lingering effect of the intervention allows them to shrug off those doubts exactly the way the advantaged students do."

"...Doubts about belonging and doubts about ability often fed on each other, and together they created a sense of helplessness."

"… In a series of experiments, they found that certain targeted messages, delivered to students in the right way at the right time, seemed to overcome the doubts about belonging and ability that were undermining the students’ academic potential.”

“And positive messages are more effectively absorbed when they are experienced through what Walton called “self-persuasion”: if students watch a video or read an essay with a particular message and then write their own essay or make their own video to persuade future students, they internalize the message more deeply.”

"… In one experiment ...The upperclassmen conveyed in their own words a simple message about belonging: “When I got here, I thought I was the only one who felt left out. But then I found out that everyone feels that way at first, and everyone gets over it. I got over it, too.” After reading the essays, the students in the experiment then wrote their own essays and made videos for future students, echoing the same message. The whole intervention took no more than an hour… it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study:

Compared with a control group, the experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class, and it cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A. It even had an impact on the students’ health — the black students who received the belonging message had significantly fewer doctor visits three years after the intervention.”

In another study, the disadvantaged students "cut the gap between themselves and the advantaged students in half....all from a one-time intervention that took 45 minutes to complete."

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