Powerful Pathways Across Race: Sense of Belonging in Discriminatory Collegiate Environments

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The purpose of this study was to explore potential direct or indirect relationships among discriminatory climate, structural diversity (i.e., compositional diversity), mentorship experiences, socio-cultural discussions, level of involvement on- and off-campus, and individual characteristics (e.g., gender, class standing, and socioeconomic status) and how these relationships potentially affect students' sense of belonging. To understand the individual and shared relationships among these multiple variables, structural equation modeling (SEM) was used. Informed by existing research and literature, the proposed model suggests directionality and a specific set of pathways towards the outcome of sense of belonging. The model tested a series of relationships simultaneously to explore significance of specific variable relationships relative to all other variables. The model was applied separately to White, Black, Latino, and Asian racial groups to explore unique findings associated with one's race.

This study builds on previous climate and belonging research and illuminates three key pathways to bolster students' sense of belonging within discriminatory collegiate experiences. On-campus involvement is the most powerful pathway to a deeper sense of belonging across Asian, Black, Latino, and White students. Additionally, socio-cultural discussions and mentorship prove to be positive supports for belonging and counteract the significant negative effects of discrimination. The pathway for off-campus involvement is not a powerful mediator between a discriminatory climate and belonging, but off-campus experiences that are not connected to discrimination appear to support a greater sense of belonging for some students. Researchers and educators within higher education can use the results of this study to build more complex studies, construct more effective interventions, and raise the level of discourse about students' sense of belonging in college.