Sense of belonging among women of color in science, technology, engineering, and math majors: Investigating the contributions of campus racial climate perceptions and other college environments

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2007-11-27

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This study examined the relationship between campus racial climate perceptions and other college environments to sense of belonging among undergraduate women of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. The conceptual framework combined two college impact models, Weidman's (1989) model of undergraduate socialization and Astin's (1991) input-environment-outcome model, with a transformative perspective (Mertens, 2005) to examine sense of belonging among women of color in STEM majors. Data came from the 2004 National Study of Living-Learning Programs, and included 1,722 women in undergraduate STEM majors from 29 institutions in the U.S. identifying as Black/African American, Asian Pacific American, Latina, American Indian, Multiracial/Multiethnic, and White/Caucasian. Results from two-way ANOVAs revealed that women of color reported a less strong sense of belonging than White/Caucasian women and had more interactions with diverse peers than White/Caucasian women. In addition, Black/African American women perceived a less positive campus racial climate than women from other racial/ethnic groups. Significant predictors in a hierarchical multiple regression analysis for sense of belonging (29% variance explained) included race/ethnicity, perceptions of academically and socially supportive climates in the residence hall, perceptions of a positive campus racial climate, academic self-confidence, academic class year, socializing with friends from home, and participation in a STEM-related living-learning program. Partial correlation analyses indicated that perceptions of a positive campus racial climate were significantly correlated to sense of belonging for Black/African American, Multiracial/Multiethnic, and Asian Pacific American women. Findings supported the application of college impact theories with a transformative perspective to the experiences of women of color in STEM. The regression model supported the salience of campus racial climate perceptions to sense of belonging for women in STEM; however the relationship between STEM living-learning programs and sense of belonging requires further study. Results identified the salience of the campus racial climate and sense of belonging for women of color in STEM, the significance of the residence hall climate to sense of belonging, and the need for racial/ethnic diversity among STEM living-learning program participants. Results are important given the growing enrollments of women of color in higher education and the need to expand access to STEM careers.

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