Self-Affirmation Gets Minority Students on a College Track

While the painful perception of being stigmatized discourages some potential scholars, a simple act of self-affirmation can substantially close such achievement gaps.
By Tom Jacobs,

Minority students are still less likely than their white peers to earn a college degree. While the painful perception of being stigmatized discourages some potential scholars, a simple act of self-affirmation can substantially close such achievement gaps.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences described a pair of experiments featuring 81 Latinos and 158 African Americans, respectively. On several occasions during their middle school years, they engaged in 15-minute "reflective writing exercises," in which they were randomly assigned to either describe their most important values or share their thoughts on a neutral topic.

Among Latinos, those who affirmed their principles were more likely to be on a college-readiness track in high school two years later. African Americans who did so were more likely to be in college seven to nine years later. The affirmation strengthened the students' "sense of belonging in school," which is a major factor in academic success.

A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2018 issue of Pacific Standard. Subscribe now and get eight issues/year or purchase a single copy of the magazine.

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