For many years, the gaps in academic achievements between minority college students and their White counterpoints have confounded analysts who have examined many varying factors to no avail. But if a new study is right, the explanation for the gap may be something many have not considered: loneliness.

In a new study from Sanford University, researchers followed black and white students from their second semester in college to their graduation day. Along the way, researchers Gregory M. Walton and Geoffrey L. Cohen, asked students to talk about their college experiences, expressing their anxieties, concerns and challenges.

Walton and Cohen used one group as a control, letting them spill their thoughts on college life and simply recording what they said. But in the second group, researchers staged a one-hour intervention asking the students why they believed their thoughts on their experience were true and what advice they would give underclassmen coming behind them.

According to the report:

For black participants, the intervention tripled the number who graduated in the top 25% of the class…(the) exercise had no effect on white students, even though African Americans are certainly not alone in facing challenges fitting in at college.

If the Sandford researchers are right, the hour long intervention is a powerful tool in bridging the GPA gap and brining lower achieving Black students up in academic standing. Speaking to TIME about the study’s finding Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University said:

“This is a powerful demonstration of the idea that if you can increase minority students’ sense of belonging, it doesn’t just have an effect on things like whether they like their roommates or not. It actually has a long term impact on academic performance and health outcomes.”

Given the findings, it’s interesting to consider the importance of mentoring groups within multicultural student organizations. While the actual participation of these groups varies from campus to campus, across the board they could be playing a major role in helping minority students improve their college experience and performance.

Tell us what you think Clutchettes, do social circles play a role in academic achievement in Black students? Share your thoughts!

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  • Meg

    As a graduate of a Big Ten predominately white institution I support the findings of this study. With that said, that does not mean that I negate the validity of the other various factors that play into the lesser academic standings of African American students, but I do understand where the study is coming from. As my experience has been through my universities Black Student Alliance, seeking the membership of a historically Black sorority, participating in groups that link African American students for mentoring and other groups that link students by major, I must say that the confidence and the support network that is found through socializing is one of the things that pushed me to finish and excel. In the end the old cliché that birds of a feather flock together is true, and even truer when that bird looks very much like you and has endured some of the same adversities. My question for Stanford University and TIME magazine is- Now that you’ve got the study, what are you going to do with it?

  • Pearlsrevealed

    Facilitating a students ability to problem solve life issues–which is what happened when the students were asked to GIVE ADVICE TO OTHERs instead of just rant about their challenges–is definitely an excellent skill to impart to all young adults.

    We can go on and on about what determines success or failure. The biggest factor is what is inside of you to keep on course to accomplish your goals. Here is what I think helps me.

    HOPE (knowing the dreams/goals are possible, achievable, viable)
    WILLINGNESS TO ENDURE ADVERSITY (trouble don’t last always and the dream is worth fighting for)
    COMMUNITY (Don’t isolate yourself. You’re not the only one having a hard time and you need to have fun)
    FAITH (Self worth. I get value from my identity in Christ and not in things or titles.)

    Seems like the intervention imparted or help to develop three of the four factors from my list.

    Great study. Now it is up to academia, parents, leaders, and concerned citizens to find ways to implement this style of intervention THROUGHOUT the educational process.

  • Used to do

    I am currently a senior at a PWI and I can attest freshman year of college was the most difficult as my friends went off to different institutions.. I did feel a bout of loneliness, however I sought out social activities and joined several organizations – not only Black organizations. We do flock together to what is similar and familiar true, but I would like to advise to move out of your comfort zone and go on to experience something new. Recognize the diversity and appreciate it as well. Find an organization which stimulate your interests, be open to meeting new people and begin to network to form a foundation which will sustain you for the next couple of years.

  • Blair

    I really agree with this article. I personal experiene with academic struggle because of lack of support and people being able to relate to my struggle in my major. I am a civil engineering major and there are few few women and almost no other women of color in my major. Within this major working in groups is a must to survive most of the classes and having support adds to your success. The first two years I excelled bc I was taking general courses and some of my friends were in my classes, therefore we studied and worked together to do well in the course. Now that I am a junior I am taking most of my major courses and my friends are also taking their major courses as well. I do know a few people in my classes and I definetly try to reach out but people tend to be “cliqueish” and not so open to working with other people. I do go to tutoring and my professors office hours but have no one to work with to do my homework and that has become a problem. People that are non science majors cannot relate to my struggle as much. Above all, if your not an engineering major I feel you cannot understand.

    In many cases I have felt alone within my classes and feel like I am the only one struggling, although other people are struggling at least they have a support group or people that understand the difficulty of the major. I believe that students of all colors and different majors should have discussions on the challenges they face with their classes so that no one feels alone. All I need to do is reach out to other students in my classes and continue to use the resources at my school. But most of all I would like to see more support for students of color in achieving their major.

  • WoW

    Yes it can. I had no idea how much for granted I took education until I got to college and saw what real studying was. That people were busting their brains in technical subjects like chemical engineering and bio science, all because they had siblings living in 3rd world slums that needed to be rescued. Compare that to someone complaining about getting their hair done or not liking so in so because of such and such.

    Because of that, most if not all of my friends are from Russia,Ethopia,China and South American. I have learned how to study because of them. I have learned how to defy racism because of them. They get called all kinds of names but they don’t complain. Instead they laugh. I asked them why not complain. They said they knew they were going to have the last laugh when they graduate making 200K a year right off the back.

    To be around people who are not mediocre, don’t care about hair styles, skin complexion and a whole host of stupid stuff has benefited me greatly.

    I owe so much to those students who suffered hardship. I don’t think I would be in grad school now if it were not for them.