Study: This 60-Minute Exercise Can Change a Black Student's Future

Minority freshmen need to know that tough adjustments to college aren't about race and don't make them outsiders. 


Stanford University psychologists Greg Walton and Geoffrey Cohen have created a one-hour exercise with a profound effect on the academic success and happiness of minority college students. It's exciting because of its simplicity, its results and what it says about the power of social belonging.

The researchers tested the results of a reading, writing and reflection exercise designed to get the test subjects in their treatment group of college freshman to "internalize the idea that adjustments are tough for everyone." (Read more about the study methodology here.)

The goal: to get students to perceive difficulties adjusting to college as a normal part of the university experience, versus evidence that they were outsiders because of their ethnicity.

And it seems to have worked. Black students who participated in the exercise reaped serious benefits:

--By their senior year, their GPAs increased almost a third of a point, representing a 52 percent decrease in the minority achievement gap.

--22 percent graduated in the top quarter of their graduating class (compared with only about 5 percent of black students who didn't participate in the exercise).

--They reported a greater sense of belonging than black peers who didn't participate, not to mention being happier and less likely to spontaneously think about negative racial stereotypes.

--They were even healthier: Twenty-eight percent said they had visited a doctor recently, compared with 60 percent in the control group.

Walton and Cohen say the exercise is not a quick fix, and remind us that the minority achievement gap has ties to issues of diversity, socioeconomics and public policy. While the exercise might "seem miraculous," they explain, "it all hinges on the infrastructure that's already in place."

Even if not miraculous, the results of the study are inspiring, in part because they blame neither predominantly white college environments for being hostile to minorities nor black college students for being underprepared or undermotivated.