Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work and Social Research


Research indicates that historically underrepresented college students are more likely to report alienating campus climates which can contribute to decreased sense of belonging and wellbeing. In turn, a lack of a sense of belonging and poor mental health may lead to decreased academic engagement and increased likelihood of attrition. Theoretical and empirical literature on critical race theory (CRT), validation, and sense of belonging identifies key factors across individual and institutional levels that influence student wellbeing and academic outcomes without relying on a deficit-based framework. Using an interactional, ecological conceptual framework drawing together CRT, validation theory, and sense of belonging my study further explores the relationships between academic validation, interpersonal validation, and sense of belonging and academic self-concept and persistence outcomes. Three years of survey data, 2015-2017, from four-year institutions were drawn from the Diverse Learning Environments (DLE) survey administered by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI). The primary independent variables include academic validation, interpersonal validation, and sense of belonging. The outcome variables are academic self-concept and intent to persist operationalized as whether a student has considered dropping out of their program and whether they plan to attend a graduate program. Covariates include student demographics, identity, and enrollment; student and institutional engagement; and institutional characteristics and climate variables. The primary method of analysis was ordinary least squares (OLS) and logistic regression models. Subgroup analyses were conducted to determine any overall differences among groups and specific differences in the effects of primary predictors. Analyses were conducted using IBM SPSS 26. Across iv

all outcomes, primary independent variables or focal factors and student demographic, identity, and enrollment variables explained the greatest variation in academic self-concept scores and persistence. However, important student and institutional engagement and institutional characteristics and climate factors were also identified. The subgroup analyses did not identify consistently meaningful or significant differences in the effects of the primary predictors. Implications focus on theory, policies, and practices to enhance the implicit or hidden curriculum.

Keywords: critical race theory, validation theory, sense of belonging

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Social Work Commons