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Sapna Cheryan co-authored the study cited in this UW News article about “Ethnic Spaces”.

‘Ethnic spaces’ make minority students feel at home on campus

Kim EckartUW News

“Ethnic spaces” at U.S. universities make students from underrepresented minority groups feel a greater sense of belonging and engagement with their campus, new research suggests.

Many universities already have designated facilities, such as social areas and cultural centers, specifically for students of color. But at some institutions, such spaces and programs have fallen victim to budget cuts or controversy.

The new research with authors at the University of Washington and the University of Exeter in the U.K., aimed to test the value that college students — of many races — place on those facilities. For the research, hundreds of students at the UW campus in Seattle read about plans for their university to add either a new ethnic space or a general space. Among underrepresented minority students who participated in the study, reading about plans for an ethnic space led to stronger feelings of belonging, support and engagement in the university.

“This work is important because we know that students from ethnic minority groups can feel less belonging in institutions where they are underrepresented,” said lead author Teri Kirby, senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, who received her doctorate in psychology at the UW.

“We need to understand how to make underrepresented students of color feel more welcome,” she said. “Our research suggests that ethnic spaces are one good way to achieve this.”

The study is published April 27 in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Of the top 26 universities on US News and World Report’s undergraduate rankings for 2020, 18 mention having a space for underrepresented students of color.

At the UW, for example, the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center opened in 1968. Over the years, it has been renovated and expanded and is now believed to be the largest college cultural center in the United States. The 26,000-square-foot building provides meeting spaces, a computer lab, a dance studio and other programming.

Other studies have shown that organizations and institutions can increase people’s sense of belonging through materials, policies and programs that do not marginalize their identities, as well as physical space. UW psychology professor Sapna Cheryan, a co-author of the current study on ethnic spaces, previously led a study about the ways computer science classrooms often appear unwelcoming to many women, potentially turning them away from the field.

Read the entire article here.