Science Monday honors MLK


You’ve got to be dead if you aren’t moved by King’s I have a dream speech:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!

In honoring King’s dream, I bring a tidbit from the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2007, 92:1). The authors did an experiment on black and white college students where they either decreased or increased their sense of social belonging. The authors wanted to observe how changes in one’s sense of social belonging might impact academic performance.

In the first experiment, they attempted to decrease students sense of social belonging. Interestingly, white students appeared unaffected while black students felt less connected and less likely to achieve well. Conversely, when both groups had less doubts about their social belonging in college, black student grades increased, but not the white students.

What do we make of this? Everyone wants to feel like they belong and have potential. Black students still have not fully achieved the sense of belonging of which King dreamed. When you have a full sense of belonging and opportunity, one arena where you don’t feel connected isn’t likely to be that big of a deal. There will be other opportunities. But if you barely feel you belong, that the deck has already been stacked against you, any threat to whatever little you do feel connected will strike a much bigger blow.

U of Michigan has fully complied (but is challenging it in court) with a state law to remove all race-based factors in making admissions decisions. Will removing affirmative action help or hinder minority student to feel that they belong on campus? On the plus side, those who are there will be able to defend their admission based on their academic capacity. On the negative side, fewer may apply thinking that they don’t have a chance and so therefore making the campus more homogeneous and decreasing some people’s sense that black students belong in university settings.

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Filed under Black and White, Civil Rights, counseling science

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