Topics related to self-identity and inclusion drove the conversation Friday afternoon in the Ford School of Public Policy.
The Center for Public Policy in Diverse Societies, an initiative housed in the Public Policy School, hosted “Social identity and inclusion: Undergraduate Experiences at the University of Michigan” as part of its Diversity Center Community Conversation series.
Sara Soderstrom, assistant professor of organizational studies, along with her team of researchers — Social Work student Dan Green and Rackham students Sara Cohen and Terra Molengraff, a former Daily photographer — discussed the findings of their recent research study on diversity and inclusion.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Soderstrom said the research team worked together last year in a course on higher education to design and implement an early version of what later became a fully funded research project.
The group was interested in the ways social identities, such as sexual identity, race and socioeconomic status, impact feelings of inclusion at the University.
“The data they collected from the class project was amazing, and we felt like we should formalize it, expand it, learn from it as a pilot, and that’s what launched the research project,” she said.
Once the research had been formalized and subsequently funded by the Diversity Center, the group gathered data primarily through a survey sent to a random sample of University students through the Office of the Registrar.
The researchers also used tweets from the Black Student Union’s Being Black at the University of Michigan Twitter campaign, commonly known as #BBUM, and Michigan Daily content — such as Michigan in Color columns and Viewpoints — to gather data about minority perspectives on social inclusion.
During the last year, topics related to inclusion and diversity have received attention from both the community and the University administration. Last week, University President Mark Schlissel held a leadership breakfast to launch a campuswide conversation on the topic and has promised to roll out a series of initiatives to diversify the University and improve campus climate.
According to Soderstrom’s presentation of the research findings Friday, data indicated residence halls and academic settings are where students have the lowest sense of belonging. Greek life and party culture also came up as places where students reported they did not feel a great sense of belonging.
Correspondingly, students often reported feeling a greater sense of belonging at work and at student organizations where others around them shared similar interests.
The research study also showed white students feel less accepted individually than they believe white students on campus as a whole are accepted. Students of color felt accepted more individually than they believe minority students as a whole are accepted.
Overall, the data from the study indicated that social identity is the largest factor in minority students’ sense of “not belonging” to the University community.
Soderstrom and her team are hopeful that those who attended the event were inspired to be more aware of how social identity can impact University life.
“Our research questions were around just thinking about how social identity impacts undergraduate student experiences,” Cohen said. “So if students left being more cognizant of that, if faculty left thinking about when organizing or structuring their classrooms, and engage the community around them, that’s a good thing.”
Soderstrom said she hopes sharing the results of the study prompts future discussions of social identity and inclusion.
“We have representation from a lot of different groups on campus that can impact different spaces on campus,” she said. “We hope that this prompts future conversations about things we can proactively do and take control over, and how to structurally engage some of those spaces.
Soderstrom said she is hopeful the findings of the research project will be published for the University community in the near future.