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Discrimination, mental health and academic performance among underrepresented college students: the role of extracurricular activities at predominantly white institutions

Abstract

In this study, we explored the potential of extracurricular activity involvement (ECAI) among underrepresented college students to counter and protect against the noxious effects of perceived discrimination on academic performance. Students (N = 340; 68.5% female), were eligible to participate if they identified as a member of a historically underrepresented racial or ethnic group, as first-generation college students, and/or if their families were economically disadvantaged. Data were collected over three time points during students’ first two academic years attending a predominantly white institution. We explored the potential association between ECAI and grade point average (GPA) in the context of students’ experiences of discrimination by testing depressive symptoms as a mediator and ECAI as a compensatory factor. Bootstrapped confidence intervals of the standardized indirect effect indicated that discrimination at time one indirectly predicted lower GPAs at time three via greater depressive symptoms, while ECAI at time one acted conversely and indirectly predicted higher GPAs at time three via fewer depressive symptoms. These results suggest that promoting ECAI may be an effective strategy to facilitate academic success by countering negative psychological health outcomes stemming from underrepresented students’ experiences of discrimination.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the students for participating in this study and the members of the research team who assisted with data collection. This study was funded through start-up funds awarded to the second author from the University of Virginia. The writing of this article was supported in part by a postdoctoral fellowship through the National Academy of Education and Spencer Foundation as well as a William T. Grant Foundation Scholar Award to the second author.

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Billingsley, J.T., Hurd, N.M. Discrimination, mental health and academic performance among underrepresented college students: the role of extracurricular activities at predominantly white institutions. Soc Psychol Educ 22, 421–446 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-019-09484-8

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Keywords

  • Academic performance
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Underrepresented students
  • Higher education
  • Discrimination
  • Resilience