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Effects of Interracial Contact on University Students' Perceptions of Inclusion

Research from higher education and social psychology has recognized feelings of belonging and perceptions of inclusion as important factors within the university student experience. Yet little research has examined the extent to which interracial contact may correspond with belonging and inclusion in the university setting. In the present study, I conduct secondary analyses of a 2016 campus climate survey of undergraduate students to examine the associations between interracial contact and three indicators of belonging and inclusion (e.g., feeling a sense of belonging, perceiving the campus to be welcoming, perceived university commitment to inclusion) among undergraduate students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and among racial and ethnic minority students (ALANA students) regarded as international students and as U.S. residents. Results indicate, overall, White students tend to report greater feelings of belonging and perceptions of inclusions compared to their ALANA peers. Greater interracial contact was generally associated with greater feelings of belonging and greater perceived institutional commitment to inclusion, yet these effects tended to be stronger among ALANA students than among White students. Black students tended to report lower feelings of belonging in comparison to other ALANA students; at the same time, no significant interactions were observed between interracial contact and racial/ethnic status among ALANA students from Asian, Black, Latino/a, or multiracial backgrounds. In addition, international ALANA students tended to report lower levels of belonging as compared to ALANA students regarded as U.S. residents. However, there were no significant interaction effects of interracial contact and international ALANA status in predicting students’ feelings of belonging and inclusion perceptions. The present study highlights how students’ racial/ethnic status can shape belonging and inclusion perceptions on the university campus, and how associations between interracial contact and key indicators of inclusion may vary among students whose racial and ethnic groups occupy different status positions in U.S. society.