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The Lived Experience of BIPOC Students at a PWI: Do Campus Affinity Groups Contribute to a Sense of Belonging?

Taiwo Adefiyiju-Monwuba, Johnson & Wales University


The concept of belonging and feeling connected with peers inside and outside the classroom is critical to student success (Strayhorn, 2019). With diversity initiatives specifically geared toward the recruitment of staff, faculty, and students of color, most commonly referred to as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) (Campbell & Khin, 2020), the perception and experience of belonging have been transformed (Mills, 2020). This perception differs widely among student populations; in particular, the increase in BIPOC students on college campuses highlights the differences in this population’s experience when compared with White students (Rankin & Reason, 2005). Moreover, research suggests that belonging and community are important when contributing to an environment where BIPOC students feel validated and heard (Mills, 2020; Strayhorn 2019). The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the lived experience of racially and ethnically diverse affinity group members and the contribution of affinity groups toward their collective sense of belonging at a predominately White institution (PWI). Using Strayhorn’s (2019) sense of belonging theory, specifically around the influence of social identities, and Tatum’s (2007) ABC framework, this research probed how BIPOC students can develop a deeper sense of belonging when learning to engage with people whose experience differs from their own. The following overarching research question guided this study: RQ: How does the lived experience of BIPOC students’ participation in campus affinity groups contribute to their sense of belonging? Participant interviews were conducted with (N=9) undergraduate BIPOC students purposefully selected from a private PWI in the Northeast. Post-interview reflective questionnaires (N=9) were supplemented with an analysis of extant documents (N=20). The interview and reflective data were analyzed applying Moustakas’ (1994) process; documents were analyzed using Bowen’s (2009) content analysis strategy. Four distinct themes emerged from participants' accounts: (1) A Sense of Belonging, (2) Seeking Identity through Affinity, (3) The BIPOC Experience Connecting with Affinity, and (4) A Transformative Moment Within an Affinity. Following a long history of racial exclusivity in higher education, findings may assist PWIs who seek to ensure BIPOC student success and help them develop a greater sense of belonging and community on campus.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Educational administration|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Adefiyiju-Monwuba, Taiwo, "The Lived Experience of BIPOC Students at a PWI: Do Campus Affinity Groups Contribute to a Sense of Belonging?" (2023). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI30570668.