Date of Completion


Embargo Period



sense of belonging, college students, contact theory, Black, White, race, diversity, cadet, service academy

Major Advisor

Felicia Pratto

Associate Advisor

Diane M. Quinn

Associate Advisor

Tania B. Huedo-Medina

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


On college campuses, access does not equal inclusion as students of color have to navigate through a predominately White space as they struggle to feel like they belong (Jack, 2019). This dissertation focuses on racial experiences and belonging within a total institution (Goffman, 1961): the U.S. service academies, colleges that are part university and part military. Across three separate papers, I explore the institutional factors that impact the disparity between Black and White students’ belonging. In Chapter 1, I apply Allport’s contact theory (1954) alongside the concept of relative deprivation (Stouffer, 1949) to systematically compare the experiences of Black and White college students using meta-analytic methods. In Chapter 2, I again apply contact theory to service academy cadets while taking into consideration the negative feelings associated with interracial contact. Negative cross-racial interactions at a service academy impact Black students’ sense of belonging more intensely than White students. In Chapter 3, I apply social identity contingency threat theory (Purdie-Vaughns, 2004), aversive racism (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004), and research on diversity ideologies to explore how cadets at a different service academy may be interpreting institutional diversity efforts. By considering how diversity messages act as cues for both White and Black students, I investigate how identity contingency theory can apply to cadets and their sense of belonging. In these studies, I am interested in documenting some of the disparate experiences that Black cadets experience compared to White cadets and find the extent to which sense of belonging manifests in those disparities.