Caught up in red tape : bureaucratic hassles undermine sense of belonging in college among first generation students
Research has shown that institutional cues can create experiences of social identity threat, or the concern that one might be devalued or excluded on the basis of their group membership - among underrepresented and stigmatized students (e.g. first-generation college students). However, previous work focuses on cues relevant to stereotypes or group membership, and that are aversive only to stigmatized students. We hypothesized that even cues that are aversive to all students - specifically bureaucratic difficulties -- might trigger identity threat. In study 1, students completed a university form online that was manipulated to be frustrating (or not). The frustrating web form reduced self-reported sense of belonging and perceived probability of success among first-generation college students. Study 2, a multi-session field study, conceptually replicated this finding with a different type of bureaucratic challenge -- a straightforward or confusing course selection task. A third correlation study (conducted as part of the larger field study reported in study 2), revealed that experiences of bureaucratic challenges in students' naturalistic settings predicted reduced sense of belonging Moreover, these perceived bureaucratic challenges influenced the retention rates of students who were more uncertain about their belonging at college. Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings for policies aimed at reducing social class disparities in higher education.