Dana Rafferty, '18

April 16, 2018
Jepson senior explores the power of mindsets in interracial interactions on college campuses

Dana Rafferty, ’18, first became interested in studying diversity in higher education during her Freshman Year Seminar, Psychology of Diversity, with Dr. Crystal Hoyt. As it turned out, that class would spark questions that would lead Rafferty to an honors research project.

“A diverse student body can lead to more diverse conversation and contributions in the classroom, improving all students’ education. However, many schools fall short of integration of this diversity,” explains Rafferty. “From that idea, I wanted to understand how different psychological mechanisms could affect interracial interactions as well as motivation to interact with someone of a different race.”

Rafferty, a double major in leadership studies and psychology, is completing an honors thesis titled, “The Role of Growth Mindset on Cross-Racial Interactions on College Campuses.” She will be one of nine students to present at the Jepson Research Symposium on April 20 in Jepson Hall.

“The purpose of this research was to explore how different belief systems affect people’s motivations to interact with individuals from different racial or ethnic backgrounds,” says Rafferty. “Specifically, we examined whether growth mindsets about the nature of people, that is, the belief that personal traits or characteristics can change and develop, might be effective in promoting more positive interracial interactions.”

Rafferty began developing her project with Dr. Hoyt in spring 2017. She received the Fredric M. Jablin Award for Undergraduate Research, a $2,000 award given to a rising Jepson senior each year.

“We spent the beginning of fall focusing in on growth mindsets and developing the surveys that were completed earlier this semester,” says Rafferty.

Rafferty compiled quantitative data from two surveys. The first survey sampled a population from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and the second, a sample population of University of Richmond students.

“While we expected a correlation to exist between growth mindset and positive interracial interactions, we did not expect such a strong effect,” says Rafferty. “Especially in the second study, being primed with a specific mindset message greatly predicted a person’s motivation to interact with a person of a different race.”

Rafferty notes that while she has conducted psychology research since her freshman year, this was her first opportunity to take the lead on the research process. She intends to present the research at a national conference and, ultimately, to finalize the paper for publication.

Rafferty will attend the University of Richmond School of Law next fall.

“I think that throughout law school and into my career, I will incorporate much of the foundation that I received in my Jepson education to focus on the broader implications of our individual actions,” says Rafferty.