Psychologists often have studied the negative effects of racial discrimination on college campuses, especially for students of color. Franklin & Marshall’s Sara Albrecht-Soto, a senior psychology and Spanish double major from Lancaster, Pa., wanted to study whether the opposite effect could be achieved: Could incidents of racial discrimination be opportunities for positive growth?
“Stress-related growth is an area of study concerned with the positive benefits that result from responses to a particular stressful experience,” said Albrecht-Soto, who is advised by psychology professors Allison Troy and Michael Penn.
In her project, Albrecht-Soto hypothesized that it is possible for students to develop positive reactions to racial discrimination if they are able to integrate those experiences into their life stories and attribute meaning to them.
In order to test her theory, Albrecht-Soto issued surveys to about 300 students from varying colleges, assessing well-being, ill-being, experiences of race-related stress, and coping mechanisms. She is compiling and analyzing the results of these surveys now, preparing to report on her findings for her senior thesis.
Albrecht-Soto’s project emerged from her interest in how people cope with stressful life experiences, particularly those experienced daily by students of color on college campuses. Because of the urgency in studying racial discrimination today, she wanted to contribute new questions to the discourse by asking not only how these incidents can incite harm, but also how they can help individuals to grow.
She acknowledged that independent research is challenging and rewarding. As the principal investigator, Albrecht-Soto collaborated with her faculty members, managed her own time, and learned to remain motivated throughout the project’s trajectory.
“The advantage of being the principal investigator of a project you design and implement is the satisfaction and pride that comes with completing the project and knowing not only how much work went into it, but that in the end, it was worth it,” Albrecht-Soto said.
She aspires to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology after completing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Spain next year. Albrecht-Soto knows that this research opportunity will prepare her for a future in scholarship. She hopes to expand on these studies by examining the effects of traumatic experiences in people’s lives. She said her research at F&M provided a strong foundation for her goals.
“This project has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to contribute necessary knowledge about the outcomes of racial discrimination to the field of psychology,” Albrecht-Soto said.