Students of color (SOCs) attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs) tend to experience feelings of isolation and marginalization due to their racial identity. Yet few studies address how and why SOCs have positive experiences on campus despite their minority identity or feeling isolated from the larger campus community. Furthermore, existing literature overlooks the importance of friendships and extracurricular activities in shaping SOCs’ perception of their overall experience and whether they feel like they “belong.” This study explores if and how SOCs develop a sense of belonging on campus through friendships and extracurricular activities. Using in-depth interviews with upperclassmen SOCs and sociological theories of group membership and belonging, I investigate the factors that contribute to SOCs developing a sense of belonging on campus. My research incorporates (1) symbolic boundaries theory to explain how social boundaries that are created and maintained by students at PWI influence SOCs’ friendships and extracurricular involvement; (2) reference group theory to explore how SOCs’ immediate surrounding social contexts (e.g., friend groups) influence how they orient themselves on campus; and (3) cross-cultural code-switching to understand SOCs’ ability to accommodate different cultural norms and how that influences their feelings of belonging. This research suggests SOCs who previously attended predominantly minority schools experienced initial difficulty developing a sense of belonging at Hamilton than SOCs who attended predominantly white high schools. Furthermore, SOCs involved in cultural organizations and who had a predominantly SOCs friend group felt more connected to a smaller sub community rather than the larger Hamilton community. Moreover, SOCs with more white friends and who were involved in mainstream activities such as Greek life and sports felt connected to the Hamilton community.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Jaime Kucinskas


Access to this thesis is limited to Hamilton College, Clinton, NY.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.