Mary Baldwin Students Present at Psychology Conference

May 3, 2017

Mary Baldwin seniors Harrison Pendleton and Sharayna Rao presented their senior thesis projects at the Reid Undergraduate Psychology Conference at the University of Virginia on April 21.

The competitive, annual conference highlights outstanding empirical research conducted by undergraduate scholars; student presentation formats are 15-minute research talks or posters.

Pendleton was accepted to the conference after applying with the rest of the senior psychology data collection students at MBU.

Focusing his research on current MBU freshmen and sophomore students, Pendleton looked for a clarification between alcohol use, adjustment, and academic performance. He examined 51 freshmen and sophomore students who reported drinking one or more alcoholic beverages a week.

“I wanted to know if one’s adjustment to college played a protective role between how much one’s drinking habits affected their GPA,” Pendleton explained.

His study shows a significant positive correlation between adjusting to college and GPA. Furthermore, Harrison’s research concluded that those in the study who had an easier time adjusting to college had higher GPA’s compared to those who had a more difficult time transitioning to undergraduate life, regardless of their drinking habits.

“I have always been interested in the factors that aid or prevent students from reaching their highest potential academically,” Pendleton said. “Freshmen and sophomore students, being dropped in such a new and different environment interested me most, due to my previous work as a peer advisor.”

Pendleton believes studies like his can help to aid college retention giving institutions the tools to help new students adjust better to the university environment.

Rao presented a poster at the conference and defended her thesis, “Section 377 and Well-Being: Minority Stress in Indian Sexual Minorities under Homophobic Legislation.”  Her thesis project — a quasi-experiment in the form of an online, anonymous survey — studied the relationship between a discriminatory Indian law (Section 377), and the mental health of Indian sexual minorities in terms of concealment stress, sense of belonging to the community, and depression.

According to Rao, Section 377, an anti-sodomy law that dates back to the British-colonial era, was declared constitutional by the Indian Supreme Court in 2013. She designed her project as a response to this legal decision.

“I also designed this project on the fact that there is very little empirical literature on Indian sexual minorities,” Rao said.

In December Rao received a $1,400 research grant from Psi Chi, an international psychology honor society, that has allowed her to work with several non-governmental organizations in India to recruit participants for the study.

The final sample size for the research project was 214 participants, with 65 percent identifying as a sexual minority. Rao will present her research at MBU’s Capstone Festival next week.

“The fact that Section 377 is used within the Indian system to target gender and sexual minorities is a question of human rights to me,”Rao said, “and that matters to me greatly as a researcher and an individual.”