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“I Didn’t Come to School for This”: A Qualitative Examination of Experiences With Race-Related Stressors and Coping Responses Among Black Students Attending a Predominantly White Institution


Abstract and Figures

Exposure to race-related stressors such as discrimination may take a toll on Black undergraduates attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs) who must contend with these stressors in addition to stressors common to the developmental space of emerging adulthood and the transition to college. The aim of this study was to explore Black students’ experiences of race-related stressors, coping responses, and the role of natural mentors (i.e., nonparental adults from students’ preexisting social networks who serve a mentoring role in students’ lives) in the coping process. We conducted semi-structured interviews with Black college students (n = 12) at a PWI and their natural mentors (n = 10) with whom they discussed issues related to race. Thematic analysis of data indicated that Black students faced a number of race-related stressors yet employed a set of coping responses including processing the event on one’s own, talking about it with others, and engaging in behavioral strategies such as working harder in school in an effort to disprove negative stereotypes. Findings reflected intentional socialization processes in regard to coping with race-related stressors. We discuss trade-offs associated with identified coping responses and the need for institutional efforts to reduce race-related stressors and foster more inclusive campus environments.
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Journal of Adolescent Research
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DOI: 10.1177/0743558417742983
Empirical Article
“I Didn’t Come to
School for This”: A
Qualitative Examination
of Experiences
With Race-Related
Stressors and Coping
Responses Among Black
Students Attending a
Predominantly White
Aisha N. Griffith1, Noelle M. Hurd1,
and Saida B. Hussain1
Exposure to race-related stressors such as discrimination may take a toll on
Black undergraduates attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs) who
must contend with these stressors in addition to stressors common to the
developmental space of emerging adulthood and the transition to college. The
aim of this study was to explore Black students’ experiences of race-related
stressors, coping responses, and the role of natural mentors (i.e., nonparental
adults from students’ preexisting social networks who serve a mentoring
role in students’ lives) in the coping process. We conducted semi-structured
interviews with Black college students (n = 12) at a PWI and their natural
mentors (n = 10) with whom they discussed issues related to race. Thematic
1University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA
Corresponding Author:
Noelle M. Hurd, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, 102 Gilmer Hall, P.O. Box
400400, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400, USA.
742983JARXXX10.1177/0743558417742983Journal of Adolescent ResearchGrifth et al.
2 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
analysis of data indicated that Black students faced a number of race-related
stressors yet employed a set of coping responses including processing the
event on one’s own, talking about it with others, and engaging in behavioral
strategies such as working harder in school in an effort to disprove negative
stereotypes. Findings reflected intentional socialization processes in regard
to coping with race-related stressors. We discuss trade-offs associated with
identified coping responses and the need for institutional efforts to reduce
race-related stressors and foster more inclusive campus environments.
Black college students, predominantly White institution, race-related
stressors, coping, natural mentors
Although the majority of Black undergraduates receive their degrees from pre-
dominantly White institutions (PWIs; Snyder & Dillow, 2012), PWIs can be mar-
ginalizing contexts for Black students. PWIs tend to be contexts rife with
race-related stressors such as seeing few other Black students in one’s classes or
on campus and experiencing discrimination (Harper, 2013). Isolated and cumula-
tive discriminatory experiences can be cognitively and emotionally taxing and
interfere with students’ ability to achieve at their full potential. Given the fre-
quency with which Black students at PWIs encounter race-related stressors, stu-
dents likely employ a number of coping responses across their time at the PWI
(Hoggard, Byrd, & Sellers, 2012). Moreover, research suggests that supportive
adults help youth cope with racially discriminatory experiences (Cooper, Brown,
Metzger, Clinton, & Guthrie, 2013). The current study aimed to better understand
Black students’ experiences of race-related stressors at their PWI, their coping
responses, and the role of natural mentors (i.e., nonparental adults from students’
preexisting social networks who serve a mentoring role) in the coping process.
In contrast to their counterparts at historically Black colleges or universi-
ties, Black students at PWIs are more likely to face race-related stressors
(Greer & Chwalisz, 2007). Being a numerical minority in a largely White
university can make Black students feel isolated (Harper, 2013), especially if
they have spent much of their lives in diverse or predominantly Black spaces.
Being the only or one of very few Black students can be psychologically
distressing and lead the few in the space to feel pressure to dispel negative
stereotypes and represent all Black people (Fries-Britt & Griffin, 2007;
Harper et al., 2011). Moreover, PWIs typically have a history of actively
excluding Blacks, which students are likely to be aware of (Harper & Hurtado,
2007). At many PWIs, they also may feel their culture is not well-represented
in activities beyond designated cultural centers (Harper & Hurtado, 2007).
Griffith et al. 3
Given that many 4-year institutions include at least some mandatory resi-
dence in dormitories that also serve as the centers of students’ social lives,
Black students can be affected by campus racial climate in both their aca-
demic and social lives. Black college students navigating PWIs and the sur-
rounding communities may experience being stared at, stereotyped, or treated
unfairly (Smith, Allen, & Danley, 2007; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, Fitzgerald, &
Bylsma, 2003). They are likely to encounter a host of racial microaggressions
(i.e., frequent indignities that despite possibly being unintentional, communi-
cate racial slights and insults about an individual’s racial/ethnic group; Sue,
2010) from faculty, staff, and peers, many of whom possess little personal
experience interfacing with the Black community and whose knowledge of
Black culture may be limited to negative stereotypes in the media. Black
students’ experiences with race-related stressors such as lack of representa-
tion and racial discrimination on campus may negatively influence their self-
esteem (Nadal, Wong, Griffin, Davidoff, & Sriken, 2014), mental health
(Hurd, Varner, Caldwell, & Zimmerman, 2014; Pascoe & Smart Richman,
2009), physical health (Hill, Kobayashi, & Hughes, 2007; Nadal, Griffin,
Wong, Davidoff, & Davis, 2017), sense of belonging at their institution
(Hurtado & Alvarado, 2015), and degree completion (Museus, Nichols, &
Lambert, 2008). Even when Black students are successful, race-related
stressors may exert a psychological toll; for example, high-achieving Black
students report constant pressure to prove their intellectual ability, despite
having a history of academic success (Strayhorn, 2009).
Black students may cope with race-related stressors differently than they
cope with other stressors (Hoggard et al., 2012). While race-related stressors
have been found to negatively affect academic performance, research on
Black students in science, technology, engineering, and math fields suggests
those who persist cope with race-related stress by working harder in an effort
to disprove or circumvent stereotypes (McGee, 2016; Moore, Madison-
Colmore, & Smith, 2003). More generally, research indicates seeking social
support is often used to cope with race-related stress (Brondolo, Ver Halen,
Pencille, Beatty, & Contrada, 2009; Cooper et al., 2013; Swim et al., 2003).
In light of the fact that social support seeking appears to commonly be
used to deal with race-related stress, students’ natural mentors may have
insight on the race-related stressors students experience and play a role in the
coping process. Previous research indicates natural mentors may be preferred
sources of support because they are more experienced and knowledgeable
than peers; and emerging adults can seek their advice without the same threats
to autonomy present when seeking advice from parents (Hurd, Stoddard,
Bauermeister, & Zimmerman, 2014). In addition, natural mentors tend to
share the race/ethnicity of their mentees (Hurd & Sellers, 2013; Hurd, Varner,
4 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
& Rowley, 2013), which may increase students’ desire to confide in them.
Anticipating some form of shared experience may be a catalyst for discussing
race-related issues. Notably, research suggests natural mentors may assist in
racial socialization and aid in the coping process when Black youth encounter
racial discrimination (Cooper et al., 2013; Hurd, Sánchez, Zimmerman, &
Caldwell, 2012; Wittrup et al., 2016).
Current Study
This study was designed to obtain accounts of Black college students’ experi-
ences with race-related stressors while attending a PWI, their coping
responses, and the role of natural mentors in the coping process. Rather than
using established measures that assume we have a comprehensive sense of
these constructs, we sought to allow students to define what they perceived as
race-related stressors, how they were affected by these stressors, and strate-
gies employed to cope with them. Previous research indicates survey mea-
sures used to assess discriminatory experiences may be too narrow and result
in underreporting of individuals’ experiences with discrimination (Berkel
et al., 2009). Moreover, limited research has examined coping processes in
the context of experiences with racial discrimination or the utilization of nat-
ural mentors as a part of the coping process among Black students at PWIs.
Thus, we determined that open-ended interviews would allow us to capture a
more comprehensive understanding of these phenomena and lay the ground-
work for future research. We interviewed third- and fourth-year students and
their natural mentors to answer the following research questions: (a) What
are the race-related stressors that Black students face in the PWI context? (b)
How do Black students cope with these race-related stressors? and (c) What
role do natural mentors play in the course of students’ coping with race-
related stressors?
Participants and Procedure
An Institutional Review Board approved all procedures in this study. We pur-
posively sampled students in their third and fourth years at a large, selective
public university in the southeastern United States because we anticipated
more senior students would have had numerous opportunities to encounter
race-related stressors specific to the PWI. Black students comprised approxi-
mately 6% of the student body. Students were recruited via a variety of meth-
ods (e.g., list-serves, psychology department’s participant pool) and were
Griffith et al. 5
eligible to participate if they identified as Black and possessed a natural mentor
with whom they talked about race. Twelve students (nine female, three male)
were interviewed. All participants identified their race as Black. They identi-
fied their ethnicities as African American (n = 8), Nigerian (n = 2), Kenyan (n
= 1), and African American/White (n = 1). Students were asked for contact
information of an older, more experienced adult—not a parent, friend, or
romantic partner—who the student could go to for support, guidance, and help
making important decisions and with whom they discussed topics related to
race/ethnicity. A total of 10 natural mentors (from the 12 recruited) agreed to
participate in the study (see Table 1). Students were compensated with a US$40
Visa gift card or class credit and mentors received a US$30 Visa gift card.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted during Spring 2016. Students
were asked to define discrimination broadly and then were asked, “What
types of experiences, if any, have you had with discrimination since being a
student at [this school]?” If students reported they had experiences with dis-
crimination, the interviewer asked for details about what happened. The
interviewer then asked how students coped with discrimination with the
question, “Students deal with experiences of discrimination in lots of differ-
ent ways. Some students say they drink or party, or talk to friends, family, or
other adults about it . . . How do you deal with these experiences?” The inter-
viewer asked about each coping strategy mentioned. To better understand the
context of the PWI and capture other potential discriminatory experiences,
students were also asked, “Can you tell me a little bit about what the school
climate is like for you as a Black student at [this school]?” Finally, students
were asked about any conversations they had with their natural mentor in
regard to race or discriminatory experiences. Natural mentors were asked
general questions about conversations they had with their mentees about
race, whether their mentee talked to them about discriminatory experiences
and, if so, the advice they gave. If mentors affiliated with the PWI mentioned
personal experiences with race-related stressors at the PWI, the interviewer
probed for more details.
Data Analysis
Strategies from thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) were employed
to identify patterns of meaning regarding race-related stress across the
dataset in two phases. After becoming familiar with the data, a research
team member developed a provisional set of codes by open coding six
student transcripts for race-related stressors, coping strategies used in
response to race-related stressors, and messages from natural mentors. A
second research team member coded the same six interviews in order to
6 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
verify the codes were clear. Coders then discussed and resolved disagree-
ments in application of codes and revised codes, as needed. The remaining
six transcripts were split and coded individually. Natural mentor data was
coded using the same set of codes and new codes were created when nec-
essary. Coders selected six mentor interviews to code individually, dis-
cussed disagreements, and then coded the rest of the data. Natural mentors
generally described the same types of experiences as students and coding
revealed they imparted messages that overlapped with coping strategies
We used the emergent codes to create categories for the types of race-
related stressors faced and types of strategies. All students reported having
negative race-related experiences at the PWI, but many distinguished between
those that were “very quiet” or “subtle” versus “blatant discrimination.” What
seemed most salient for interviewees were the experiences that made them
feel marginalized as a result of their race (what we then categorized as
Table 1. Interview Participants.
Year at
university Natural mentor
Relationship to
Jermaine Male African
3 Gus Male African
Dominick Male African
4 Natalie Female African
Sean Male African
4 Monica Female African
Christina Female Kenyan 3 Yvonne Female Kenyan Older sister
Serena Female African
3 Tonya Female African
Former peer
Sonia Female African
3 No mentor
Michelle Female African
3 Nancy Female African
Older sister
Veronica Female African
3 Kim Female African
Lisa Female Nigerian 3 Omar Male African
Teresa Female African
3 No mentor
Vanessa Female Nigerian 3 Janay Female Nigerian Older cousin
Felicia Female African
3 Nadia Female African
Griffith et al. 7
race-related stressors). We identified three categories of race-related stressors
and four categories of coping strategies that served as themes. Data in each
category were compared to identify patterns and the overall story of the
In order to establish trustworthiness, the coders regularly discussed coding
decisions and interpretation of the data. Coders also discussed these with
ethnically diverse researchers who were knowledgeable in qualitative analy-
sis to ensure the robustness of our interpretations. The authors are women of
color who have been students at PWIs, making us attuned to students’ descrip-
tions of race-related stress at the PWI.
Race-Related Stressors
Students reported experiencing a wide range of race-related stressors at the
PWI (see Table 2). These experiences included having a heightened aware-
ness of negative stereotypes held by others about Black people due to issues
of underrepresentation in academic spaces (n = 8), experiencing uninten-
tional racial insults (n = 10), and facing intentional, blatant discrimination (n
= 8). Most students reported experiencing at least two categories of race-
related stressors. Many reported that they had never had such vivid experi-
ences with race-related stressors prior to attending the PWI.
Heightened awareness of negative stereotypes about Black people. Many stu-
dents reported feeling that their White classmates deemed them intellectually
inferior because they were Black. Students said things such as “[my class-
mates] are not going to think I’m smart because I’m Black,” “some of my
classmates may not think that I am as worthy as them,” and “I have to do
something that’s amazing and blows people away before I get that respect [in
regards to intellectual ability].” One natural mentor also reported discussing
low expectations for racial/ethnic minorities at the PWI with his mentee.
Students described their acute awareness of negative stereotypes in their
predominantly White classrooms by giving examples of a number of actions
they engaged in to counter stereotypes (possibly as a strategy to prevent dis-
criminatory treatment). Teresa reported asking few clarifying questions in
class because “I don’t want them to attribute me not understanding this to me
being Black as opposed to me just never learning this before.” When she did
participate, she would first “triple-check” her contributions because she felt
her peers doubted her intelligence. Sean described monitoring his actions
during group work so that his peers did not judge him, stating,
8 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
Table 2. Student Reported Race-Related Stressors and Coping Strategies.
Student Race-related stressors Coping strategies
Jermaine Unintentional racial
Blatant discrimination
Talking to supportive others,
Educating White peers
Dominick Unintentional racial
Blatant discrimination
Talking to supportive others,
Working harder/persisting,
Educating White peers
Sean Awareness of negative
Unintentional racial
Blatant discrimination
Talking to supportive others,
Working harder/persisting
Christina Awareness of negative
Unintentional racial insults
Talking to supportive others,
Working harder/persisting
Serena Awareness of negative
Unintentional racial
Blatant discrimination
Talking to supportive others,
Working harder/persisting
Sonia Blatant discrimination Talking to supportive others
Michelle Awareness of negative
Working harder/persisting
Veronica Awareness of negative
Unintentional racial
Blatant discrimination
Talking to supportive others,
Educating White peers
Lisa Awareness of negative
Unintentional racial insults
Talking to supportive others,
Working harder/persisting
Teresa Awareness of negative
Unintentional racial
Blatant discrimination
Talking to supportive others,
Working harder/persisting
Educating White peers
Vanessa Awareness of negative
Unintentional racial insults
Talking to supportive others,
Working harder/persisting
Felicia Unintentional racial
Blatant discrimination
Talking to supportive others,
Working harder/persisting,
Educating White peers
Griffith et al. 9
. . . you don’t want to create the idea to the group if you come five minutes late
to meetings consistently. Alright. You’re “the late Black guy” instead of just
“the late person.” You don’t want to be that quiet in meetings because you don’t
want to be “the lazy Black guy in our group that doesn’t pull any weight.” The
other person in the group that doesn’t work could be just as quiet, but it’s just
“they’re waiting to give their insights.” It’s a different vibe when you know
you’re the only person who looks like you in the group.
In addition to being hyperaware that peers may interpret his actions based on
negative stereotypes, Sean felt this experience was also tied to being the
“only person who looks like you in the group.” Similar to Sean’s concern of
being perceived as the “lazy Black guy,” Vanessa reported focusing on what
she wore to class so as not to be seen as “[the] lazy Black girl” by professors.
Overall, it appeared that this awareness of stereotypes about Black people
was heightened because students saw they were one of the few Black stu-
dents in a space. Indeed, some natural mentors said their mentees talked to
them about the challenge of being one of the few Black people in academic
spaces. Students’ perceptions that others held negative stereotypes about
Black people appeared to be confirmed by the second category of race-related
stressors: unintentional racial insults.
Unintentional racial insults. Nearly all of the students reported experiencing
times when someone stated or implied something offensive but appeared to
not actually have intentions that were malicious. Many of these experiences
fell under what Sue (2010) describes in his taxonomy of microaggressions as
microinsults (i.e., subtle, and often unintentional, snubs that demean an indi-
vidual’s racial or ethnic group). In the current study, these insults conveyed
that others believed Blacks were generally unintelligent and monolithic. Stu-
dents recalled being excluded from study groups, having their comments
ignored or dismissed during class, and being disregarded during group work
because of their race. Natalie, Dominick’s natural mentor, recalled him con-
fiding in her that “he says something profound in class and there’s no
response; and then, five minutes later, someone who is not of color says the
same thing, and everybody thinks it’s brilliant.” Serena reported working in a
group where people would
go around to everyone else and ask their question before they ask me, just
because they assume that I don’t know or I’m not good at math, or different
stereotypes like that. And while that directly isn’t like outward discrimination,
it’s more like those little things that irritate your soul.
Serena said these experiences did not hurt her grades or leadership positions,
however, it did influence “the mental aspect” of thinking: “‘Maybe
10 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
I am not as smart as they are in math,’ even though we’re all in the same
class.” Some interviewees reported receiving comments that communicated
pleasant surprise about their intellect or academic ability. Jermaine described
being “pissed off” when peers and professors would tell him he was “well-
spoken” in a way that indicated they had expected him to be inarticulate.
Participants also reported experiencing unintentional racial insults regard-
ing physical appearance or personal hygiene. Kim, Veronica’s natural mentor,
recalled hearing she was “really pretty for a Black girl,” yet said she did not
believe there was “any sort of malice intended, I think it just sort of came out
of their mouth and they didn’t even see the issue in it.” Lisa, a student athlete,
described unintentional racial insults from teammates who would harshly
question her about her hair:
They’ll just be like, “I don’t get how Black girls put these things in their hair
and can wear them for months at a time. Do you wash your hair?” . . . ”Do you
shower every day?” And I’m a person. I’m an actual person. I do regular things,
like my hair may be different, but, I mean, it doesn’t give you the right to
question me so harshly.
While Lisa thought her teammates’ intentions were not bad, she noted their
comments made her feel like “I don’t belong.” Lisa’s mentor, Omar, dis-
cussed multiple times in his interview that fitting in at the PWI was challeng-
ing for Lisa because she “didn’t feel like she belonged or that she fit quite into
the—I guess the ‘normal student body’ here.”
Finally, students reported frustration with comments that indicated they were
seen as interchangeable with other Black people. For instance, Veronica described
a friend’s reaction to her hair that reflected limited exposure to Black people:
He was like, “Don’t take this in a racist way, but you look like Michelle Obama
with your hair like that.” And it’s like no, I don’t. I look literally nothing like
Michelle Obama, but you picked the only Black girl you know.
Veronica described these types of situations as particularly challenging
because, “they’re usually started with, ‘Not to be racist . . . .’” Tonya recalled
she and her mentee, Serena, discussed the frustration of being mistaken for
another Black student by professors:
Most of the time we don’t look anything alike [but] . . . they’ll call you by the
wrong name or something. But you can have a class full of White people and
you can get their names right. And it’s like only a few Black students and you
mix them up. And it’s kinda just like you don’t even care enough to learn our
names but you can learn everyone else’s.
Griffith et al. 11
Students also reported being asked questions which implied that Black people
share a collective reaction to societal events. For example, students talked about
being asked to provide the perspective of the Black community on a particular
issue. These experiences placed Black students in a position where they lost their
individuality in both their identities and their opinions, largely as a result of what
they perceived as a general disinterest or inability of their White professors and
peers to acknowledge within-group heterogeneity among Black people. Many of
these examples illustrate how unintentional racial insults seem innocuous because
they are cloaked as a compliment or expression of curiosity. However, microag-
gressions can be especially psychologically distressing because they can feel
ambigous in isolation yet are cumulative over time (Sue, 2010).
Intentional, blatant discrimination. Beyond racial slights that seemed uninten-
tional, many students also reported experiencing intentional discrimination.
Multiple interviewees described how Black students were turned away from
White fraternity parties (the primary social scene at the PWI). Being turned
away was frequently accompanied with racial slurs like “We don’t let
[N-word]s in.” At times, students were not explicitly turned away, but were
asked to do things not asked of their White peers in order to enter like sing,
dance, or explain who they knew at the party. Students reported experiencing
discrimination simply by passing near these parties. Felicia described being
shocked while walking with friends when men on top of the roof of a frater-
nity house shouted “Oh, look at those [N-word]s over there.” She reported,
I wouldn’t expect it [yelling the N-word] from my peers because I would
expect my generation to be better. Like, I’d expect it from some old man who
like grew up with segregation and everything from down in the South. But
these are—I would never expect anything so ignorant from an educated person.
Interviewees reported that it was common knowledge that many Black stu-
dents generally avoided these events at predominantly White fraternities
because of the discrimination that occurred in this social space. Some opted
to attend “Black parties” instead where “you feel comfortable because you
know other people aren’t judging you or looking at you funny because you’re
at the party and you’re Black.” Although this appeared to be common knowl-
edge among Black students, Teresa reported that some of her White peers
would ask her why more Black people did not go to parties at White fraterni-
ties. These inquires demonstrated that White students who were not actively
discriminating against Black students may have been unaware of the dis-
crimination their Black peers were experiencing at their institution and just
assumed discrimination was not an issue.
12 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
Intentional discrimination was particularly troubling when professors
were the perpetrators. Jermaine described an instance in a class in which the
whole class lined up so that the professor could shake everyone’s hand. The
professor shook everyone’s hand with the exception of Jermaine’s, some-
thing he attributed to the fact that he was the only Black student in the class.
He reported, “I didn’t see his eyes meet mine or anything. He just kept walk-
ing as if I wasn’t there.” Jermaine continued by describing his shock:
I just couldn’t believe that there was any sort of mistake going on right there,
and you knew that you shook the hand of every other person, and that somehow
there was a gap right here, but there were no gaps anywhere else, and no one
else got missed. So that, to me, really exemplified a space where I was like,
“Okay. Well, I’m the only Black person in this class. Everyone else is White.”
So, I think that was probably what happened right there. I can’t think of
anything else that was even any more blatant in my mind than that.
Participants also reported encountering blatant discrimination via an anony-
mous social media platform called Yik Yak. Yik Yak allowed for anonymous
posting and it was geographically restricted such that posts could only be viewed
within a 5-mile radius. Consequently, posts seen on Yik Yak were most likely
from fellow students at one’s university. Participants mentioned that Black stu-
dents were referred to as monkeys and as stupid in these posts. Students reported
that seeing racist posts from users who were likely to be fellow students was
particularly distressing. Teresa recalled feeling “hurt and confused and sur-
prised” when she saw racist comments being liked by so many people:
I’m thinking that there are only a few people that feel this way, but then you get
on Yik Yak and see all these comments and things that aren’t funny. They’re
just downright racist and prejudice and discriminatory. It’s [The upvotes/likes
are] going up by the second, and you’re just like, “What?” And then that sort of
made me, for a minute there, question all the—this is bad but—White people I
know. This is anonymous. I don’t know who said this. This could be someone
who I thought was a close friend, and this is how they really feel.
Other students expressed similar feelings about how the anonymity of Yik Yak
made them unsure of who they could trust, perceive that “many people secretly
hate you just because of the color of your skin,” and question “every person
that’s not a person of color. It’s like, ‘were you the person that said that? Would
you ever say that if I wasn’t around? . . . What do you do when your friends
say that?’” Nadia, Felicia’s mentor and an academic advisor at the PWI,
underscored why she believed experiencing racism on Yik Yak could be par-
ticularly difficult for students attending the PWI away from home:
Griffith et al. 13
You don’t really have to think about race in the same kind of way when you’re
in high school. Because even if you’re in a multicultural space, when you go
home to your dwelling place, everybody looks like you, or at the very least they
belong to you. And so you have a similar, shared set of values. But now they’re
like: I’m going back home to my dorm and I don’t know if the person on Yik
Yak is the person who lives next door . . . I think people start, again, just feeling
like where is my—where is my safe space?
Veronica captured how race-related stressors can affect Black students
when reflecting on the toll these cumulative experiences had on her college
I didn’t come to school for this. I came to school to learn and do really well. I
didn’t come to school to have to always think about racism or am I safe on
campus or why did I get rejected from that party when all my friends got to go
in or why did they ignore me? Is it because I’m—you know what I mean? Or
why did the professor ask me this question? Or because I got into this honors
program and I’m the only Black person, I have to perform well and it’s just
things like that.
Overall, students reported that cumulative race-related stressors caused them
to feel anxious, hopeless, excluded, irritated, and outraged.
Coping Responses to Race-Related Stressors
When asked how they dealt with discriminatory experiences, students
described a sequenced set of coping responses. These strategies included pro-
cessing the event (n = 8), selectively seeking support (n = 11), working harder
and persisting (n = 9), and educating their White peers (n = 5). Notably, men-
tors’ advice to students overlapped greatly with the coping strategies students
reported employing.
Processing the event. Many students reported that the first thing they did after
experiencing a race-related stressor was to process the event on their own.
Processing involved “replaying a situation that might have occurred,” “work-
ing through it,” or “writing about it.” Many natural mentors communicated to
students that it was important to process a situation by remaining calm and
“not being emotional right away.” Students described processing prior to
seeking support or closely coupling the strategy with support seeking. Domi-
nick said, “I go through what I call a vetting process first, where I go home
and I’m thinking it through, before I actually verbalize a lot of this stuff.”
Vanessa explained that she would first address the emotional part of an
14 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
experience by not acting on the emotion and then she would talk to others.
Christina reported, “I mostly just take the time to process it in my head before
talking to anybody.” This aligned with what Christina’s natural mentor,
Yvonne, said she encouraged: be calm and “think objectively and logically
before giving into your emotions.”
Selectively seeking support. Many reported that after processing the event on
their own, they selectively sought out others with whom they had a supportive
relationship to discuss the event. They reported that talking to others helped
them process the experience, validated their interpretation of the event as dis-
criminatory, validated their emotional response to the experience, provided a
sounding board, and helped them cope when they were exhausted. Sean’s natu-
ral mentor, Monica, described how Sean would discuss questions with her like,
“Is it I’m not good enough, or am I being racially profiled? Or is somebody
stereotyping me in class?” Natalie, Dominick’s mentor, believed Dominick
confided in her when he felt “certain perspectives or opinions were marginal-
ized or not included in class” because she could “validate his opinions.”
Students reported selectively choosing to confide in those who they
thought could understand their experiences. This was based on the person
sharing a marginalized racial/ethnic identity, their outlook and values, or
knowledge of the types of experiences the person went through. Students
often confided in those who identified as Black or another racial/ethnic
minority which allowed for a shared understanding. Felicia reported feeling
comfortable talking about race with Nadia, her mentor, because they had
similar experiences as Black females. She reported confiding in Nadia rather
than her mother because her mother did not have as much background on “the
social construct of racism” to help her process her experiences in a broader
context. Although students nominated mentors with whom they discussed
race for this study, students varied in the degree in which they discussed race-
related stress at the PWI with them. Two students said they did not tell their
mentors about some discriminatory experiences because they wanted to pro-
tect them, stating they did not want to “heavy her heart” or “depress them.”
Students reported utilizing a network of natural mentors and friends who
provided support in response to race-related stressors, indicating that they
were intentional about not always going to the same person. Other identified
sources of support included reading groups, student organizations, and the
university’s African American affairs office. Students could tap into these
groups as “a safe space for us to talk about all of those things,” an “open free
space, that even if they don’t agree with you, there’s that place for dialogue,”
and a place to “express my feelings towards things.” Natural mentors affili-
ated with the university frequently encouraged students to utilize resources
Griffith et al. 15
designed to support Black students’ success at the PWI. Monica encouraged
Sean to visit staff at the African American affairs office even before he came
to her to discuss any race-related stressors to “just let them know who you
are” because “you might need them in the future.” Serena felt that her mentor,
Tonya, introducing her to the African American affairs office was “one of the
most influential things” during her time at the PWI. Kim connected Veronica
to Black parties, events on campus, and a local Black church because she
wanted to ensure that Veronica’s college experience would not be isolating.
Thus, some natural mentors were instrumental in connecting students to sup-
portive resources that among other things could provide a safe space to cope
with race-related stressors.
Working harder and persisting despite discrimination. For many students,
actively working harder in academic spaces and persisting was a strategy that
they reported employing in response to race-related stressors. Teresa reported
working harder in classes because “it’s just a motivator to be successful to
shut people up.” She explained that through working harder she could show
others “I’m here, too, and it’s not because I’m Black. It’s because I’m intel-
ligent. And I know I can graduate and get just as good of grades and just as
good a job as anyone else in this school can.” Similarly, Serena reflected on
how she reframed experiences of race-related stress in class groups:
I try to turn them [the experiences] to the positive, so use it as almost motivation.
So when my group members thought that I couldn’t do certain things, basically
proving them wrong in various situations. But then also keeping in the back of
my head that I probably won’t be friends with these people when I leave.
While Serena reported being able to reframe her experiences to a certain
point to be motivating, it is also noteworthy that her comments are tied to
reminding herself that she does not have a strong connection with her group
members. This highlights one way in which this strategy may take a toll on
students. Serena’s natural mentor, Tonya, reflected on how her personal use
of this strategy affected her well-being. She stated that she constantly felt “an
extra pressure and not just to do well but to do better.” She found this constant
extra pressure was stressful. Although others did not explicitly state this,
some reported that “if I’m in a group of people, I kind of have to prove that
I’m not dumb because of my race” and that it “is tough” to have to “work
harder than everyone else to prove that I am worthy of being there.” Despite
the potential negative consequences associated with this coping strategy,
working hard to disprove negative stereotypes was a strategy that was encour-
aged by many natural mentors and employed by many students.
16 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
In addition to working harder, natural mentors advised students to perse-
vere toward their goals in spite of race-related stressors. Jermaine described
his natural mentor saying, “These things are going to happen in life. Consider
them hurdles” to overcome. Lisa described advice that her natural mentor
gave her, “You’re at [the university] for a reason. Focus on school. Focus on
what you want to do when you grow up, and you’ll get there either way, with
or without the stigma.” Nadia, Felicia’s mentor, commented that she advised
Black students who were upset about racist comments on Yik Yak to persist
rather than get frustrated, distracted, and angry by the comments “because
otherwise, you’re the one who is taken away from the work you actually
came here to do.” Thus, several natural mentors encouraged students to stay
focused on school and not allow race-related stressors to detract from their
academic performance.
Educating White peers. Students also reported dealing with race-related stress-
ors by attempting to educate their White peers, driven by a philosophy that “if
I just talk to Black people about it, we’ll talk about it to ourselves and then
we’ll be angry and then nothing will happen.” Students often focused on
educating peers who were friends, some said they focused on those who
seemed to be open to learning, and some said they seized opportunities dur-
ing class. Students reported a variety of intentions in regard to educating their
White peers including increasing their White peers’ self-awareness and hav-
ing a ripple effect on society. For example, when encountering racism from
friends, Felicia counted to 10 and then fulfilled what she called her “duty to
educate,” explaining,
I can’t change what society’s impression of me is, however, I can make small
changes by confronting my peers and those whom I see every day. I feel like
eventually if it does click then they can have the courage to tell other people. It
honestly has more value when the majority says it because White people ain’t
going to listen to Black people. They’re like, “Oh, they’re always talking about
race. Everything isn’t about race.” . . . Honestly, White people are not going to
listen to Black people because they think we’re complaining all the time.
They’re going to listen to people who are like them.
Although Felicia got tired of constantly educating friends, she said it was
critical to do so.
Jermaine also felt it was critical to educate his White peers: “because I
don’t think you can ever improve a situation just by speaking to the people
who are harmed by it. You have to speak to the people who are also in a posi-
tion to do the harming.” As part of a White fraternity, Jermaine recalled
Griffith et al. 17
educating his fraternity brothers in charge of entry into a party after watching
them turn away groups of racially diverse women while letting in groups of
White women. He asked why they let some groups in and not others, chal-
lenged reasons given, and explained, “what you consider to be beautiful is
not what everyone else considers to be beautiful.” Although he did not call
them racist, he said,
It was implied, and they’re not stupid. So, they felt—they understood that that’s
what I was saying, but they also understood that I was not saying it just from a
point of hatefulness or from wanting to belittle them. It was more so that I want
them to rise to a greater point of excellence in how they deal with other people.
Although coping with race-related stressors by educating White people was
something Jermaine reported having a lot of experience with, Dominick
reported this as a new way he dealt with race-related stressors. Previously, he
would not speak up because he did not want White people to feel guilty, but
he reported now seeing value in this process:
I’m so over the coddling effect of, so that people feel better. I’m like, well,
maybe the effect of you not feeling good might actually produce something.
Like, maybe not feeling—maybe you do need to be challenged if you feel bad
when I bring up a racial issue. Maybe there’s something deeper that you’re not
exploring, and you’re not self-aware.
Dominick said he was now seeing the benefit of educating his White peers
instead of remaining quiet to minimize feelings of guilt. He reported that this
new approach reduced his fear of raising an issue, helped him determine the
best time to raise it, and improved his ability to verbalize it. Although fewer
students reported this coping strategy, it appeared to be important for those
who did report it because they believed it actively reduced race-related
This study was undertaken to better understand the race-related stressors
Black students experienced at their PWI and identify strategies they used for
coping with race-related stress, with attention to the role of natural mentors
in the coping process. Analyses of interviews with Black students and their
mentors indicated Black students experienced a continuum of race-related
stressors ranging from heightened awareness of negative stereotypes about
Blacks to experiences with blatant racial discrimination. Rather than being
18 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
experienced as isolated, students’ responses indicated these race-related
stressors felt interconnected and cumulative in a way that profoundly affected
their college experience.
Across the race-related stressors reported was the feeling of “onlyness,”
which refers to the burden of navigating a racially politicized space with few
others from one’s own racial/ethnic group (Harper et al., 2011). It is likely
that being one of few Black students is what triggered or, at minimum, exac-
erbated students’ awareness of negative stereotypes that out-group members
hold toward Blacks. These concerns also were likely fostered and maintained
via frequent exposure to unintentional racial insults and blatant discrimina-
tion that seemed to confirm students’ fears that at least some people at their
PWI viewed them as inferior. In addition to fueling psychological distress,
students and natural mentors described how race-related stressors communi-
cated to students that they did not belong at the PWI. In fact, race-related
stressors often pushed students to the margins as they were not welcomed in
physical or virtual academic or social spaces.
Participants’ responses reflected how the rise of social media has added a
new dimension to the marginalization and discrimination Black students
experience at many institutions of higher education (Tynes, Rose, & Markoe,
2013). Racist comments are now displayed for all to see on a variety of social
media forums. In this study, participants indicated how anonymous posts on
social media caused them to be suspicious of their White peers (even their
friends), and natural mentors discussed how the omnipresence of social
media undermined Black students’ sense of belonging on campus and left
them feeling as though there were few spaces where they could go to escape
race-related stressors.
In regard to students’ coping responses to race-related stressors, our find-
ings suggest not only that students employed a myriad of coping responses,
but that there may also be a sequenced approach to their implementation.
Participants mentioned first processing the event individually and then selec-
tively seeking social support. Some then also implemented a behavioral strat-
egy such as working harder to disprove negative stereotypes. As many coping
strategies employed by students overlapped with messages imparted by men-
tors, we surmise that this staged coping approach was one students learned
from natural mentors. This is noteworthy for several reasons. First, this indi-
cates an intergenerational commitment to resilience in the face of race-related
stressors. Specifically, it appears that individuals cultivate patterns of
responding to race-related stressors within an age cohort and then pass these
strategies down to the next generation. Second, our findings may suggest that
the Black community, as a collective, has been successful in identifying strat-
egies and broadly transferring them across generations (suggesting a
Griffith et al. 19
communal commitment to socialization of the next generation). Although
some of these coping responses may be unique to the specific setting (i.e.,
PWI), many of these responses likely transfer to other predominantly White
spaces where Blacks must contend simultaneously with a racially politicized
environment and underrepresentation (Harper, 2013). Finally, this coping
approach reflects intentionality in regard to selectively employing resources
so as to not overburden any one individual member of the community. By
first, processing the event on one’s own and then, carefully selecting others
(often just a few people and frequently not the same person every time) with
whom to discuss the event, Black students were being careful to not overbur-
den themselves or others. When considering the ramifications of these indi-
vidual choices on the broader Black community, it is clear that the level of
resourcefulness displayed in the coping process may be a contributor to the
overall resilience of the Black community in dealing with a barrage of chronic
race-related stressors (Keyes, 2009).
Moreover, many natural mentors advised students of coping responses
even before students had experienced race-related stressors. Natural mentors
were key in connecting Black students to specific resources that, among other
things, could serve as safe havens and spaces where Black students could
receive additional support in the context of experiencing race-related stress-
ors. Although natural mentors who were affiliated with the institution were
slightly better positioned to support students, those outside of the PWI also
played a role in the coping process. Consistent with previous research, the
natural mentors with whom students discussed race-related stressors were
also Black (Wittrup et al., 2016), and many students commented on the
importance of a shared experience when identifying individuals who could
provide support in the context of race-related stressors. Black students felt
that individuals who did not possess a shared understanding of race-related
stressors, particularly those that may be unique to the PWI setting, would not
be able to provide the support students needed. This finding is consistent with
research that has noted the unique benefits of support specific to race-related
stressors as opposed to benefits of more general support in mitigating the
noxious effects of racial discrimination on mental health (Seawell, Cutrona,
& Russell, 2014).
Although students reported they were continuing to do well academically,
they also reported experiencing distress as a consequence of race-related stress-
ors. Consistent with previous research (Harper, 2013; Moore et al., 2003), the
primary behavioral strategy reported for coping with race-related stressors was
working hard to disprove negative stereotypes and persisting in the face of dis-
crimination (i.e., not allowing race-related stressors to detract from one’s aca-
demic performance). Although our findings indicate students were coping in
20 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
ways that made them resilient academically, we heed McGee and Stovall’s
(2015) caution that rather than praising students for their “grit,” we must con-
sider the potential negative psychosocial impact that may be associated with this
coping strategy. That is to say that even if this strategy yields academic success,
it also may be associated with a psychological and physical toll on students’
well-being. McGee (2015) notes that responding to negative stereotypes in this
way can not only be motivating but also psychologically distressing by fostering
anxiety and a compulsive work ethic. Smith and colleagues (2007) discuss how
sustained, high-effort coping with negative race-related stressors encountered in
racially hostile spaces may yield cognitive, emotional, and physical exhaustion
(i.e., racial battle fatigue). In fact, coping characterized by determination to suc-
ceed by working harder in the context of stressors (i.e., John Henryism; James,
1994) has been associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes
among Black Americans over time (Bennett et al., 2004).
An additional behavioral strategy students reported was attempting to
educate their White peers on issues of race. Students and natural mentors
discussed how this could be a fruitful strategy as it may result in more tan-
gible consequences such as reducing the student’s individual exposure to
race-related stressors (particularly if the White peers were one’s friends or
classmates) and having a domino effect such that Whites could educate other
Whites and ultimately improve the racial climate at the PWI. Students who
engaged in this strategy reported it required skill and careful attention to the
types of messages that may be best received by their White peers. They also
noted a sense of responsibility for managing both their own and their White
peers’ emotions in these interactions, with several commenting on their
awareness that White students may make offensive remarks without mali-
cious intentions and others noting that they did not want to cause their White
peers to feel guilty. Although this strategy may ultimately lead to changes in
White students’ actions, it is worth noting that this coping strategy also may
increase the burden placed on Black students experiencing race-related
stressors at PWIs. In other words, Black students not only have to manage
their own emotions related to these interactions, but they also are charging
themselves with the responsibility of managing the emotions of their White
peers as they educate them. Of course, in the absence of institutional efforts
to reduce race-related stressors at PWIs, it is not surprising that Black stu-
dents may see this as their only viable option to affect institutional change.
Study Limitations and Implications
This study sought to document Black students’ experiences with race-related
stressors at a PWI and their coping responses, with particular interest in the
Griffith et al. 21
role of natural mentors in the coping process. We interviewed more senior
undergraduate students as we expected they would have more experiences
with race-related stressors at the PWI; however, this sampling approach lim-
its our ability to understand the experiences of students facing race-related
stressors immediately upon arrival at the PWI and omits students who may
have dropped out or transferred to another school as a result of race-related
stressors. Thus, our finding in regard to persisting in the face of these stress-
ors may be unique to our sample of more senior students. In addition, stu-
dents were only eligible for our study if they had a natural mentor with whom
they discussed race, restricting our sample to those who may be more likely
to utilize supportive figures to cope with race-related stress. Although we
obtained rich and informative data, our small sample size limited our ability
to reach a point of theoretical saturation or examine varying interpretations of
discriminatory experiences linked to different identities (e.g., second genera-
tion immigrants, gender, etc.). Yet, the patterns that emerged across these
diverse students who identified as Black can serve as a foundation for future
research. Future studies that employ a larger and more diverse (e.g., more
junior undergraduate students, students who do not possess natural mentors
with whom they discuss race) sample across PWIs are needed to document
whether these patterns exist more broadly.
We agree with McGee and Stovall’s (2015) assertion that “the conse-
quences of racial discrimination cannot be fully mitigated by well-estab-
lished coping strategies, and that only the eradication of racism will
alleviate race-related stress for African Americans and other historically
racialized populations” (p. 501). Beyond a moral obligation colleges have
to promote the safety and well-being of all of their students, institutions of
higher education should consider how creating a more inclusive environ-
ment will also promote increased academic excellence. Considering the
academic success that the students in this study reported experiencing in the
face of racial stressors, one can only imagine the greatness these students
would achieve if these barriers were removed. Indeed, institutional efforts
to reduce discrimination and promote a more inclusive campus environ-
ment are desperately needed (Hurtado, Alvarez, Guillermo-Wann, Cuellar,
& Arellano, 2012). Although natural mentors can help students navigate
race-related stressors, inarguably their efforts would be better served if they
could focus on enhancing students’ academic success without also contend-
ing with a hostile racial climate.
Authors’ Note
All three authors made equal contributions to this manuscript. Aisha N. Griffith is
now affiliated to University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, USA.
22 Journal of Adolescent Research 00(0)
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was funded through a
National Science Foundation CHARGE Enhancement Grant awarded by the
University of Virginia to the second and third authors. The writing of this article was
supported in part by a postdoctoral fellowship through the National Academy of
Education and Spencer Foundation as well as a William T. Grant Foundation Scholar
Award to the second author and a William T. Grant Scholar Foundation Mentoring
Award to the first and second authors.
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of Diversity in Higher Education, 6, 102-114. doi:10.1037/a0033267
Wittrup, A., Hussain, S., Albright, J., Hurd, N. M., Varner, F., & Mattis, J. (2016).
Natural mentors, racial pride, and academic engagement among Black adoles-
cents: A study of resilience in the context of perceived discrimination. Youth &
Society, 1-21. doi:10.1177/0044118X16680546
Author Biographies
Aisha N. Griffith is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational
Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on the devel-
opment and function of supportive relationships between adolescents and nonparental
adults within youth-serving contexts. She is particularly interested in the role of trust
within youth-adult relationships.
Noelle M. Hurd is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the
University of Virginia. Her research interests include processes of risk and resilience
among marginalized youth. She is particularly interested in the role of supportive
intergenerational relationships between adolescents and nonparental adults in foster-
ing resilience.
Saida B. Hussain is a policy analyst for the United States Government Accountability
Office. She received her PhD in community psychology from the Department of
Psychology at the University of Virginia in 2016. She is interested in race-related
experiences among racial and ethnic minorities and the role of supportive relation-
ships with nonparental adults in facilitating racial and ethnic identity development
among adolescents of color.
... Numerous studies have revealed the unique experiences and stressors that minority students face attending predominantly white institutions. [16][17][18] Therefore, the primary objective of this study is to investigate whether the severity of impostor syndrome among UiM students varies as a function of their institutional contexts relative to their non-UiM peers. In this study we investigate differences in impostor syndrome among UiM students and non UiM students at two medical schools, a historically Black medical school (HBCU) and a medical school at a predominantly white institution (PWI). ...
Objectives: Impostor syndrome (IS) is prevalent in medical professionals. However, little is known about the prevalence of IS among medical trainees and those who are underrepresented in medicine (UiM). Even less is known about the experiences of UiM students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and historically black colleges/universities (HBCUs) relative to their non-UiM peers. The purpose of this study is to investigate differences in impostor syndrome among UiM and non-UiM medical students at a PWI and a HBCU. We additionally explored gender differences in impostor syndrome among UiM and non-UiM students at both institutions. Method: Medical students (N = 278) at a PWI (N = 183, 107 (59%) women) and a HBCU (N = 95, 60 (63%) women), completed an anonymous, online two-part survey. In part one, students provided demographic information, and in part two, students completed the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale, a 20-item self-report questionnaire that assessed feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt surrounding intelligence, success, achievements, and one's inability to accept praise/recognition. Based on the student's score, the level of IS was measured and placed into one of two levels: few/moderate IS feelings, or frequent/intense IS feelings. We conducted a series of chi-square tests, binary logistic regression, independent sample t-tests, and analysis of variance to test the main aim of the study. Results: The response rate was 22% and 25% at the PWI and HBCU, respectively. Overall, 97% of students reported moderate to intense feelings of IS, and women were 1.7 times more likely than men to report frequent or intense feelings of IS (63.5% vs 50.5%, p = 0.03). Students at PWI were 2.7 times more likely to report frequent or intense IS than HBCU students (66.7% vs 42.1%, p< 0.01). In addition, UiM students at PWI were 3.0 times more likely to report frequent or intense IS compared to UiM students at HBCU (68.6 % vs 42.0%, p = 0.01). Computation of a three-way ANOVA with gender, minority status, and school type revealed a two-way interaction indicating that UiM women scored higher on impostor syndrome than UiM men at the PWI and HBCU. This trend was not observed among non-UiM students. Conclusions: Impostor syndrome is informed by gender, UiM status, as well as environmental context. Efforts to provide supportive professional development for medical students should be directed towards understanding and combatting this phenomenon at this critical juncture of their medical career.
... In a similar spirit, while children are in school, they are subjected to a great deal of pressure to do well academically. A lot of the events that occurred at school and included students were reactions to the load of thoughts and sentiments that students had concerning topics that were regarded in a bad manner [15]. These reactions included kids acting out as a result of the occurrences that took place at school. ...
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The pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus has had a significant influence on developments across all spheres of human existence, but particularly in the intellectual sphere. The transition from traditional classroom instruction to instruction delivered both online and offline presents students with a significant adjustment barrier. As a result of this, there is a need for psychoeducation as a kind of reinforcement in order to adjust to a new learning style. This research was conducted with the intention of determining whether or not students benefit from receiving psychoeducation on learning methods and stress management techniques while they are studying during a pandemic. By contrasting the groups of students who get psychoeducation with the groups of students who do not receive psychoeducation, the purpose of this research is to test the hypothesis that there is an impact of psychoeducation on the levels of stress and student learning management. Both an experimental group of students who were given psychoeducation and a control group of students who were not given any psychoeducational interventions were considered to be participants in the psychoeducation. In this study, the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test served as the quantitative research technique that was used.
... It may also explain some of the mixed findings in the literature regarding the impact of racial socialization more broadly. Although endorsement of racial stereotypes within Black families has received limited attention in the literature (Mouzon & McLean, 2017), the evidence demonstrates that racial stereotypes in general are harmful to Black people (Eberhardt et al., 2006;Griffith et al., 2019;Legewie, 2016;Smedley et al., 2009;Steele, 1997;Wyatt et al., 2003). As such, they are likely to have a harmful impact when they come from parents. ...
Critical action—defined as actions and behaviors aimed at disrupting systems of oppression—is a developmental asset for Black and Latinx youth. Over the past two decades, research on Black and Latinx youth’s critical action has proliferated, particularly with respect to the development of quantitative measures. In this chapter, we review current conceptualizations and measures of critical action. We then highlight potential barriers (e.g., citizenship status) and facilitators (e.g., ethnic-racial identity) of critical action for Black and Latinx youth, with special consideration of differences during childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Our review reveals the need for further measurement development that accounts for (1) experiences unique to specific ethnic-racial groups, (2) a wider spectrum of critical action, and (3) intention, frequency, and risk of critical action. We also assert that future research should consider how various contextual and demographic factors impact critical action across the lifespan. We conclude with recommendations for research on Black and Latinx youth’s critical action.KeywordsCritical actionBlack youthLatinx youthMeasurementRacismSociopolitical development
... It may also explain some of the mixed findings in the literature regarding the impact of racial socialization more broadly. Although endorsement of racial stereotypes within Black families has received limited attention in the literature (Mouzon & McLean, 2017), the evidence demonstrates that racial stereotypes in general are harmful to Black people (Eberhardt et al., 2006;Griffith et al., 2019;Legewie, 2016;Smedley et al., 2009;Steele, 1997;Wyatt et al., 2003). As such, they are likely to have a harmful impact when they come from parents. ...
This chapter applies critical multiracial theory to advance the conceptualization and measurement of multiracial experiences and identity in developmental science. We aim to illustrate the complexity in how multiracials navigate, negotiate, and challenge (mono)racism and white supremacy in the United States. First, we investigate the historic exclusion and invisibility of multiracials in developmental science, as well as how multiracials complicate traditional understandings of racism, racial formation, and racial identity. Next, we review past and present approaches taken to study the theory and measurement of multiracial experiences and identity. In addition, we introduce a new Model of Multiracial Racialization that situates multiracial racialization experiences (including racial identity, racial identification, and racial category) within six ecological levels: (1) Individual Characteristics; (2) Interpersonal Experiences; (3) Contextual Factors; (4) Social, Economic, and Political Environments; (5) Systems of Oppression; and (6) Time. Finally, we offer specific examples of research topics and questions that attend to each level of our model with the hope of stimulating future research and advancing our developmental science understanding of multiraciality.KeywordsMultiracial Racial identity Multiracial racialization Racial formation Critical race theory
... It may also explain some of the mixed findings in the literature regarding the impact of racial socialization more broadly. Although endorsement of racial stereotypes within Black families has received limited attention in the literature (Mouzon & McLean, 2017), the evidence demonstrates that racial stereotypes in general are harmful to Black people (Eberhardt et al., 2006;Griffith et al., 2019;Legewie, 2016;Smedley et al., 2009;Steele, 1997;Wyatt et al., 2003). As such, they are likely to have a harmful impact when they come from parents. ...
Children, youth, and families who are displaced from or voluntarily leave their homelands, such as refugees, migrant workers, third culture children and adults, international students and scholars, and transnational adoptees, are largely overlooked in developmental science. Based on their unique migration histories, they experience mixed feelings about their real or imagined homelands, different forms of discrimination and racism, and challenges to developing a sense of place and belonging in hostlands across generations. In this chapter, we provide a conceptual lens to understand how diaspora as a social and psychological phenomenon can affect different domains of human development (e.g., acculturation, parent-child relationships, ethnic-racial identity development, and ethnic-racial socialization) and highlight correlates and consequences of the diaspora experience (e.g., discrimination, health, and well-being). We present a person-level perspective that attends to the diversity of lived experiences for diasporic individuals and families, positioned within specific sociohistorical contexts and structural forces of racism, classism, and sexism. Throughout this chapter, we also situate ourselves as authors from unique diaspora communities. We conclude with recommendations for how to best study this growing but overlooked population.KeywordsDiasporaImmigrant communitiesIndividual differencesAcculturationEthnic-racial identityEthnic-racial socialization
... For instance, students from historically underrepresented groups experience lower levels of belongingness, negative self-perceptions about their fit and abilities, and ongoing experiences with a hostile institutional environment (Chen, 2009;Hurtado & Ruiz, 2012;Johnson, 2012). These students also report regular and persistent experiences with stereotype threat, discrimination, bias, and microaggressions in STEM environments (Beasley & Fischer, 2012;Griffith et al., 2019;Rainey et al., 2018). For STEM students of color, a sense of belonging can be integral to success (Mondisa & McComb, 2015) along with social support and safe social spaces or counterspaces (Ong et al., 2018;Williams et al., 2017). ...
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To promote diversity in the STEM workforce, undergraduate research training programs incorporating a variety of intervention strategies have been developed to support students from historically underrepresented backgrounds in overcoming numerous systemic barriers to pursuing careers in science. However, relatively little research has focused on how students experience and value these interventions and the ways in which the interventions support student success. The current study analyzed qualitative interviews from participants (n = 15) in a comprehensive research training program for undergraduates historically underrepresented in biomedical research to investigate the student perspective on how specific program components address barriers and support their research training, academic progress, and career preparation. Findings indicated that students benefit from authentic research experiences, mentoring, supplemental curriculum, financial assistance, and a supportive program environment. Participants described how the program helped them address financial concerns, navigate academic and career choices, build science identity and efficacy, and feel a sense of belonging within a caring community. The study highlights how multi-faceted research training programs offering a variety of supports can contribute to student retention and development according to the needs and circumstances of individual students.
Introduction: Black students attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs) versus historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) report more harmful discrimination and develop worse mental health outcomes, potentially offsetting the established benefits of college for lowering dementia incidence. Methods: Black participants in two cohorts (the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences [KHANDLE] and the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans [STAR]) who had attended college (N = 716) self-reported the college name (classified as HBCU vs. PWI) and completed three waves of executive function (EF) and verbal episodic memory (VEM) assessments. HBCU effects on cognitive level and decline were estimated using adjusted linear mixed-effects models. Results: HBCU (vs. PWI) attendees averaged better EF (β = 0.05 [-0.22, 0.32]) and VEM (β = 0.21 [-0.06, 0.46]) at age 70 though neither association was statistically significant. HBCU attendance was associated with slightly faster VEM decline (β = -0.03 [-0.05, 0.00]). Discussion: Harmonized analyses with larger studies are needed to estimate important effects of HBCU attendance. Highlights: Higher education is robustly linked to lower dementia risk, yet Black-White inequities persist among college-educated adults. Black students attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs) versus historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) report more harmful discrimination and develop worse mental health outcomes, which may offset the established benefits of college for lowering dementia incidence. HBCU (vs. non-HBCU) attendees averaged better executive function and verbal episodic memory (VEM) at average age 70, though confidence intervals were wide and associations were not statistically significant, and averaged slightly faster decline in VEM. Harmonized analyses using larger nationally representative studies are likely needed to avoid underestimating the health effects of HBCU attendance.
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Racial socialization research emerged in opposition to the corpus of theories and studies that failed to include youth of color in research conceptualization and research designs. Informed by 12 years of observational research, I present the Theory of Racial Socialization in Action (TRSA). I present a conceptual framework for the TRSA and describe the evidence that undergirds its four theoretical assumptions. This chapter also describes the ways the TRSA complements and extends both foundational and newer theories in racial socialization theory. This chapter also describes the development of the Racial Socialization Observational Task and Coding System (RSOTCS), a measurement tool designed to assess observed race-related communication for use with African American adolescents and their families. This chapter concludes with a discussion of the applications of the TRSA and the RSOTCS to families of different racial-ethnic backgrounds. Suggestions for adapting the RSOTCS for use with families of different racial-ethnic backgrounds are provided in this chapter.KeywordsRacial socializationTheoryAdolescentsParentingAfrican American familiesZone of proximal developmentObservational methods
Social work education is considered an important venue for advancing the field’s commitment to anti-racism. This research employed collective autobiographical methods within a Critical Race Theory framework to explore Black social work students’ experiences of anti-Black racism in the learning environment of a Predominantly White Institution. Data was analyzed through a collaborative, inductive approach. Analysis revealed four interrelated themes: 1) racial microaggressions directed at Black students; 2) the perceived complicity of school administration in maintaining a racist environment; 3) the harm that an anti-Black racist learning environment caused to Black students; and 4) a relational approach to challenging anti-Black racism in the learning environment. Findings underscore the need for increased attention to racism in the implicit social work curriculum.
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At some point most Black and Latino/a college students—even long-term high achievers—question their own abilities because of multiple forms of racial bias. The 38 high-achieving Black and Latino/a STEM study participants, who attended institutions with racially hostile academic spaces, deployed an arsenal of strategies (e.g., stereotype management) to deflect stereotyping and other racial assaults (e.g., racial microaggressions), which are particularly prevalent in STEM fields. These students rely heavily on coping strategies that alter their authentic racial identities but create internal turmoil. Institutions of higher education, including minority-serving schools, need to examine institutional racism and other structural barriers that damage the racial identities of Black and Latino/a students in STEM and cause lasting psychological strain.
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In recent years, the study of racial microaggressions (or subtle forms of racial discrimination) has increased significantly in the social sciences, particularly highlighting the negative impact of racial microaggressions on individuals’ mental health. Despite this, there is a dearth of literature that has examined the relationship between racial microaggressions and physical and psychological health. Using two self-reported measures—the Racial and Ethnic Microaggressions Scale (REMS) and the RAND 36-Item Short Form Health Survey—with a diverse group of participants (N = 277), results suggest that racial microaggressions are significantly correlated with poorer health conditions. Furthermore, racial microaggressions were found to predict various types of physical health conditions, such as general health problems, pain, lower energy levels, and fatigue. Finally, different types of microaggressions (e.g., microaggressions in school or the workplace, environmental microaggressions) were found to be predictors of specific health issues. Implications for social work are discussed.
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The current study examined the potential of relational closeness in the natural mentoring relationships (NMRs) of Black students to counter and protect against the noxious effects of school-based discrimination on academic engagement. The study sample included 663 Black students between the ages of 12 and 19 (M = 14.96 years, SD = 1.81 years), all reporting a natural mentor. Approximately half of participants were female (53%). Participants were recruited from three different school districts in a Midwestern metropolitan area. Findings indicated that perceived school-based discrimination was negatively associated with academic engagement. Relational closeness in NMRs countered, but did not protect against, the negative effects of perceived school-based discrimination on students’ academic engagement. Additional analyses indicated that one mechanism through which relational closeness in NMRs may promote greater academic engagement among Black students is via increased racial pride. Results highlight the potential of NMRs to counter messages of inferiority communicated through discriminatory experiences in the school. Fostering relational closeness between Black students and supportive non-parental adults in their lives may be an effective strategy to boost academic achievement among Black youth experiencing discrimination in the school environment. In addition to fostering stronger bonds with natural mentors, strategic efforts to reduce school-based discrimination are needed to truly bolster the academic success of Black youth.
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I introduce the construct of fragile and robust identities for the purpose of exploring the experiences that influenced the mathematical and racial identities of high-achieving Black college students in mathematics and engineering. These students maintained high levels of academic achievement in these fields while enduring marginalization, stereotyping, and other forms of racialization. Their fragile mathematical identities were manifested in the way they were motivated to achieve in order to prove false the negative expectations of others. Their robust mathematical identities were characterized by an evolving sense of self-efficacy and discovery, a growing affinity and passion for mathematics, and a desire to be a mathematically inspiring role model. Extending the work on identity development, I recommend more nuanced interpretations of the interplay of human development, racialized experiences, and distinctly race-related risk and protective factors that complicate mathematical identity formation for Black college students in mathematics and engineering fields.
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Long-standing theoretical education frameworks and methodologies have failed to provide space for the role mental health can play in mediating educational consequences. To illustrate the need for such space, Ebony McGee and David Stovall highlight the voices of black undergraduates they have served in the capacities of teacher, researcher, and mentor. Building from the theoretical contributions of intellectual giants like Frantz Fanon and W. E. B. Du Bois, the authors attempt to connect oppressive social systems to the psyche of the oppressed in a way that is relevant to black students. McGee and Stovall pose a challenge to the current research trend of attributing the survival of black students at traditionally white institutions primarily to grit, perseverance, and mental toughness, noting that research on the aforementioned qualities often fails to properly acknowledge multiple forms of suffering. Utilizing the lens of Critical Race Theory (CRT), the authors also challenge the construct of grit to consider the extent to which the mental health concerns of black students go undetected. Although critical race theorists have unmasked and attacked the racial trauma experienced at all levels of the educational system, the connection of CRT to mental health and wellness research is in its embryonic stages. For these reasons, McGee and Stovall argue that CRT scholars need to incorporate praxis to address mental health and wellness in order to address a fuller spectrum of black students' racialized worlds. Ultimately, they seek interdisciplinary perspectives that can help identify and foster strategies to support black students in the project and process of healing from multiple forms of racialized trauma they experience within and beyond their educational encounters.
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Racial microaggressions are subtle (often unintentional or unconscious) forms of racial discrimination that negatively affect victims’ mental health. Utilizing an undergraduate student sample (N = 225), the current study examined the relationship between racial microaggressions and self-esteem. Results indicate that racial microaggressions negatively predict a lower self-esteem, and that microaggressions that occur in educational and workplace environments are particularly harmful to self-esteem. Finally, findings reveal that individuals of various racial and ethnic minority groups experience racial microaggressions differently. Implications for student development and recommendations for further research involving racial microaggressions and college students are discussed.
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The current study tested whether relationships with natural mentors may have contributed to fewer internalizing symptoms and less substance use among emerging adults through improved perceptions of coping abilities and an increased sense of life purpose. In addition, the current study investigated whether natural mentor role (i.e., familial vs. nonfamilial mentor) and the amount of time spent together in shared activities influenced emerging adults' internalizing behaviors and substance use via coping and purpose. Participants in the current study included 3,334 emerging adults (mean age = 20.8, 48.6% female, 75.4% white) from diverse regions across the United States who participated in an online survey. Participants were recruited via an adapted Web version of Respondent-Driven Sampling (webRDS). Forty-two percent of participants reported a relationship with a natural mentor. Indirect relationships between natural mentor presence and emerging adults' mental health and substance use via coping and purpose were found. Additional analyses indicated that emerging adults may benefit more from relationships with nonfamilial natural mentors in comparison with familial natural mentors. Findings also suggested that the amount of time participants spent with their natural mentors in shared activities was related to participants' alcohol use. Implications of this study's findings and directions for future research are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
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We assessed whether perceived discrimination predicted changes in psychological distress and substance use over time and whether psychological distress and substance use predicted change in perceived discrimination over time. We also assessed whether associations between these constructs varied by gender. Our sample included 607 Black emerging adults (53% female) followed for 4 years. Participants reported the frequency with which they had experienced racial hassles during the past year, symptoms of anxiety and depression during the past week, and cigarette and alcohol use during the past 30 days. We estimated a series of latent growth models to test our study hypotheses. We found that the intercept of perceived discrimination predicted the linear slopes of anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, and alcohol use. We did not find any associations between the intercept factors of our mental health or substance use variables and the perceived discrimination linear slope factor. We found limited differences across paths by gender. Our findings suggest a temporal ordering in the associations among perceived racial discrimination, psychological distress, and alcohol use over time among emerging adults. Further, our findings suggest that perceived racial discrimination may be similarly harmful among men and women. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
Drawing from converging areas of scholarship in higher education on the diversity dynamics of an institution and its surrounding contexts, this chapter explores how different aspects of the institution—all of which are influenced by and contribute to the campus climate for diversity—play important roles in achieving student outcomes that also enhance social transformation for a just society. The authors present a model to guide research and practice in creating the conditions for student success in diverse learning environments.