Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

Navigating Racial/Ethnic Discrimination in Early Adolescence : Exploring Individual Strengths

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  • Racial/ethnic minority individuals are unable to escape the realities of everyday discrimination in the United States: at least 87% of African American adolescents and 50% of Hispanic/Latinx young adults report experiencing discrimination within the past year (Neblett, Rivas-Drake, & Umaña-Taylor, 2012; Pérez, Fortuna, & Alegria, 2008; Seaton, Caldwell, Sellers, & Jackson, 2008). Despite the many negative effects of discrimination (Alfaro et al., 2009; Benner & Graham, 2013; Borders & Liang, 2011; Borrell et al., 2006; DeGarmo & Greene et al., 2006; Hartshorn et al., 2012; Martinez, 2006; Seaton & Yip, 2009; Simons et al., 2003), some adolescents respond to discriminatory experiences through prosocial means such as engaging in community volunteering (Brittian et al. 2012; Davis et al., 2016; Flanagan et al., 2009; Lozada, Jagers, Smith, Bañales, & Hope, 2016). Individual and contextual factors can influence adolescents’ ability to positively adapt to discriminatory contexts (Brown & Tylka, 2011; DeGarmo & Martinez, 2006; Greene et al., 2006; Harris-Britt et al., 2007; Hope, Velez, Offidani-Bertrand, Keels, & Durkee 2017; Simons et al., 2006; Umaña-Taylor & Updegraff, 2007; Wong et al., 2003). Control beliefs (i.e. the expectations individuals have about whether they can obtain desired outcomes) and proactive coping (i.e. intentional behaviors that a person takes to improve self-esteem) might represent a few unexplored individual factors that explain why certain adolescents respond to discrimination through prosocial means. In general, strong control beliefs act as a buffer against adversity, for instance by moderating the associations between income and health/well-being and between stress and depression (Herman-Stahl & Petersen, 1999; Lachman & Weaver, 1998). Similarly, proactive coping protects individuals from declines in self-esteem when confronted with discrimination (Umana-Taylor, Vargas-Chanes, Garica, & Gonzales-Backen, 2008). When discrimination is viewed as a threat to self-esteem, stronger self-esteem control beliefs and proactive coping skills could therefore promote adaptive responses to discrimination such as prosociality. Discriminatory experiences vary across racial and ethnic lines, and although African American and Latinx individuals both experience high levels of discrimination in the U.S., their experiences might be fundamentally different (Rosenbloom & Way, 2004; Fisher, Wallace, & Fention, 2000; Greene et al., 2006; Phinney & Chavira, 1995; Romero & Roberts, 1998). The existing literature suggests the impact of discrimination is complex, meaning discrimination might affect individuals differentially depending on unique mitigating factors and, in turn, might have a catalytic effect on prosocial responses. Despite these initial findings, more research on the topic is warranted. The present study investigates the following research questions: 1. Does experiencing racial/ethnic discrimination predict short-term and long-term increases in prosociality among African American and Latinx early adolescents? 2. How do self-esteem control beliefs and proactive coping influence the association between experiencing racial/ethnic discrimination and subsequent prosociality? 3. Does race/ethnicity interact with discrimination to predict prosociality? To address these questions, I analyzed data from the 387 participants in Waves 6, 7, and 8 of the Chicago Trial of Positive Action who identified as African American (64.35%) or Latinx (35.65%). Data were collected at the beginning of 7th grade, end of 7th grade, and end of 8th grade (Agew6=12.38, S.D.=.55). Results indicated that experiencing at least one instance of discrimination leads to greater short-term prosocial behaviors. Discrimination did not predict any long-term increases in prosociality, however. Higher self-esteem control beliefs, but not proactive coping, strengthened the effect of discrimination on short-term increases in prosociality. Race/ethnicity interacted with discrimination to predict short-term increases in prosociality: African American adolescents reported significant increases in short-term prosociality after experiencing discrimination whereas Latinx adolescents did not. Future research should further investigate how to best foster individual strengths that promote prosocial responses to discrimination among racial/ethnic minority adolescents.  
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