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Adolescents’ Awareness of Racial Inequality in the Early Stages of Critical Reflection Development

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

As adolescents’ cognitive skills mature, their ability to understand social inequalities increases (Hope & Banales, 2018). In Critical Consciousness (CC) theory, the process of becoming aware of and acting against oppression is referred to as critical reflection (Deimer et al., 2016). Early adolescents maintain beliefs of a just society (Godfrey et al., 2017), but little research has investigated how these beliefs may change across adolescence. The purpose of this study was to assess adolescents’ perceptions of opportunity and of race differences in achievement-related outcomes.  
Participants were 63 tenth graders (13 African American, 20 Hispanic, 26 non-Hispanic White) from a rural high school in the southeastern U.S. serving mostly low-income families. Adolescents completed measures of perceived racial/ethnic inequality in opportunity and race/ethnic differences in education and income. Students reported their perceptions of race/ethnic differences in opportunity by rating agreement with three items (α =.86) regarding opportunity equality (e.g. Adults who are members of certain racial or ethnic groups have fewer chances than others to get good jobs in this country). To report perceptions of race/ethnic differences in outcomes, for each racial/ethnic group (Blacks, Whites, Hispanics) students selected how many out of a group of ten adults would achieve a certain outcome (e.g. Out of a group of 10 White adults, how many do you think graduated from college?). Items appear in Table 1. 
On average, students slightly disagreed with statements about racial/ethnic opportunity inequality (M = 3.14, SD = 1.31; 3 = slightly disagree).  However, repeated measures ANOVAs on race/ethnic difference scores showed that students reported significant group differences in achievement behaviors and outcomes. Adolescents rated Whites as more likely than Blacks and Hispanics to enroll in more advanced coursework, graduate high school, attend and graduate from college, and achieve a higher income, all p’s < .05. Students also reported higher suspension rates for Black students than for Whites and Hispanics (see Table 1).  
We also compared students’ estimates to national data for each outcome (see Table 2). Students tended to underestimate percentages of high school graduates and to overestimate all other academic behaviors. In their perceptions of racial/ethnic differences, on all items students accurately reported White students as the most likely to meet achievement goals, but least likely to be suspended.  
Adolescents’ responses to the race inequality measure accurately reflected race/ethnic differences as noted in national data. These findings show that they are beginning to notice how race plays a role in achievement outcomes. However, our results show that while adolescents recognize differences in outcomes, they do not attribute them to differences in opportunities. Although adolescents understand that White students are more likely to graduate from high school and college than students of color, they have yet to connect those outcomes back to racial disparities in opportunity. When discussing the process of critical reflection development, bridging the gap between noticing disparities and understanding the structural inequities driving them may be the next step for adolescents. 


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