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Middle and High School Racial Composition are associated with Perceived Racial Discrimination for Black Males

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

Integrative Statement

Background. Race-based social stress has been theorized as a source of racial disparities in educational and health outcomes (Levy, Heissel, Richeson, & Adam, 2016; Pascoe & Smart Richman, 2009). In particular, race-based stressors experienced during adolescence appear to have lasting impacts (Adam et al., 2015). Given these developmental origins of racial disparities that persist into adulthood, it is important to identify contributions to adolescents’ experiences of racial discrimination. Much research has investigated the psychological processes that may underlie the perception and processing of race-based social stressors. It is less well understood how aspects of adolescents’ social environments, such as their school context, may contribute to perceptions of racial discrimination (PRD). Here we consider the role of school racial composition during middle school and high school.

Methods. This study relies on data from the Maryland Adolescent Development in Context Study (MADICS), a 20-year study that followed a group of black and white adolescents from seventh grade through early adulthood. We consider a subsample of students for whom data are available about the public middle and high schools they attended. We predict PRD, measured in 8th and 11th grade, from middle school and high school racial composition.

Results. Most schools were majority minority institutions, with the proportion white students slightly lower in the high schools than the middle schools (means of 15.5% and 24.6% white, respectively). Respondents were 49% female and 63.3% black. In middle school (n = 893), students reported slightly higher average PRD than in high school (n = 730), with mean PRD scores of 1.56 and 1.35, respectively (on a scale from 1 to 5). Black students report higher PRD than whites (b = 1.58, p < 0.01), and male students report higher PRD than females (b = 0.242, p < 0.001).

Controlling for race, sex, family income, and depressive symptoms, we find that attending a school with a greater proportion of white students is associated with higher reported PRD for black male students during both middle school (b = 0.670, p < 0.05) and high school (b = 0.718, p < 0.05). Neither black female students nor white students appear to experience the same association between school racial composition and PRD. This association holds after controlling for school size and pupil to teacher ratio. Additionally, school racial composition is associated with high school PRD for black males after controlling for their reported PRD in middle school (b = 0.850, p < 0.05).

Conclusion. These results support a role for school context in contributing to black males’ experiences of PRD during adolescence, after accounting for a variety of individual and school characteristics. Further study is needed to examine the mechanism through which school racial composition affects students’ experiences of discrimination.

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