Middle school environments have become more diverse in recent years, but many schools are still made up primarily of students from one majority race. Students who are in racially diverse schools may be subject to more challenges because of discrimination and prejudice. But some students are able to reap significant benefits from these multicultural schools. Anke Munniksma of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands recently conducted a study to determine how ethnically diverse friendships impacted students’ feelings of safety in middle school. Munniksma wanted to find out if students who had friendships that crossed racial lines would feel less threatened than those who maintained friendships only within their ethnic circles.
Using a sample of 227 white and Latino students, Munniksma assessed the number of within-group and out-of-group friendships that the students had at the beginning of their first or second years in middle school. She then examined how these friendships affected feelings of vulnerability, discrimination, and safety in the spring of that same school year. Munniksma found that children who had racially diverse friendships felt safer in their school than students who had only within-group friendships. However, the results revealed that the Latino students who had high numbers of cross-ethnic friendships felt more secure and less at risk for bullying and aggression than the white students with similar numbers of cross-ethnic friendships.
Munniksma believes that minority students, Latino students in this study, may potentially feel more vulnerable than majority (white) students regardless of friendship constructs. Being able to forge relationships with students of the perceived majority race may decrease feelings of victimization and threat for Latino students, but not for white students. Interestingly, the students with more cross-ethnic relationships did not experience increases in feelings of safety from fall to spring. This finding suggests that students may be subjected to more bullying and aggression, or expect to be, regardless of their ethnicity or peer support system. This result should be examined further in a larger sample that includes students from other ethnic backgrounds.
Overall, the research presented here demonstrates the how reaching across cultural lines can help students adjust in early adolescence. Munniksma added, “Thus, by ‘taking advantage’ of the ethnic diversity by forming (and maintaining) cross-ethnic friendships, at least some students can have a more positive school experience in large urban middle schools.”
Munniksma, Anke, and Jaana Juvonen. Cross-ethnic friendships and sense of social-emotional safety in a multiethnic middle school: An exploratory study. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 58.4 (2012): 489-506. Print.
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