Students who graduate from high school and go on to college experience a number of dramatic life changes. The transition from living at home to living away from it can be one of the hardest—and most exciting—times in a person’s life. Research has provided some insight into the emotional challenges that students face during this period. Studies have focused on peer influence, autonomy, identity, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and many other social and personal domains in relation to race, socioeconomic status and gender, among other factors. But few studies have looked at how biracial students adjust to college. To help fill this void, Aerika S. Brittian of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois recently led a study evaluating how biracial students coped with the transition and how their family ties, ethnic identity, and college diversity affected that adjustment.
Brittian assessed 507 students who were either white/Latino or white/Asian. The students were asked how much they identified with their ethnicities and how the ethnic socialization of their families affected their identities. Additionally, the students reported about the diversity on their campuses and how these settings contributed to their own identities in college. The results revealed that the more ethnically social the students’ families were, the more the students felt positive about their own ethnicities. This relationship increased self-esteem and self-acceptance. The more steadfast the students were about their ethnic identities, the easier it was for the students to adjust to ethnically diverse settings. Brittian also found that the students with more adaptive adjustment styles had fewer incidences of depression than those who demonstrated difficulty adjusting to college.
These findings underscore the importance of considering ethnicity as a factor for adjustment among biracial students entering college. Brittian hopes that the diversity of the school environment, as demonstrated in this study, will be viewed as a contributing factor to adjustment. “In addition, it may be important for universities that are becoming increasingly more diverse to consider the function of biracial students’ ethnic identity for mental health and student services,” Brittian added.
Brittian, A. S., Umaña-Taylor, A. J., Derlan, C. L. (2012). An examination of biracial college youths’ family ethnic socialization, ethnic identity, and adjustment: Do self-identification labels and university context matter? Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029438
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