How Do Biracial Students Adjust to the College Environment?

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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  • Brooke

    September 10th, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    For me it makes sense that the students who come from families who are already comfortable with their own diversity are very likely to have an easier time blending in with others and making new friends. It is all a matter of being comfortable in your own skin.

    For thos who haven’t had that chance to ever feel good about themselves, this would be th perfect time for them to branch out and discover just how accepting the world as a whole can be. This is especially true if they have come from communities where they never felt accepted in large part due to being biracial. This is the chance to make new friends and meet new people with whom they may can better relate.

  • Lee

    September 11th, 2012 at 12:38 AM

    I am Asian American and when I was in college just a few years ago I found that I had no problems coping with it and that may well be due to me always having been with friends of all ethnicity all my life.Some of the other Asian Americans I saw in college did not have it so easy and the only thing I thought that cause them problems was that they always stuck with each other and never really diversified when it came to friends.So in a way they were isolating themselves and that showed psychologically.

    They always sidelined themselves and never came ahead for any kind of an activity.I’d be me any day than to stay in a corner with others you think are close to you for no reason other than their ethnicity!

  • mick

    September 11th, 2012 at 3:59 AM

    Why wouldn’t they adjust in the college environment in the same way that they always have in school? The only thing that could make this different or them was if maybe they end up at school that is more inclusive versus exclusive, and they found a group where they are more accepted and liked for no other reason than the fact that they are a good person.

  • p.harris

    September 11th, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    I think growing up in a school and neighborhood where there is inclusiveness and basically interaction with people from different racial backgrounds would give a youngster enough confidence and coping abilities to make the transition to college smoother.eventually it comes down to how comfortable you are in the environment so having spent time with people of all races is always a great experience.

  • lee p

    September 11th, 2012 at 12:09 PM

    “…students with more adaptive adjustment styles had fewer incidences of depression than those who demonstrated difficulty adjusting to college.”

    wouuldn’t you say that this quote is universally true whether the student is biracial or not? I mean, any time that someone can roll more with the punches they are going to have an easier time adjusting to the inevitable changes that life brings. The same is going to hold true for any student, those of mixed ethnicity or not. If they have learned the ability to adapt and change then of course their experiences will be a little easier than those who tend to be more resistant to changes.

  • Arril

    September 12th, 2012 at 4:32 AM

    I have some personal experience with this as I am the mother of two beautiful biracial children. They are smart, intelligemt, wonderfully gifted in many ways, and in no way are defined by the color of their skin. Why? Because I have never let it be like that. I have never taught them that they will be viewed as anything different just because they don’t identify with one box or another. They are who they are, and not just something to be counted and placed into the biracial demographic. Kids believe what we tell them, and if we tell them enough that they are more than this, then they will believe that and accept that about themselves just as we all do. I am not dumb enough to think that they will never encounter prejudice, but if I have taught them well at home, then won’t they be strong enough to fight back when push comes to shove?

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