Ciara Smalls Glover, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Georgia State, is examining factors that mitigate the adverse effects of discrimination against persons from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, including consequences for their emotional, academic and physical health.
“I was originally studying stress and coping, and from that I learned about the weight of a persistent stressor for communities of color—and that’s racial and ethnic discrimination.”
One of the factors that literature has found to be especially protective is racial and ethnic identity, Dr. Glover said. These are the beliefs and attitudes about an individual’s group membership. She said that these beliefs and attitudes evolve over time, with family playing a critical role.
“Identity doesn’t just happen. It develops. And one of the salient influences in that development is family,” Dr. Glover explained. “The role of the family has been central to my work and looking at the varied messages that families send to prepare their child for independence. Families from under-represented groups often don’t get permission to be portrayed in multi-faceted ways.”
Due to family’s prominent role in racial identity, she analyzes the ways family experiences plays into protection and risk when dealing with adversity in young adulthood.
Dr. Glover also researches the importance of systemic racism in for families of color and young adults.
“This transition to young adulthood is an important one. It’s a critical time for understanding how race related stress interacts with other types of adversities,” she said. “It’s a great time to look at the prevention of further risk—such as not persisting in school.
“I look at how family experiences can serve as protective factors or can exacerbate risk, alongside other types of adversity that may range from financial struggle to poor faculty-student interactions.
In a recent study, Dr. Glover recorded data from 600 African American students, asking about microaggressions and assets such as messages received about managing adversity.
“The results point to the importance of getting messages that prepare students for discrimination in college and the workplace,” she said. “When we talk about whether these messages are important to get—it’s contextualized, but the overarching findings suggests that they are. Messages that prepare one for racial and ethnic adversity protect the individual from self-blame, stereotype threat, and dips in academic motivation.”
The research is exploratory, studying important factors that help protect students against the negative effects of discrimination and other adversities. Preliminary findings suggest that experiences that communicated second-class status were more often reported by those who were first-generation to college, were employed, or whose parents talked about coping with racial-ethnic adversity less frequently. Students whose parents talked about socially supportive coping with everyday discrimination, reported more favorable academic and well-being outcomes.
“We have some sense of personal hardships that students experience, but not the full picture,” Dr. Glover explained. “We need more work that examines things that are protective— when we talk about adversity and college persistence.”
In the greater picture, disparities are caused by larger systems of inequality. By understanding these systems, we can better address the vital changes needed to dismantle disparities, rather than just placing the burden on the persons experiencing them.
“There is a national disparity in academic persistence, particularly in the sciences,” Dr. Glover said. “By and large, it’s not explained by things you would expect like income or education. It leaves the door open for us to really understand what’s driving these disparities, and how we can end them.”
—Braden Turner, Writer and Graduate Administrative Assistant, Office of the Provost