Research Paper: Psychosocial Issues Affecting African-American Students

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[. . .] Friends and peers as well as others in the psychosocial realm of the teens prove critical in their struggle. Ideally, the adolescent exits this stage and enters early adulthood with a strong sense of self and identity. At times, however, teens do not develop a sense of self and merely adopt vague beliefs or perceptions devoid of definition; contributing to an undesirable position defined as identity diffusion. The following table relates Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development and proffers stages and definitions of adaptive ways for a person to cope in each stage.


Erikson's psychosocial stages of development (Thomas-Cottingham, 2004).




Trust vs. mistrust

Birth to 18 months

When caregiver proves responsive to infant's needs, he or she will develop a sense trust.

Autonomy vs. shame and doubt

18 months to 3 years

When caregiver permits the child to explore and become an independent being, he or she will develop a sense of autonomy.

Initiative vs. guilt

3 to 6 years

When caregiver encourages child's self-initiated activities, he or she will develop a sense of initiative.

Industry vs. inferiority

6 to 12 years

If parents and teachers provide positive feedback as children master new skills, children will develop a sense of industriousness.

Identity vs. identity diffusion

12 to 18 years

When the adolescent can begin to answer the questions, "Who am I" (identifying values, beliefs, aspirations), he or she will develop a sense of identity.

Intimacy vs. isolation

Early adulthood

When the adult can establish close committed relationships with others, the adult will develop a sense of intimacy.

Generativity vs. stagnation

Middle adulthood

When the adult can reach out and guide members from the next generation, he or she will develop a sense of generativity [concern for future generations to be productive members of society].

Integrity vs. despair

Late adulthood

When the adult can reflect on life and feel a sense of satisfaction, he or she will develop a sense of integrity.

Thomas-Cottingham (2004) asserts that as positive associations with one's ethnicity relates to a positive sense of self, children of ethnic minorities need to develop as well as relate in a positive sense to their ethnic group. A number of theories assert ways this process materializes. Thomas-Cottingham explains that according to the model Phinney and Devich-Navarro developed, on their identify search, teens adopt one of the following four paths for determining their ethnic identity:

1. Assimilation,

2. marginalization,

3. separation, and

4. biculturalism (Thomas-Cottingham, 2004).

Figure: Paths for Teens to Determine Ethnic Identity (created from Thomas-Cottingham, 2004).

Challenges the increasing gender achievement gap pose for restricted career options for African-Americans; including family formation, and the overall stability of African-American communities comprise a few of the myriad of reasons for concern regarding the K- 12 performance and higher education participation rates of African-Americans. In the study, "Risk, protection, and achievement disparities among African-American males: Cross-generation theory, research, and comprehensive intervention," Rowley and Bowman (2009) express concern regarding the acute need for amelioration to counter contemporary trends in the realm of African-American education coupled with the data on African-American incarceration rates. Research reveals a number of variables associated with the academic achievement of African-Americans which includes "individual-level factors as well as family, neighborhood, school and macro-structural forces (Rowley & Bowman, 2009, ¶ 2). Even though overall high school graduation rates and college participation rates for African-Americans in higher education have steadily increased during the past two decades, African-American college enrollment still lags behind that of Whites and Asians. For African-Americans who successfully complete high school, attaining college degrees includes various financial, social, emotional, and psychological challenges. Research indicates that adjustment and academic outcomes of African-American students in a high school as well as in college partially relates to with whether they attend a predominantly White school or one with high black enrollment. Other psychosocial non-cognitive factors include the actual as well as the perceived racial climate of the campus, peer relationships, and the quality of student-faculty relationships. Poor academic and psychosocial outcomes for many African-American students may evolve from the student experiencing feelings of isolation, low social support, a dearth of mentoring, and lack of racial and ethnic representation among peers and faculty members (Rowley & Bowman, 2009). Some research indicates that African-American students feel more accepted and supported in their academic pursuits when attending schools with higher Black student enrolment. The students are also reportedly more involved in their schools social activities compared to their counterparts in predominantly White schools. In the study, "Racial and ethnic-related stressors as predictors of perceived stress and academic performance for African-American students at a historically black college and university," Greer (2008) asserts that students, faculty, and staff reflect the values of the larger society, which include the biases and prejudices. In the study, "The impact of college racial composition on African-American students' academic self-concept: A replication and extension," Cokley (2002) asserts that no significant institutional differences in academic self-concept relate to the balance of Black and White students. Reported mean institutional differences can prove misleading. Once society focuses on underlying reasons associated with difficulties contributing to the gap in African-American education, whatever their root, schools will more likely begin to do the same. In addition to societal perceptions and persuasions regarding race, vicarious experiences as well as emotional states can influence students' efficacy assessments. In the study, "Racial identity, centrality and giftedness: An expectancy-value application of motivation in gifted African-American Students," Rodgers (2008) asserts that gifted students from underrepresented groups are frequently in educational settings where they constitute part of a racial or ethnic minority. Such "a social situation is conducive to feelings of stereotype threat, in which individuals' heightened self-awareness of stereotypes existing about their group that are relevant to the task at hand leads to feelings of anxiety" (Rodgers, 2008, Expectancy Section, ¶ 5). Just as underachievement can prove to be problematic for African-American students, giftedness may also relate to the students racial identity and prove challenging at times. Racial identity reportedly relates to race-related adjustments to the perceived cultural and a sociopolitical constructs regarding race. Even though ethnic identity is reportedly similarly perceived, it more directly relates to dynamic forces that connect one to his or her racial group. For example, one's racial identity refers to "how one acknowledges, perceives, and consequently adapts to the social and political experiences as an African-American, whereas ethnic identity reflects the connection that individuals have with other African-Americans, the acknowledgement of shared cultural elements" (Rodgers, 2008, Racial & ethnic identity . . . Section, ¶ 1). Often, as the distinction between racial and ethnic identity is not obvious, the constructs are inevitably interchanged.

Rodgers (2008) asserts that the following list depicts eight types of African-American identity; related from the least psychologically healthy to the most psychologically healthy:

1. Assimilation,

2. miseducation,

3. Racial self-hatred,

4. anti-White,

5. intense Black involvement,

6. nationalist,

7. biculturalist, and

8. multiculturalist. (Rodgers, 2008)

The determination of the African-American's identity initially depends on the individual's experiences as well as his or her opportunities to have particular experiences (Rodgers, 2008). African-American students with poor self-concept and racial identity development are reportedly less likely to achieve/succeed than African-American students possessing high or positive self-concept and positive racial identity development. In the book, The Sage handbook of African-American education, Tillman (2008) asserts that racial identity development clearly, closely, and critically links to academic achievement. "Those students who possess a positive affiliation and attitude toward one's racial group are also more likely to reject society's negative stereotypes of their racial group" (Tillman, p. 355). Conversely, African-American students affiliated with groups which possessed less positive feelings toward their group held elevated negative societal perceptions about themselves and numbered among the highest levels of African-Americans who dropped out of school by and their senior year. African-American youth with a positive attitude toward their racial group; dismissing society's negative attitudes toward their race, revealed the lowest number of students to drop out of school. These individuals who cultivate positive identities and confront African-American psychosocial issues more likely complete their senior year, graduate from high school and experience higher rates of post-secondary educational attainment. Most likely, African-American students experience more stress and a greater number of problems associated to their racial heritages than do White students. This in turn, can adversely affect the racial identity and development of the African-American student. And it can also influence his or her self-concept, self-esteem, motivation, and success in education. Tillman (2008) contends:

As African-American children begin to mature into adolescence, an awareness of race begins to emerge. . .. Adolescents are also aware of the societal implications and stereotypes of being from particular racial nr ethnic group. African-Americans. particularly at adolescence, may wish to disassociate themselves from African-American culture, because of the negative stereotypes associated with their race. Over the years, numerous psychological theories have been given to explain why African-American students underachieve or low achieve. Recently, the inability to achieve academically… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Psychosocial Issues Affecting African-American Students.  (2011, July 5).  Retrieved June 19, 2019, from

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"Psychosocial Issues Affecting African-American Students."  5 July 2011.  Web.  19 June 2019. <>.

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"Psychosocial Issues Affecting African-American Students."  July 5, 2011.  Accessed June 19, 2019.