Rosenthal and Wilson the Blight of Urban Term Paper

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¶ … Rosenthal & Wilson

The blight of urban violence and underachievement has become a major issue in sociology and education over the last decades, for --cliched as it may sound -- there seems to be a vicious cycle of violence, lack of education, and poverty. The recent article "Impact of exposure to community violence and psychological symptoms on college performance among students of color," by Beth Spenciner-Rosenthal and Cody Wilson, focused on delineating or denying the causal link between chronic youthful exposure to violence in the community (defined as violence which was either directly witnessed or experienced by the individual), psychological distress experienced in the first semesters of college, and successful academic performance during the first three college semesters.

The study concluded that exposure to violence was not directly correlated with academic performance, but that psychological distress was correlated both with exposure to violence and with a lack of school persistence (though not with decreased grade point average), creating a secondary mediated link between exposure to violence and academic performance indicators which included school persistence. Put simply, the study found that the following elements of its hypothesis were all true: "(1) there is a high level of exposure to chronic community violence for some adolescents; (2) exposure to community violence has a large impact on level of psychosocial adjustment; and (3) the presence of psychological distress impairs academic performance [specifically school persistence]." (Rosenthal&Wilson)Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Rosenthal and Wilson limited their measure to City University of New York, "a public, nonresidential, four-year college in New York," (Rosenthal & Wilson) where they sampled 385 students of color, all traditional first year students. The measurement techniques used were both straightforward and prone to accuracy and clarity: an additive scale was formed when students were asked to self-report their experiences with violence during high school, and to answer questions about the symptoms of psychological distress which they currently suffered; three semesters later academic performance in terms of school persistence and grade point average were evaluated from student transcripts.

One of the few significant problems which seem evident in the measures and definitions used in this study was the insistence by the researchers that violence within established families or relationships should not be included in the measure of environmental violence, even though increases in domestic violence have often been linked to poverty, and it may be difficult to separate the effects of domestic and external violence in an affected teen. The second possible problem is the researcher's limitation of environmental violence to that which was experienced or witnessed firsthand. It seems that some leeway should have been granted for violence which had a striking affect on the individual without having been witnessed firsthand, such as the death or brutalization of a friend or family member when the individual was not present.

It is worth mentioning that school and college climate is particularly relevant to this study, in fact high school climate is to some degree precisely what is being measured by this work, and the climate and setting of the college is necessary to an understanding and qualification of the results. In terms of high school climate, one must understand that all of the subjects in this study came from urban New York schools, so that violence was preponderant in their childhood setting. The violence which is discussed in this scale is a far cry from mere bullying, "The items measure the degree to which the respondent was chased, threatened, slapped, mugged, stabbed, shot, or had something taken by force or threat, as well as the degree to which the respondent directly observed another individual being chased, arrested, threatened, mugged, slapped, wounded, stabbed, shot, or killed, or observed someone with a gun or saw someone dead." (Rosenthal & Wilson) the high school climate was additionally, in most cases, likely to be preponderantly peopled with minorities of lower socioeconomic status. Outside understanding of the world, applied to this research, would acknowledge the likelihood that these schools were not only dangerous but also dangerously underfunded, and one suspects that lack of funding, textbooks and dedicated, interested teachers might add to the severity of the situation.

The college climate is not quite so relevant to an understanding of the meaning of chronic violence or resulting psychological scarring, as one suspects that (not being compulsory) there is a significantly reduced risk of violence on campus. The college climate is, however, still highly relevant in that it may affect the outcome of distressed and underclass students in a nonstandard way. According to Rosenthal & Wilson, most campuses do not have a sufficiently large number of young urban people of color in their numbers to make such a study feasible -- this particular New York school was chosen because it had a uniquely large population of students who were from a poor, ethnic, urban area. This situation obviously made the study far easier to conduct, considering that it supplied an appropriate number of comparative students.

This urban college climate may also have created results which were somewhat dependent on the environment of the school. This is obviously a school which is adapted to fit the needs of poor, ethnic, and urban adolescents -- no doubt teachers, faculty, and programming is designed to maximize the success of such students, and graded coursework is adapted to naturally follow from local high school curriculum and to spring from localized cultural standards. Thus, the experience of a battle-scarred urban youth in an urban college might be nothing like the experiences of that same youth were her or she to go to a more suburban college with a primarily white student and faculty population which was not prepared to make accommodations for the individual's different cultural and educational background. (This is not to imply that such schools are "dumbed down" or less serious than primarily white schools! Rather, that schools which are geared for white youth may under-serve black youth, particularly those who have adapted to an aggressive urban climate or who have to deal with the psychological distress of escaping such a climate) it is possible that in a school system less adapted to their needs, urban youth would experience a closer correlation between the degree of experienced violence/psychological distress and grade point average.

As the preceding exploration of the affect of school environment on the study suggests, a great deal of care was taken with this study to normalize race, age, and socioeconomic status (SES). However, despite the fact that the majority of students were of a similar background, there were still certain significant differences. Luckily, Rosenthal and Wilson kept scrupulous track of the percentages of various groups in their study. All students were between 16 and 20 years of age, with the median and modal age being 18. "Students of color" in the title does not refer specifically to African-American students -- only 50% of the students were African-American, with the remaining sample divided between 25% Latino/Hispanic, 9% Asian, 13% Other or mixed, and 3% Caucasian. A preponderance of the students (70%) were female. The economic status of the group was slightly below the median for the state, with a median of $30,000. A third of the students had parents who had not graduated from high school, though all of the students themselves had both graduated from High School and attended High school full time in New York. In terms of living situation, 46% of the students lived with both of their parents, 38% lived with a single parent, 13% stayed with extended family, and 3% were staying in "other" situations such as with a spouse, in foster care, or by themselves. This sample was said to be typical of the rest of the college make-up, other than the relative youth of the sample (the school has a large number of adult students).

Despite the care taken by Rosenthal and Wilson to document this fine sociological data on their subjects, they somehow failed to use it in further analysis. Unfortunately, the difference between young men and women who have witnessed violence is not explored here, as sex differences in data results are not explored. Additionally, the difference between different races and cultures and economic status is not cross-referenced with the final results. This failure somewhat weakens the papers arguments regarding these issues.

Though this paper is a solid work of sociological research, it does not go very far beyond descriptive research into issues of causation, prevention, or intervention. One must dig below the surface of this research in order to apply it practically to the pursuit of social betterment. Perhaps the easiest part of this challenge to successfully pursue would be the topic of causation and the placement of blame for the problem. Of course, the question "Who is to blame for the violence of urban culture?" is overwhelmingly dogged by rhetoric and is unlikely to be easily answered, let alone touched by this research. So while it is easiest and most obvious to blame the lack of school persistence among students on violence… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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