Abstract: The Impact of Individual and Community Social Support and Perceived Discrimination on School Adjustment in Multiethnic Sexual Minority Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12972 The Impact of Individual and Community Social Support and Perceived Discrimination on School Adjustment in Multiethnic Sexual Minority Youth

Friday, January 15, 2010: 8:30 AM
Golden Gate (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Shelley L. Craig, PhD, LCSW , University of Toronto, Assistant Professor, Toronto, ON
Mark, S. Smith, PhD , Barry University, Assistant Professor, Miami Shores, FL
Purpose: Sexual minority youth have an increased risk of poor school adjustment as evidenced by low levels of academic achievement and attendance (Murdock & Bloch, 2005; Rostosky, Owens, Zimmerman, & Riggle, 2003). Discrimination exacerbates these risks (Goodenow, Szalacha, & Westheimer, 2006). A recent large-scale study (Diaz & Kosciw, 2009) confirmed that feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in school negatively affects a sexual minority student's academic performance, particularly for racial/ethnic minority youth. About a quarter of African American (22%) sexual minority students skipped school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and rates were even greater among Latino/a (30%) and multiracial (35%) students. While community social support such as a gay straight alliance (GSA) has been found to positively impact overall school climate (Lehr & Christenson, 2002), the impact of community and individual social support on school outcomes among sexual and racial minority youth is less clear (Wright & Perry, 2006; Williams et al., 2005). Furthermore, because sexual minority youth experience risk and protective factors differently (Cionsolacio et al., 2004; Battle et al. 2006) depending on race/ethnicity (Poteat, Aragon & Koenig, 2009), it is critical that research explore differential predictors of school adjustment.

Methods: Latino and Black Caribbean sexual minority youth (n=273) were identified using venue based sampling in a large-scale survey study conducted at 15 urban high schools. Independent measures included age, race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and the Perceived Discrimination Scale (PDS) (Kessler, Mikelson & Williams, 1999). Supportive domains were identified through the Social Support Scale (SSS), consisting of family and peer sub-scales and GSA involvement. School adjustment included measures of attendance, discipline and academic achievement. Structural equation modeling (SEM) techniques were used to test multivariate relationships resulting in a model detailing the impact on school adjustment. AMOS 7.0 and MPlus 5.2 software facilitated analysis.

Results: The majority of participants identified as female (60%), bisexual (40%), and first generation immigrants (74%). Mean age was 16. The best fitting model had values of x2 (14, p = > .703) = 10.21; CFI = 1.00; GFI =.989; RMSEA = .000 with a p-value of close-fit of .91. Examination of model path coefficients revealed that school adjustment is influenced by social support factors, as well as by perceived discrimination. Importantly, findings indicated that increases in individual support directly increased school adjustment for bisexual females, while community supports led to fewer discipline problems for all students. Furthermore, sexual minority youth whose parents recently immigrated were less likely to skip school.

Conclusions and Implications: Positive school adjustment is critical to the successful navigation of adolescent development. This study provides meaningful information regarding potential risk and protective factors associated with school adjustment that addresses the variability among sexual and ethnic minority youth (Elze, 2007). Specifically, findings suggest that interventions aimed at increased individual and community support of sexual minority youth may be critical to improving school adjustment among this high risk population. Social work research and practice should cultivate school-based support opportunities that attend to the unique needs of sexual minority youth of color.