Abstract: What Does Race Mean to Young Black Men? Findings from the Ybmen Project (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

What Does Race Mean to Young Black Men? Findings from the Ybmen Project

Friday, January 12, 2018: 9:00 AM
Monument (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Janelle Goodwill, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Julie Ober Allen, MPH, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Daphne Watkins, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, An arobr, MI
BACKGROUND: The Young Black Men, Masculinities, and Mental Health (YBMen) project is a Facebook-based intervention that explores the intersections of race, masculinity, mental health and social support among young Black men. The YBMen project was developed to uncover the unique stressors and pressures young Black men face as they transition into college and career, with the goal of providing culturally-relevant and feasible psychosocial information to this traditionally understudied population. Earlier research has shown that young Black men oftentimes fare worse than their peers in both academic achievement and health outcomes, largely due to the significant challenges they encounter upon arrival on campus (Barry et al., 2016; Brown & Greer, 2011; Watkins, et al., 2007). Therefore, it is imperative for social work researchers to consider the needs of young Black men, as their embodiment and conceptualizations of race have direct implications for their academic careers, overall well-being, and safety.

METHODS: This study reports findings from qualitative interviews with 22 young Black men who were first-year students enrolled at a university in the Midwest. Half of the participants were assigned to the control group, while the other half were included to the YBMen Facebook-based intervention group. Pre- and post-test interviews were conducted with all 22 participants, though post-test questions were modified for members of the intervention group to capture their experiences in the Facebook intervention.  Findings from this study report participant responses in both the one-on-one interviews and the Facebook group. A systematic qualitative analysis allowed the research team to identify four emergent themes related to Black college men’s beliefs about race and its relation to their experiences navigating campus life and university culture.  

RESULTS: Study findings revealed that the young Black men in this sample considered race within the context of four primary categories: academics, relationships, health, and safety. Men discussed feeling pressure to excel academically, as they were oftentimes underrepresented in their classes and wanted to prove that they were capable of competing with their non-Black peers. Study participants also outlined strategies they employed in order to avoid being perceived as stereotypical Black men. From there they addressed the role of race in their relationships with friends and family, noting the importance of their relationships with other Black men in their lives (e.g. fathers, brothers, etc.). Men in the study also recognized that race impacted their willingness to seek help for mental and physical health conditions, as they reported that they preferred to take care of the problems themselves or address them with someone they know. Lastly, many participants raised concerns for their physical safety both within and outside of campus, as witnessing recent racially-motivated events cautioned them to always be hypervigilant of their surroundings and daily interactions with others.  

IMPLICATIONS: Gaining insight into young Black men’s views on race will allow researchers and practitioners to design treatments and interventions that are more closely aligned with the needs of this underserved community. Moreover, administering online interventions could be a promising avenue for future research with members of marginalized groups.