Abstract: "I'm Not Going through This Alone": Using School-Based Intergroup Dialogue to Promote Youth Wellbeing and Positive Racial Climate (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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"I'm Not Going through This Alone": Using School-Based Intergroup Dialogue to Promote Youth Wellbeing and Positive Racial Climate

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Annahita Ball, PhD, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Candra Skrzypek, MSW, Doctoral Student, University at Buffalo, SUNY, Buffalo, NY
Background and Purpose:School climate influences youths’ mental health and wellbeing, yet students from varying subgroups experience school climate differentially. Black and Latinx children, for example, report lower levels of safety, support, and connectedness at school. Students who experience bias-based bullying report higher rates of loneliness, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation. Racial climate, a component of school climate, includes students’ interracial relationships, experiences of racism in school, and racial socialization. Improvements in racial climate are associated with greater academic performance, belonging, and motivation. Few racial climate intervention studies target outcomes associated with adolescent wellbeing. Intergroup dialogue (IGD) is an intervention that has the potential to influence racial climate using sustained, structured, and facilitated cross-cultural dialogue. This mixed methods study explored the impact of a school-based IGD intervention on adolescents’ wellbeing. We aimed to (1) examine changes in students’ psychological processes related to fostering positive intergroup relationships and (2) explore mental health and social-emotional outcomes of school-based IGD participation.

Method: Pre- and post-intervention quantitative data were collected via surveys with established scales from 45 students who participated in the intervention. Post-reflection qualitative data were collected via semi-structured focus groups with an additional 31 students. Focus groups explored how the intervention influenced youths’ thinking and behaviors related to intergroup relationships. Youth were diverse in race, with the majority identifying as White and approximately one-third as Black, and the remaining youth as Asian American, Multiracial, or Hispanic/Latinx. Quantitative data were analyzed using a multivariate analyses of variance with repeated measures to measure changes in social identity awareness, interest in building bridges, intergroup empathy, and cognitive openness from pre- to post-test. Focus group transcripts were coded inductively and thematically, using a grounded theory approach. Both types of data were integrated to provide a holistic understanding of youths’ experiences.

Results: Quantitative analyses revealed that all students, regardless of race/ethnicity, reported increases in all variables from pre-test to post-test. Qualitative analyses supported these findings. Youth reported increased awareness and knowledge of racial justice issues, as well as increased empathy and openness towards others. White students noted increased awareness of privilege and oppression. Asian American, Black, and Latinx students expressed comfort in relating to the experiences of other minority students from across the region. Youth also expressed challenges with sustaining changes in their home schools, suggesting that the adults in their schools should participate in a similar intervention.

Conclusions and Implications: IGD may be a useful intervention to improve racial climate in schools and positively influence the emotional well-being of marginalized students. Our results highlight the utility of even a short-term IGD intervention to foster positive intergroup relationships and increase youths’ sense of belonging. Yet, schools must seek ways to embed programming throughout their buildings. Additionally, schools may offer affinity spaces for racial/ethnic minority students, perhaps across communities. Future research should include larger and more longitudinal studies to determine the persistence of change and differential outcomes across subgroups.