Abstract: Relationship of Police Involvement and Mental Health Problems Among Predominantly African American Students Attending an HBCU (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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499P Relationship of Police Involvement and Mental Health Problems Among Predominantly African American Students Attending an HBCU

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Marilyn Lewis, PhD, Professsor, Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA
Liyun Wu, PhD
BACKBROUND AND PURPOSE: Past situations when police interactions escalated into violence cause trepidation among many African Americans for fear they will be assaulted or worse (Armstrong & Carlson, 2019). Coupled with other incidents of community violence, young African American university students may experience mental health problems that impact their studies. METHODS: Three hundred eighty-one predominantly African American or biracial (89.7%) university students were recruited from an Historically Black University (HBCU) in the Southeast Atlantic Seaboard, to complete an online survey about community trauma via Survey Monkey. RESEARCH QUESTION: The purpose of the study was to determine whether community violence (Richters & Saltzman, 1990), predicted elevated scores on the PTSD scale (Foa, 2013), elevated depressed mood (CES-D) or low GPA. Bivariate analyses were conducted using Chi-square for categorical variables and t-test for continuous variables. SPSS was used. RESULTS: Students endorsed elevated rates of being stopped by the police (70.9%), being arrested or “taken downtown” (17.2%) or knowing someone who had been stopped or arrested (69.6%). Data indicate high rates of sexual assault (36.4%), being beaten up or mugged (15%), hearing gunfire outside (75.9%) or being shot at (11.4%) in this sample of students. Being stopped by the police at least once predicted PTSD (p<.016) and other types of community violence (p<.001), but not depression (p=0.361) or GPA (mean 3.17+0.54) (p = 0.316). CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS. Succeeding as a student can be challenging. Protective factors at HBCUs support African American youth (Davis, 1991; Kim, 2002; Negga, Applewhite, & Livingston, 2007) and may ameliorate effects of community traumas. As African American students have endorsed feeling more supported at HBCUs than at Predominantly White Institutions (Negga, et al., 2007), those who have experienced being stopped by the police and incidents of community violence may find support they need to succeed academically and overcome those traumas. These data can inform universities of the importance of supporting students around experiences of community trauma. University counseling centers may benefit from instituting self-help groups for students who have experienced violence in their communities. Future research needs to be conducted with more diverse racial groups. It is unclear exactly how a Caucasian student sample’s experiences would change mental health indicators.