Abstract: Associations between Discrimination and Health Among International College Students (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

259P Associations between Discrimination and Health Among International College Students

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Hyunkag Cho, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University
Sung Hyun Yun, PHD, Associate Professor, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada
Y. Joon Choi, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Athens, GA
Soonok An, PhD, Assistant Professor, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro, NC
Esther Son, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, College of Staten Island, The City University of New York, Staten Island, NY
Jungeun Olivia Lee, MSW, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Health problems among college students are a serious social issue, not only because it affects their academics, but also it may result in life-long disadvantages for the students suffering from those problems. Literature suggests that international students may be particularly vulnerable to these problems, which might be attributable to daily discrimination experiences. However, it is not clear how such discrimination is associated with various types of health problems and if those relationships vary across students’ demographics, such as gender, sexual orientation, and race. This study addresses this gap, using college student survey data.

Method: The study sample was drawn from a cross-sectional survey data from college students in seven universities in the U.S. and Canada (N=4,723). Participants were asked to report their international student status; only international students were included in the sample (N=329).

Independent variables were experiences of discrimination (14 items Likert scale, ranging 0-56, e.g., People act as if they think I am dishonest), age, gender, sexual orientation, and race (dummy, e.g., White vs. non-White). Dependent variables were 5 health measures: alcohol use, drug use, depression (20 items Likert scale, ranging 0-60, dichotomized with the cutoff of 15), perceived mental and physical health.

Descriptive analyses and hierarchical logistic regressions were conducted for each health measure. Demographic variables were entered first, with discrimination added next. All analyses were conducted using SPSS.

Results: The sample was 73% female, 88% heterosexual, 54% Asian, 23% White, and 22 years old on average (SD=4.6). The majority of the sample (81%) reported they had experienced discrimination (M=8.8, SD=9.5). More than a third (37%) drank alcohol and 9% used some type of drug more than 1-3 days per month. Slightly less than a half (45%) were deemed clinically depressed. The majority perceived their mental and physical health as very good (both 86%).

Logistic regression analysis results showed that (1) higher discrimination was associated with depression and perceived poor mental and physical health, (2) sexual minorities were more likely to be depressed and perceive their mental health as poor, (3) Hispanic students were less likely to be depressed, (4) Asian and Black students were less likely to drink alcohol, and (5) Black students were more likely to perceive their mental health as very good.

Conclusion: The vast majority reporting discrimination experiences are alarming, especially when such discrimination made them vulnerable to various physical and mental health problems more than those who did not experience discrimination. This study finding shows the importance of college-wide anti-discrimination efforts through policy, education and training programs, and culturally sensitive services, which can lead to better physical and mental health for international students.

Sexual minority students being more prone to mental health problems than heterosexual students call for a critical reexamination and innovation of existing campus services to ensure that they provide high quality services both for heterosexual and sexual minority students.

A certain race groups showing better mental and/or behavioral health than others may imply a presence of protective factors against health problems among them, which warrants future research.