Abstract: "I Don't Try to Combat It 'cause They're Not Wrong": Internalized Racism and Student Well-Being (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

619P "I Don't Try to Combat It 'cause They're Not Wrong": Internalized Racism and Student Well-Being

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lalaine Sevillano, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Texas at Austin, TX
Marisol McDaniel, DrPH, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Esther Calzada, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose: The U.S. Surgeon General described internalized racism (IR) as a significant mechanism that links racial oppression and adverse psychological and physical effects among BIPOC. IR could also indirectly affect health by decreasing motivation for socioeconomic attainment. Higher education attainment is associated with social mobility. Yet, disparities in access, retention, and degree attainment is limited for BIPOC students. The current study aimed to investigate the relationship between IR and BIPOC students’ well-being. Our results have implications for resisting IR, and ultimately improving the health and socioeconomic attainment of BIPOC students.

Methods: College students who self-identified as belonging to marginalized social groups (N = 85) were recruited from a large public university in central Texas to participate in a focus group. Almost all students held at least two marginalized identities, typically based on race/ethnicity (84%), first-generation college student status (42%), and sexual orientation/gender identity expression (SOGIE; 46%). The primary aim of the focus groups was to explore how educational experiences are shaped by the privileging or marginalizing of social identities. Data were double-coded using a hybrid of thematic analysis and consensual qualitative research.

Results: Preliminary analyses identified 15 domains and 14 categories. BIPOC students experienced IR as a psychological injury in which they avoided others who belong to the same racial/ethnic group, are ashamed of their physical characteristics and culture, and hypervigilant about their racial minority status. We also found that IR manifests in ways that lead to BIPOC students colluding with racism and they think, feel, and behave in ways that uphold their assumed inferiority.

At the most basic level, many students demonstrated critical consciousness (CC) through their awareness that racism affects their well-being. Beyond reflection, the students who exhibited a higher level of CC were also challenging racism through socio-political action and actively resisting stereotypes. Conversely, students with lower levels of CC chose not to resist the oppression and decided to assimilate and censor their authentic selves.

I kind of just don’t even try to combat it [societal expectation] just because, I mean, they’re not wrong per se. [...] So, I don’t really see a reason to combat it. It’s what I am. I am biracial but I’m also black and I’m also white. (Carter, Biracial)

Conclusion and Implications: Our preliminary findings confirm previous research in that IR is a psychological injury that is experienced as self-degradation and promotion of assumed inferiority (Watts-Jones, 2002). Freire (1970) said that the lack of CC is perhaps the most egregious part of IR because it prevents one from truly understanding how destructive it is to uphold and perpetuate the status quo established by the dominant group. Notably, despite our focus on race/ethnicity, many students described their experiences of oppression as a function of the intersection of race/ethnicity with SES, first-generation college student status, and SOGIE. Our discussion will focus on how social workers need to understand the processes that allow marginalized students to resist internalized oppression through an intersectional lens.