According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of students who reported school-related fears has decreased in recent academic years. In urban schools, however, a high proportion of minority students continue to feel unsafe in their schools. Also, sexual minority students are significantly less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to feel safe in their school because of bullying and harassment related to their sexual orientation. According to the 2019 National School Climate Survey, more than half of LGBTQ students (59.1%) reported feeling unsafe at school. As highlighted by the minority stress theory and the intersectionality theory, African American sexual minorities are more likely than their African American heterosexual and White sexual minority peers to feel unsafe because of their multiple minority identities. Moreover, youths’ perceived school safety tends to be influenced by factors and occurrences within the family, school, and neighborhood contexts, as purported by the social-ecological perspective. Guided by these aforementioned theories, we investigate whether factors associated with perceived school safety are similar for African American heterosexuals and African American sexual minorities in Chicago’s Southside.
The cross-sectional study used convenience sampling of 638 African American youths in Chicago’s Southside (Mage = 15.84): 474 heterosexuals, and 105 sexual minorities (25 gays/lesbians, 59 bisexuals, 7 pansexual, and 14 other). The dependent variable is perceived school safety. Independent variables are feeling close to parents, caring parents, parental awareness, caring teachers, bonding to school, perceived connectedness to their neighborhood, and lower level of peer victimization. Covariates include age, biological sex, and receipt of government assistance. Multilinear regression analyses were conducted separately for sexual minority and heterosexual adolescents.
Caring parents (B = .10, p < .00), caring teachers (B = .15, p < .000), bonding to school (B = .03, p < .05), perceived connectedness to their neighborhood (B = .03, p < .05), and lower level of peer victimization (B = .05, p < .00) were positively associated with perceived school safety among heterosexual youth. For sexual minority youth, receipt of government assistance was negatively associated with perceived school safety (B = -.61, p < .05) while caring teacher was positively associated with perceived school safety (B = .18, p < .000).
For African American heterosexual youth, caring parents, caring teachers, bonding to school, and perceived connectedness to their neighborhood are associated with higher levels of perceived school safety. Caring teachers was only found to correlate with school safety for sexual minority youth. A caring teacher is an important resource for both heterosexual and sexual minority youth, as they might alleviate student fears in school. Social workers in urban schools need to consider involving teachers in anti-bullying intervention efforts. Social workers in urban neighborhoods are advised to advocate for additional resources to support teachers in supporting their students. Additionally, intervention programs need to be culturally relevant and appropriate for both heterosexual and sexual minority students. Social workers are urged to work collaboratively with teachers and school officials in addressing homophobic bullying and violence against sexual minority students.