Racial, ethnic discrimination impacts adolescent development, UT study says

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Aprile Benner

Racism and ethnic discrimination negatively affect development in adolescents in aspects ranging from physical health to academic success, according to a recent UT study. 

The study, led by Aprile Benner, a human development and family sciences associate professor, found discrimination has the largest effect on Latinx and Asian communities. The study was based on outside research and previous racial-ethnic discrimination studies done in her lab, Benner said. 

“There are clear effects of racial and ethnic discrimination on adolescents’ mental health, on how well they are doing in school, how engaged they are and then also on the kinds of choices that they are making,” Benner said.

Benner said discrimination puts one’s body under stress, which would affect mental and physical health later in life. Benner said this helps explain racial disparates in heart disease and cardiovascular health.  

Latinx and Asian communities face discrimination that labels them as “perpetual foreigners,” and they are not treated like other U.S. citizens, Benner said.

“They were born here, their parents were born here, their grandparents were born here, but they still face stereotypes,” Benner said.

While African-American adolescents face racial-ethnic discrimination, Benner said the impact is not as significant in their communities because parents tend to address those issues.

“A lot of them have what we call ‘racial socialization practices,’” Benner said. “They are really working to talk about the important things about their culture, emphasize the positive nature of their culture and prepare their kids for the bias that they believe that they are going to experience.”

Luke Hernandez, a government and Mexican-American and Latino studies junior, said many family members in Latinx communities speak English as a second language and are not equipped with the language to address more inconspicuous discrimination.

“It’s not as obvious as when someone spits in my face and calls me a word,” Hernandez said. “Rather, it’s when high school counselors were telling me I should go to community college or even trying to put me in normal classes and not in AP.”

Inmer Carbajal, a government and Latin American studies junior, said the study’s conclusions are not new to his community. 

“Latinx and African-American and Asian students have been talking about how this affects our mental health, physical health and our abilities to succeed in the educational system,” Carbajal said. “But it’s not listened to until the point where there’s a study that proves it.”