Black Students’ Mental Health Impacted More by Online Racism Than In-Person Encounters

Researchers at Boston College and the University of Connecticut have authored a new study that finds that for college students of color who encounter online racism, the effect of racialized aggressions and assaults reaches far beyond any single social media feed and can lead to real and significant mental health impacts – even more significant than in-person experiences of racial discrimination. The findings support assertions that social media now constitutes an important element in the traumatic stress that students of color experience.

The study asked nearly 700 students of color from five different four-year colleges and universities to complete surveys in the spring of 2018 and 2019. The surveys asked students about their daily encounters with racism online and on-campus and about the quality of their interactions with various faculty and staff at their school. It also included a mental health assessment, a measurement of their sense of belonging at their institution, and questions designed to gauge their sense of ethnic identity – how strongly they felt attached to their racial group.

Adam McCready, an assistant professor-in-residence at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut and the lead author of the study reports that “most powerfully we found that students’ reported encounters with racial hostility on social media directly predicted their mental health outcomes and, to be more clear on that, we found that increased encounters with racism or discrimination online predicted increased self-reported mental health issues. And even when we added to our models and factored in students’ in-person experiences, actually the online encounters were more salient predictors of mental health outcomes than the in-person experiences.”

The full study, “Students of Color, Mental Health, and Racialized Aggressions on Social Media,” in the  Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. It may be accessed here.

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