Ali Mroczkowski, my student, and I recently published a study on the roles of adult racial discrimination and ethnic identity in Latina/o youth’s perception of the economic value of education (Mroczkowski & Sánchez, 2015). The youth in our study were high school students who were mostly from ethnically homogenous communities and schools. Thus, there might not have been much opportunity to experience racial discrimination from adults, and as such, students generally reported no to little racial discrimination from adults. However, even experiencing just a little discrimination was enough to be related to lower perceptions of the economic value of education. The more racial discrimination that youth reported in 9th grade, the less they perceived in 10th grade that earning an education would pay off economically. In fact, we found that this relationship was only supported for the male students in our study. It seems that Latino male students are more sensitive to the negative effects of racial discrimination on their values and attitudes toward education.
But we found that ethnic identity can play a protective role in the negative effects of racial discrimination. A stronger ethnic identity weakened the negative effect of racial discrimination on male students’ perception of the economic value of education.
What do these findings mean for mentoring relationships and programs? Mentoring practitioners should consider promoting a healthy and positive ethnic identity for Latina/o youth, particularly male adolescents, as a way to deal with racial discrimination. Mentors can work with Latina/o youth to explore their ethnic identity and what their ethnic identity means to them, and as well as help them learn about the positive contributions of members of their cultural group in the U.S. Research has demonstrated that a healthy ethnic identity plays an important role in the positive development of youth of color so supporting the ethnic identity of youth of color in mentoring programs makes sense.