The University of California, Davis conducted a study on teenagers in ethnically diverse schools in the Southwestern United States, examining the impact of consistent and positive signals about cultures other than their own on academic engagement and goals for higher education. The study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence on July 26, involved surveying more than 700 sixth and ninth graders from various schools in the same region.

The findings indicated that while these students attended ethnically diverse schools and learned about multiple cultures in the classroom, they did not always receive the same positive messages about other cultures from their friends and families. This lack of consistent and supportive multicultural messaging affected their academic engagement, including participation and interest in school, and their aspirations for higher education.

The study revealed that only 4% of the surveyed students reported receiving consistent and high levels of multicultural messaging and affirmation in their classroom, peer, and family environments. The questions asked in the survey covered topics such as what the students had learned about diverse cultures, the extent to which their friends and family encouraged their appreciation for different cultures, and their experiences with family interactions regarding racial and ethnic groups.

“It can be emotionally taxing to adolescents to receive different messages, and it can affect their academic achievement,” stated Maciel M. Hernández, assistant professor of human ecology and lead author of the study. “Youth need to successfully interact with and be socially connected to people from diverse backgrounds … it’s important to be full partakers in this fabric of society and appreciate cultural traditions that are not their own.”

Notably, the researchers did not inquire about the specific locations of peer interactions, such as involvement in extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, or worship. The students were also asked about their enjoyment of school, learning, and activities, as well as their intentions for further progression in their education.

Interestingly, the study found that youth with at least one immigrant parent were more likely to experience higher levels of multicultural socialization compared to those without immigrant parents. This could be attributed to their parents’ intentional efforts to integrate into diverse communities and passing along these values and aspirations to their children.

Positive Attitudes in School Linked to Aspirations for Higher Education, Hernandez’s Study Suggests. “Beyond that, it’s important to have youth who like to go to school and are meaningfully engaged by their experiences in a culturally diverse world,” she stated. “This affects many parts of their lives and their future success.”

In the study conducted on teenagers in ethnically diverse schools in the Southwestern United States, the majority of respondents were Latinx, comprising 31.8% of the participants. Multiethnic individuals made up 31.5% of the respondents. The representation of Whites was 25.7% in the survey, while 7.3% of the participants identified as Black. Asian American or Pacific Islander respondents constituted 1.4% of the sample, and the same percentage (1.4%) was represented by American Indian or Alaska Native participants. Middle Eastern or North African individuals accounted for 1% of the respondents.

In summary, the study highlights the significance of providing consistent and positive messages about cultures other than students’ own in various environments, including school, home, and peer interactions. This kind of multicultural support can significantly impact teenagers’ academic engagement and goals for higher education, fostering a more inclusive and enriched learning experience for students from diverse backgrounds.

“Importantly, promoting multicultural socialization across school, peer and family settings is promising for improving adolescents’ academic functioning. Especially since only 4% of students are getting consistent messages, there is a lot of room to improve,” Hernández stated.


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