Gaining Interactional Leverage: School Racial Compositions and Multiracial Youths

Gaining Interactional Leverage: School Racial Compositions and Multiracial Youths

Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association
Hilton San Francisco & Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel
San Francisco, California
44 pages

Simon Cheng,  Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Connecticut

One of the most important changes in the contemporary American population is the rapid increase of biracial youths. Given the ongoing interest by sociologists and other social scientists in the potentially difficult life experiences and the social advantages that are associated with biracial youths’ identity formation and peer affiliation, I ask: To what extent are biracial adolescents’ life experiences shaped by contextual factors and types of biracial status? Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health of 1994-95, I distinguish between white biracial and non-white biracial adolescents, and examine the contextual effects of school racial compositions on three measures of psychological states—school attachment, general happiness, and psychological disorder. Analyses provide evidence that school racial compositions affect the school attachment of monoracial, white biracial, and non-white biracial adolescents in different ways. For monoracial adolescents, their school attachment increases as the number of their same-race students increases in schools. Whereas school racial compositions show no effect on the school attachment of white biracial adolescents, non-white biracials’ school attachment increases only in schools with large proportions of racial minority students, and these effects are the strongest among all the racial groups explored in this study. The contextual effects of school racial compositions disappear when applied to outcome variables that are less related to school environments, such as students’ general happiness and symptoms of psychological disorder. Theoretical implications of these patterns are discussed at the end of this study.

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