A new study led by Sheretta Butler-Barnes, an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, finds that young African American women with strong racial identity are more likely to be academically curious and persistent in school.
Researchers surveyed 733 adolescent Black girls from middle and high schools across three socio-economically diverse school districts in the Midwest. The study found that racial identity and positive perceptions of school climate were associated with greater academic motivation. Moreover, the researchers learned that racial identity acted as a protective factor in hostile or negative school climates.
“Persons of color who have unhealthy racial identity beliefs tend to perform lower in school and have more symptoms of depression,” Dr. Butler-Barnes said. “In our study, we found that feeling positive about being Black, and feeling support and belonging at school may be especially important for African-American girls’ classroom engagement and curiosity. Feeling connected to the school may also work together with racial identity attitudes to improve academic outcomes.”
Dr. Butler-Barnes joined the Brown School in July 2012 as an assistant professor. Before coming to the Brown School, Butler-Barnes was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan’s School of Education affiliated with the Center for the Study of Black Youth in Context.
A graduate of Michigan State University, Dr. Butler-Barnes earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Wayne State University in Detroit.
The study, “Promoting Resilience Among African American Girls: Racial Identity as a Protective Factor.” was published on the website of the journal Child Development. It may be accessed here.