Do Natural Mentors Moderate the Association Between Perceived Discrimination, Problematic Alcohol Use, and Academic Success Among Black College Students? A Mixed Methods Study

Hussain, Saida, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hurd, Noelle, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Black Americans are at greater risk of initiating substance use during emerging adulthood in relation to other developmental periods. Previous research has identified perceived experiences of discrimination as a key contributing factor to substance use among Black emerging adults. Experiences of discrimination are particularly prevalent for Black Americans in majority White settings and previous research suggests that Black emerging adults may engage in problematic alcohol use to cope with discriminatory experiences which may, in turn, yield negative consequences for academic performance. Research has demonstrated that the presence of a natural mentor (a non-parental adult from a youth's pre-existing social network who provides support and guidance) is associated with positive psychosocial and academic outcomes among emerging adults. The proposed study employed a mixed methods design. Study participants were Black college students (n=118) completing their first year of study at a predominantly White Institution (PWI) in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Path analysis was used to determine if natural mentors may offset the potential negative effects of perceived discrimination on academic success via increased problematic drinking. Subsequently, semi-structured interviews were administered to a subset of students (n=12) and their natural mentors (n = 10) in an attempt to better understand potential causal associations between perceived discrimination, problematic drinking, and academic performance as well as to better explicate the mechanisms through in which natural mentors may help offset these associations. Contrary to study hypotheses, quantitative findings revealed that students who reported greater experiences of perceived discrimination had higher GPAs. Qualitative findings indicated that students perceived a range of discriminatory experiences and found many ways to cope including processing the event, talking about it with friends, and working harder academically. Students reported using perceived experiences as a motivator to excel academically. Natural mentors were also an important resource for students when they experienced discrimination. They imparted racial socialization messages unique to the academic context, as well as messages found in the racial socialization literature. The qualitative findings may help to explicate the lack of expected associations in the quantitative sample. The findings of the current study underscore the importance of access to supportive adults who can create a safe space for Black students at PWIs.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
black college students, natural mentoring relationships, academic success, problematic alcohol use, mixed-methods
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