Racism-Related Stress and Ethnic Identity as Determinants of African American College Students' Career Aspirations

By Tovar-Murray, Darrick; Jenifer, Ericka S. et al. | Career Development Quarterly, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Racism-Related Stress and Ethnic Identity as Determinants of African American College Students' Career Aspirations


Tovar-Murray, Darrick, Jenifer, Ericka S., Andrusyk, Jara, D'Angelo, Ryan, King, Tia, Career Development Quarterly


Drawing primarily on the construct of psychological buffer, the purpose of this study was to explore the extent to which racism-related stress and ethnic identity are determinants of career aspirations. A total of 163 African American college students from a predominately White Midwestern university participated in the study. A moderation regression analysis was conducted. Results indicate that ethnic identity interacted with racism-related stress (p = .04) to predict career aspirations. In other words, as racism-related stress increases in the context of low identity development, career aspirations decrease. Conversely, as perceived racism increases in the context of high identity development, career aspirations increase. Implications for professionals and future research in the field of career counseling are discussed.

Keyword: African American, career aspirations, ethnic identity, racism-related stress

Career counseling is defined as "the process of assisting individuals in the development of a life-career with focus on the definition of the worker role and how that role interacts with other life roles" (Fouad & Byars-Winston, 2005, p. 224). One goal of career counseling is to help students set goals toward their career aspirations. Career aspirations refer to students finding incentives to set objectives toward and be motivated to meet their occupational goals (Quaglia & Cobb, 1996). To better accomplish this mission, career counselors have begun to consider the sociocultural contexts (i.e., identity and racism) that influence students' career goal-setting processes (Fouad & Byars-Winston, 2005).

Recendy, researchers have theorized that identity and racism may enhance or detract racial and ethnic minorities from specific occupational goals (e.g., Fouad & Byars-Winston, 2005). To further extend the career counseling literature, this study amalgamates career aspirations with two areas of research: racism and identity. Similar to other scholars (e.g., Helms & Piper, 1994), we postulated that racism would have a negative impact on African American college students' career goals. We also assumed that identity would moderate the relationship between racism and career aspirations. Although the extent to which identity buffers against the attacks of racism has received recent attention (Cross & Vandiver, 2001), we found no study that identified ethnic identity as a protective-reactive factor for career aspirations. Therefore, it was predicted that the more African American college students identified with their ethnic identity, the weaker the effect of racism -related stress would be on their career aspirations.

Racism: A Career Rarrier on Carper Aspirations

Recent developments in the career counseling literature have focused attention on how career barriers influence African American college students' career development (Neblett, Shelton, & Sellers, 2004). Career barriers are defined as "events or conditions, either within the person or in his or her environment, that make career progress difficult" (Swanson & Woitke, 1997, p. 434). In their recent meta-analysis, Fouad and Byars-Winston (2005) examined racial and ethnic differences on career aspirations and barriers. The results of their study showed (a) no significant difference in career hopes among racial and ethnic groups and (b) that racial and ethnic minorities were more likely to be exposed to career barriers. In other words, career barriers such as racism or racial-related stress might preclude racial and ethnic minorities from meeting their occupational goals.

However, only recently have scholars considered racism-related stress as a potential career barrier (Neblett et al., 2004). Racism-related stress is defined as "the race-related transactions between individuals or groups and their environment that emerge from the dynamics of racism, and that are perceived to tax or exceed existing individual and collective resources or threaten well-being" (Harrell, 2000, p. …

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