Academic journal article College Student Journal

African American College Students and Stress: School Racial Composition, Self-Esteem and Social Support

Academic journal article College Student Journal

African American College Students and Stress: School Racial Composition, Self-Esteem and Social Support

Article excerpt

College students are a very vulnerable group to experience stress, the latter of which is related to a variety of outcomes, such as health and academic performance. However, there is a dearth of research examining African American college students and stress. Further, fewer studies have compared stress for students attending predominately white institutions to those attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

We first examined the relationships between self-esteem, social support, school racial composition, age and gender on students' stress using the Student Stress Survey. A non-probability sample (N = 344) of predominantly African American students was collected at a Historically Black College & University (HBCU) while 165 students comprised the non-probability sample of white students from a Predominantly White Institution (PWI).

We found that the top five reported sources of stress were: Death of a family member (Intrapersonal Stress) 82%; low grades (Academic Stress) 69%; time management (Academic Stress) 61%; boyfriend/girlfriend problems (Interpersonal Stress) 57%; and missed classes (Academic Stress) 55%. In addition, we found significant correlations between self-esteem, social support and stress for all students except African Americans at PWIs. The study points out the need for colleges and universities to develop stress intervention programs that address stress specifically based on race and school racial composition. Implications and suggestions for further research among African American college students will be discussed.

Introduction and Background

A growing body of research focusing on stress and its implications on the health of individuals has emerged over the last few decades (Edwards, Hershberger, Russell & Markert, 2001). These research studies show that a strong relationship exists between stress and cognitive abilities (Glass & Singer, 1972), and a weakened immune system (Cohen & Herber, 1996). College is a transitional period when young people undergo new experiences, meet new people as well as face opportunities that may compound stress in their lives. Hudd et al. (2000) argue that adolescents and college students face a variety of negative health outcomes including smoking, drinking, experimenting with illegal drugs, suicide ideation and unhealthy lifestyle habits such as poor diet and lack of sleep. This increase in exposure to perceived stress levels has lead to an extension of therapeutic culture not only in the general public, but in college and university campuses nationwide.

Rimer (2004) discusses the importance of addressing stress among college students and examines the strategies taken by colleges and universities to address stress in a holistic manner. For the college student, stress can take on many forms in their daily life. The pressures of maintaining a balance between interpersonal relationships, academic demands, one's own expectations and maintaining personal relationships can be an extremely daunting task. A few examples of the myriad of difficulties that college students face are: academic load, being away from home, family obligations, work, maintaining personal relationships, time management, financial obligations, and becoming acclimated to a new environment.

Stressful events in college can often manifest themselves in poor choices and devastating health and academic consequences. Dealing with stress means understanding the complex process of how the many factors related to the stressor and the individual interact (Phinney, 2003). Thus, college students are in dire need for solutions to deal with the increasing demands on their lives.

As a response to the increasing needs of college students, college and university administrators and health professionals seek ways to improve the mental, physical, emotional, and social health of their students to make their college experience both healthy and memorable. …

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