Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Exploring the Work Experiences of School Counselors of Color

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Exploring the Work Experiences of School Counselors of Color

Article excerpt

In spite of research suggesting the importance of diverse professionals in education (Mattison & Aber, 2007), no studies have explored the professional experiences of school counselors of Color. In this exploratory grounded-theory qualitative study, researchers interviewed 19 school counselors of Color. Responses revealed both positive and negative racial experiences in the schools, with mitigating factors involving the school environment. Implications for professional school counselors include advocacy and allyhood.

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Although "diversity" can refer to various physical, social, and/or psychological constructs, racial-ethnic diversity remains a sensitive topic in contemporary culture (Monk, Winslade & Sinclair, 2008). According to one projection, by 2050, racially diverse students will represent 60% of the student population in the United States (Passel & Cohn, 2008), yet the number of racially/ethnically diverse school staff was only 33% in 2010 (Department of Labor and Statistics, 2010). The National Education Association (2004) voiced concern over the negative educational effects of low numbers of educators of Color; in that same year, the American Counseling Association membership was only 13% racially/ethnically diverse (cited in Bemak, 2005). A reasonable conclusion is that the counseling profession, including school counseling, may not consist of numbers of counselors of Color in proportion to the clientele they serve.

The number of school counselors of Color can be very important for students, as the same racial dynamics that exist in the community exist in schools (Kohli, 2009). A racially inclusive and positive school environment can mitigate systemic negative racial interactions, leading to better student academic and behavioral outcomes (Mattison & Aber, 2007). However, when diverse individuals' needs are met by a hostile school environment, students and staff suffer (Kohli, 2009). Such negative school cultures perpetuate marginalization, oppression, and silencing of racially/ethnically diverse students and staff (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012; Marley, 2009; Mattison & Aber, 2007; Picower, 2009; Zirkel, 2005). These are systemic and contextual issues that school counselors are charged with addressing (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2012). However, even counselors can suffer when the environment is negative, especially when they are also racially/ethnically diverse.

The negative influence of workplace environment on workers of Color has been examined in the literature. Recent research documents the discrimination that employees of Color face in the current American workplace (Khosrovani & Ward, 2011; Leasher & Miller, 2012; Nunez-Smith, Curry, Berg, Krumholz, & Bradley, 2008; Salazar, 2005). Focusing on school counselors of Color, Jackson, Holt, and Nelson (2005) found that their sample held a different model for helping than the one promoted at their school, causing environmental dissonance for the counselor. In a separate study of 227 school counselors (70% White and 30% of Color), overall environmental stress and dissonance in terms of heavy caseload, high demands, and inequality of work expectations increased the respondent's prediction of leaving the profession in the near future; counselors of Color had significantly greater representation in the highest stress group, who were significantly more likely to indicate their intention to leave the profession (McCarthy, Van Horn Kerne, Calfa, Lambert, & Guzman, 2010). Studies of work-related stress in other industries indicate that work-related stressors increase emotional dissonance that is predictive of burnout, anxiety, and absence behavior (Diestel & Schmidt, 2010; Tewksbury & Higgins, 2006) and highly predictive of intentions to quit (Cote & Morgan, 2002). Based on these studies, the conjecture is possible that environmental dissonance based on racial issues might also impede the success of school counselors of Color and cause them to leave the profession. …

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