Barriers to the Success of Ethnic Minority Students in School Psychology Graduate Programs

By Clark, Chelsi R.; Mercer, Sterett H. et al. | School Psychology Review, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Barriers to the Success of Ethnic Minority Students in School Psychology Graduate Programs


Clark, Chelsi R., Mercer, Sterett H., Zeigler-Hill, Virgil, Dufrene, Brad A., School Psychology Review


Developing methods to increase the number of ethnic minority school psychologists is critically important to the future of the profession (e.g., Davis, Mcintosh, Phelps, & Kehle, 2004; Fagan, 1988). Survey data from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) for the 2004-2005 school year indicated that only 7.4% of school psychologists identified themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority group (Curtis et al., 2008). This is important because disparities between the ethnicities of school psychologists and the clients they serve may impair their ability to relate to their clients and provide appropriate services (Thompson & Alexander, 2006; Yeh, Eastman, & Cheung, 1994). For these reasons, it is essential for training programs in school psychology to focus more of their efforts on recruiting and retaining ethnic minority students. However, ethnic minority students in school psychology programs often face a number of challenges such as a lack of culturally similar mentors, insufficient undergraduate preparation, limited financial support, and nonoptimal institutional climate (Zhou et al., 2004).

Of the different forms of race-related experiences that may impact the functioning and engagement of ethnic minority graduate students, racial microaggressions may be among the most important. Racial microaggressions are "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial minority group ... often unconsciously delivered in the form of subtle snubs, or dismissive looks, gestures, and tones" (Sue et al., 2007, p. 273). Microaggressions were initially described by Pierce (1969) to characterize cross-racial interactions, but have been extended to gender and sexual orientation (Shelton & Delgado-Romero, 2011). Some researchers have minimized the importance of microaggressions by characterizing them as simple misattributions or misunderstandings that can be made by either ethnic majority or minority individuals (e.g., Schacht, 2008; Thomas, 2008). Despite these criticisms, recent research has found that racial microaggressions are associated with important outcomes in the lives of ethnic minority individuals (e.g., stress, psychological adjustment; Mercer, Zeigler-Hill, Wallace, & Hayes, 2011).

Microaggressions take three primary forms: microinsults, microassaults, and microinvalidations (Sue et al., 2007). Microinsults are race-based statements that are rude and demeaning to a person (e.g., comments such as "You are so articulate" that can imply a sense of surprise that an ethnic minority student can speak intelligently or reacting in an overly positive manner to statements by ethnic minority students during class discussions). Microassaults are more blatant forms of racism that are meant to insult or hurt the intended victim (Sue et al., 2007) and may be verbal (e.g., referring to an ethnic minority student using a racial slur), behavioral (e.g., deliberately providing assistance to an ethnic majority student while making an ethnic minority student wait), or environmental (e.g., posting racially insensitive posters or signs in an area frequented by ethnic minorities). Microinvalidations are statements or actions that invalidate or nullify a person's feelings, experiences, or beliefs based on his or her race (e.g., making a comment in class that the most qualified students should get into college during a discussion about minority scholarships or statements that minimize race such as "I don't see race when I look at you; I just see a human being"). Microaggressions may be important to ethnic minority graduate students because these experiences could cause additional stress during an already demanding time in their lives. To further complicate the experiences of ethnic minority graduate students, the subtle nature of microaggressions may leave them uncertain as to whether they are being overly vigilant or experiencing "healthy paranoia" (Sue, Capodilupo, & Holder, 2008, p. …

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