High school students eat lunch with their friends in the school cafeteria. Photo by Sean, John, and Joe via Wikipedia CC.

For many adolescents, schools serve as the epicenter of friendships and peer social engagement. Yet, as disciplinary practices like suspension become increasingly common and disproportionately targeted towards racial and ethnic minority youth, school punishment may not only weaken students’ tie to school, but also their friendships with fellow classmates. Wade C. Jacobsen’s new research examines whether and how school suspension in rural communities impacts current friendships and future engagement with antisocial peers.

To measure changes in friendship networks, Jacobsen examined surveys from 766 students each year between sixth and ninth grade. Each survey asked students to name their closest school friends, the number of times they were suspended, and involvement with substance use and delinquent behavior (e.g. vandalism, fighting, etc.). Jacobsen further observed whether students withdrew from peers, were rejected by peers, and increased involvement with antisocial peers.

By the time students reached ninth grade, roughly 40 percent of racial and ethnic minority students experienced suspension versus less than 20 percent of white students. Furthermore, all students who were suspended nominated fewer peers and received less friendship nominations from peers than non-suspended same-grade students in ninth grade. The more times students were suspended, the more likely they were to discontinue friendships. Experiencing at least one school suspension also increased student likelihood of nominating friends who engaged in substance use. At the same time, suspended students held more friendships in different grades and schools than non-suspended students. 

School discipline imposes harmful effects across both urban and rural communities. When administrators design school punishment policies, they must acknowledge that they are carried out in a deeply racialized context and consider their impact on students of color, who are disproportionately targeted by teachers, school administrators, and law enforcement officers. 


Education is a good place to start, but it won't end racism on its own. Photo by David Prasad, Flickr CC.
Education is a good place to start, but it won’t end racism on its own. Photo by David Prasad, Flickr CC.

Social scientists debate the extent to which education and cognitive ability influence individual prejudices against blacks and support for policies that seek to lessen racial inequality. On one hand, higher education levels (cognitive abilities) may lead the embrace of ideologies of racial equality and tolerance. On the other hand, support for racial equality in principle is not the same as support for specific policies seeking to reduce racial inequalities. That difference could indicate that white people with higher cognitive abilities are not necessarily less racist—perhaps they are more able to express their beliefs without appearing overtly racist.

Sociologist Geoffrey T. Wodtke set out to investigate. In a new paper, Wodtke examines the responses of over 44,000 whites in various cohorts from 1972 to 2010 using data from the General Social Survey. Unlike prior studies, he reports participants’ verbal abilities (one aspect of cognitive ability) through the Gallup-Thorndike Verbal Intelligence Test on racial attitudes including anti-black prejudice, integration, discrimination, and policies aimed at racial equality. Wodtke also tests whether the period of people’s political socialization—before the civil rights movement or after—impacts the extent to which respondents’ verbal ability influences their prejudices for or against blacks and racial equity policies.

Wodtke’s findings demonstrate that whites with higher verbal abilities are less likely to support anti-black prejudice and racial segregation, and they are more aware of the discrimination that blacks face. At the same time, they are not more likely—in some cases, they are even less likely than others—to favor specific policies seeking to reduce racial inequality, such as the busing programs of the 1970s, financial aid for minority schools, and government assistance programs. Additionally, the apparently liberalizing effects of education do not appear across generations. Wodtke finds that whites’ verbal abilities have a much smaller impact on racial attitudes among those generations socialized prior to the civil rights movement, and even among post-civil rights, high verbal aptitude whites, attitudes on racial inequality in principle for have not translated into more support for policies supporting racial equality. Rhetorical abilities aside, attitudes mean little without action.

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Skin color has long shaped the lives of blacks, as the advantages of being “light skinned” extend far beyond the socioeconomic. It even plays an important role in health outcomes. Health disparities between blacks and whites are well documented, and blacks often maintain higher rates of negative health outcomes such as mortality and morbidity than whites. The predictors of health disparities within the same racial group, however, remain largely unexamined. Thus, Ellis Monk investigates skin color as a form of discrimination in health outcomes between blacks.

So, how does one’s skin tone influence health disparities through discrimination? Monk uses various measures to investigate perceived discrimination and skin color through the National Survey of American Life (2001-2003) and face-to-face field interviews with respondents aged 18 and older. To assess perceived discrimination, Monk examines both perceived discrimination from whites and perceived discrimination from other blacks, in addition to the frequency of such discrimination. Monk measures skin color by first analyzing how the interviewer rates respondents’ skin tone, and second, how the respondents rate their own skin tone. Perceived discrimination and skin color are then examined in relation to four self-reported health outcomes: physical health, hypertension, mental health, and depression.

Monk concludes that the darker one’s reported skin color, the more discrimination they perceive from whites. Perceived discrimination among blacks, however, depends upon their placement in one of three categories: light skinned, medium-toned, and dark skinned. Blacks in the medium-toned category actually maintained more positive rates in mental health and were less likely to perceive discrimination from either white or black peers.

Still, the magnitude of the health disparities among blacks with various skin colors was found to be often equal to or greater than health disparities between blacks and whites. Monk also notes that blacks who reported higher levels of skin tone discrimination from other blacks also had higher rates of poor physical health. Monk argues that the study challenges common methodological practices that homogenize minority populations, demonstrating more nuanced life experiences affected by skin tone.

Andy McLemore//Flickr CC. Click for original.
Andy McLemore//Flickr CC. Click for original.

Stories of domestic violence and child abuse committed by athletes like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson prompt public belief that violent crimes are a widespread epidemic in American professional football, thus inspiring the nickname “National Felon League.” In fact, a national survey indicates 69% of Americans believe domestic violence is a serious problem in the league. NFL officials have responded by developing policies to address domestic violence and sexual assault. Despite numerous news articles highlighting these crimes, however, few researchers have actually researched whether NFL players are more likely to commit crimes than people in the general population.

Wanda Leal, Marc Gertz, and Alex Piquero contrast the arrest rates of NFL players with those of the general public from 2000 to 2013. Using data compiled by the San Diego Union – Tribune and USA Today, the authors looked at the arrest rates of 1,952 NFL players to the national arrest rates for males between the ages of 20 and 39 as reported in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). They found that NFL players had significantly lower rates of property, public order, and total arrests than other young men, but higher rates of violent arrests (a statistically significant phenomenon in 6 of the 14 years they measured, particularly from 2004 to 2008).

Leal, Gertz, and Piquero’s preliminary study does not appear to support the theory that NFL players are especially likely to be arrested, as the general population had higher arrest rates in three of the four measured crime indices. Nevertheless, the study also provides some support for those concerned about violence crime committed by professional football players.