Study Warns of Looming Mental Health Crisis for Black College Students

The additional mental burdens black college students face can take a toll on their health, according to a new study.
The additional mental burdens black college students face can take a toll on their health, according to a new study.

Researchers have noted anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and “John Henryism.”

As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs an affirmative action case that’s sparked controversial debate over whether African-American students can succeed at elite universities, a new study shows that those who do may be doing so at the risk of their own health.

The study, from researchers at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development, argues that researchers are overlooking a looming mental health crisis for black college students who have had to draw on “grit” – mental toughness and perseverance – to achieve in predominantly white academic institutions.

The study’s authors, Ebony McGee and David Stovall, argue that while being resilient is required for any college student, black students bear the additional burden of proving their intellectual worth in the face of overt or covert racism. And that takes a toll, both mentally and physically.

“Weathering the cumulative effects of living in a society characterized by white dominance and privilege produces a kind of physical and mental wear-and-tear that contributes to a host of psychological and physical ailments,” explained McGee, assistant professor of diversity and urban schooling at Vanderbilt. “We have documented alarming occurrences of anxiety, stress, depression and thoughts of suicide, as well as a host of physical ailments like hair loss, diabetes and heart disease.”

Grit is a popular buzzword in the education world used to describe the type of determination and stick-to-itiveness students must embrace if they want to succeed. And it’s become especially associated with the success of students from disadvantaged communities and communities of color, where schools are often understaffed and under-resourced, where there’s higher levels of drugs and violence and where students may not have strong support systems at home.

But there’s an ongoing debate about how much emphasis should be placed on teaching students grit, and whether it masks underlying problems, like the need for additional funding or more social workers. Or, as it applies to higher education, pushing colleges to recognize the additional challenges African-American students face in earning a degree.

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SOURCE: U. S. News and World Report
Lauren Camera