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Latino and other students of color who attend schools that emphasize the value of diversity show better heart health than peers whose schools without such values, according to a new study.
The study examined a diverse sample of adolescents from over 100 schools, mainly in urban areas.
“For students of color, these schools that emphasize diversity are different environments in concrete ways,” Cynthia Levine, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, who conducted the study while a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University, told Futurity.
“They may feel more supported and valued there, in a way that matters for their health.”
About The Study
The study examined how schools that emphasize the value of racial and ethnic diversity, can predict better cardiometabolic health among students of color.
Schools that highlighted the value of diversity—mentioning diversity in their mission statements and more—showed that Latino and African American students, but not white students, had lower values on a composite of five biomarkers of inflammation.
They also had less insulin resistance and compensatory β-cell activity, and have fewer metabolic syndrome signs and score lower on a continuous metabolic syndrome composite.
The study also revealed that Latino students have lower levels of interleukin 6, an an inflammatory biomarker that contributes to cardiometabolic disease, when they live in ethnically themed dorms and are, thus, presumably exposed to positive representations of their group.
“There’s research showing that when schools and workplaces recognize and appreciate diversity, people of color are more engaged and successful,” Levine told Futurity. “Our work suggests that similar environments also can be good for health.”
These findings are increasingly important for students of color.
Latino students often lack access to quality early education, according to a Salud America! Research Review. They also attend schools that have weaker policies for snacks and drinks and the lowest physical activity rates, according to a Salud America! Research Review.
Researchers suspect that students of color thrive in this environment because they are disciplined less harshly.
“We used another sample of schools in Chicago to check this, and we showed that schools whose mission statements mention diversity are schools where students of color are more academically successful and less likely to be disciplined,” Levine told Futurity.
These findings have big implications for Latino kids, who are disproportionately targeted by harsh school discipline policies. This makes them more likely to face adverse childhood experiences (ACES), thus making it harder for them to succeed not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well.
One way support a diverse learning environment: a diverse teacher workforce.
“These schools may also have more teachers of color, have the perspectives of people of color represented in the curriculum to a greater degree, or have teachers who otherwise treat students of color in a more positive, supportive, and inclusive manner,” Levine says.
Another way to enhance the lives of students of color: create trauma-sensitive schools.
Use this free Salud America! guide, which coaches school personnel to talk to decision-makers, build a support team, craft a system to identify and support traumatized students, and more!