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Extracurricular Involvement, Friendships, and Social Identity Development in Ethnically Diverse Middle Schools

  • Author(s): Knifsend, Casey Anne
  • Advisor(s): Juvonen, Jaana H
  • et al.
Abstract

My dissertation consists of two studies investigating extracurricular activities as a context for social identity development. These studies relied on a sample drawn from 11 multiethnic middle schools as part of a larger project investigating the role of school ethnic diversity in socio-emotional adjustment. Study 1 examined the correlates of extracurricular participation and identification among seventh grade youth (N = 2,376). African-American and Latino/Mexican-American adolescents were less likely to both participate in and to identify with their activities, compared to their Asian-American and White/Caucasian peers. In turn, hierarchical linear modeling suggested that activity participation was linked with feelings of belonging at school and academic engagement (measured using self-reports and teacher ratings) for youth of all ethnic backgrounds. Moreover, activity-based social identities were associated with lower social anxiety for all youth and with school belonging for those in team-oriented activities. These findings suggest that it is important to get ethnic minority middle school students involved in and identifying with extracurricular activities that are linked with positive adjustment. Activities that are structured to be team-oriented may be particularly helpful to promote identification. Building on Study 1, which focused on single social identities, Study 2 examined the intersections of multiple social identities among students who were engaged in extracurricular activities (N = 1,497). Specifically, the ways in which cross-ethnic contact in extracurricular activities is associated with complex, inclusive social identities, as well as with cross-ethnic friendships and attitudes about ethnic outgroups, were investigated. Hierarchical linear modeling revealed that greater cross-ethnic contact in activities was linked with both cross-ethnic friendships in activities and complex, inclusive social identities, each of which were associated with more positive ethnic intergroup attitudes. Thus, opportunities for cross-ethnic contact in activities must be present and taken advantage of to promote positive intergroup attitudes. Together, these studies suggested that extracurricular activities are associated with both personal well-being at school and with more positive attitudes towards peers from different backgrounds. These findings have implications for the design and structure of extracurricular activities, suggesting that activities with greater peer interaction (e.g., through collaboration or building friendships) foster school-related adjustment and positive intergroup attitudes.

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