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Liberty and Justice for All? System-Justifying Ideologies, Sense of Belonging, and Academic Achievement Among Ethnic Minority Youth


The objective of this study was to examine the correlation of system-justifying ideologies (O’Brien & Major, 2005)—a relatively new variable of interest in the context of education research—and four established psychosocial variables (grit, growth mindsets, ethnic identity, and other group orientation) with two outcome variables (academic achievement and sense of belonging) among underserved, ethnic minority youth with a particular interest in high achieving students among this group. The sample was comprised of 101 underserved Latinx and Black high school students. Using hierarchical regressions, I examined the contributions of psychosocial qualities to academic achievement and sense of belong. Next, I used qualitative analyses to better understand the nuances of how 34 participants perceived the fairness of society in relation to their motivation to perform in school. Academic achievement was negatively correlated with age and positively correlated with John Henryism, grit, growth mindset, and other group orientation (OGO). SJIs were not meaningful predictors of sense of belonging. Sense of belonging was positively correlated with grit. A positive prediction of GPA based on grit was found in Block 4 of the hierarchical regression for GPA. Three themes emerged from the qualitative analyses: (a) ambitious career aspirations, (b) systemic barriers that result in opportunity gaps and unequal access to the American Dream, and (c) skepticism of the American Dream and meritocracy narratives. The qualitative findings indicate that many high achieving ethnic minority youth are cautiously ambitious about pursuing their dreams despite their acknowledgement of the reality of systemic barriers that they will likely face.

Keywords: system-justifying ideologies, grit, growth mindset, ethnic identity, other group orientation, academic achievement, sense of belonging

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