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Moderated Mediation Analysis of Racial Discrimination on the School Success of Asian American High School Students


Since the 2016 presidential election, there has been a growing amount of racial discrimination across the country and especially within schools. Students from various racial and ethnic backgrounds have been disproportionately negatively affected by these acts of violence and hatred. Asian American high school students occupy a particular role in this struggle as, while they experience discrimination and are faced with growing mental health challenges as they enter college, their struggles are often discounted and marginalized due to erroneous stereotypes and biases, such as the “Model Minority” Myth that purports that they achieve well and experience low social problems. In an effort to highlight Asian American students’ experiences with discrimination from a cultural strengths-based perspective, the current study aimed to understand the associations between perceived discrimination from teachers and peers, self-esteem, motivation for school, and achievement, using school social support from peers and teacher and students’ ethnic identity development as potential buffers or protective factors. A moderated mediation analysis was conducted to understand these associations. Results showed that self-esteem fully mediated the association between perceived discrimination from peers and academic motivation. There was a negative association between perceived peer discrimination and self-esteem, a positive association between self-esteem and motivation, and a positive association between motivation and achievement. Self-esteem did not mediate the association between perceived discrimination from teachers and motivation and was also not significantly associated with perceived teacher discrimination. Perceived discrimination from teachers was directly and negatively associated with motivation, self-esteem was positively associated with motivation, and motivation was positively associated with achievement. Neither school social support nor ethnic identity development were significant moderators. The findings provide support for the important influence of peers and teachers on the self-esteem and academic outcomes of Asian American youth and also have practical implications for interventions related to reducing racism and discrimination in school systems. Implications for understanding the role of culture as a strength and supporting schools in building positive relationships among all members of the community are also discussed.

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