“When a person’s sense of human dignity is violated, there are physiological consequences.”
That’s what Dr. David R. Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health and Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University, states in an article about the consequences of racial discrimination.
The article focuses on a recently-released study of 331 African Americans living in the rural south. It found that “Adolescents who experienced frequent racial discrimination without emotional support from parents and peers had higher levels of blood pressure, a higher body mass index, and higher levels of stress-related hormones at age 20, placing them at greater risk for chronic disease as they get older.” The study controlled for other factors, being able to demonstrate the direct consequences of racial discrimination.
However, the research also showed these biological consequences could be mitigated if the teenagers received emotional support from peers and caregivers. These behaviors can be as simple as listening to a teenager, offering suggestions for how to handle problems, and helping them with school or work.
At the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, our Emerging Leaders Institute programs do just that: providing a safe space for students to share their feelings, find support, and build community. We have long promoted the idea that these activities improve academic and social outcomes — and now, there is evidence of clear health benefits as well.