A UCLA study published in Child Development found that ethnicity-based stigma is apparent as early as second grade and that this stigma can negatively affect the desire of ethnic-minority children to want to go to school.

Researchers interviewed students between the ages of 7 and 11 about how aware they were of feeling stigma at school, any anxiety they felt when attending school, the interest they had in academics and whether they felt like they belonged at school, according to a press release.

The researchers interviewed ethnic-minority children with African American, Chinese, Dominican and Russian backgrounds, as well as those with European American backgrounds, who were not considered to be minorities.

“We found that differences in the young children’s awareness of stigma were similar to differences among adults, with ethnic-minority children generally reporting more awareness than ethnic-majority children,” said author Andrew J. Fuligni. “There were few differences by grade, suggesting that even second-graders are sensitive to ethnic attitudes in society.”

Fuligni said ethnic-minority children also reported higher academic anxiety. He said the researchers attributed this to greater awareness of stigma. However, researchers said, these children also reported a higher interest in school than non-minority students. Feeling close to people at their schools contributed to the enthusiasm. This was especially evident in the Dominican children who participated in the study.

“Programs aimed at decreasing students’ perceptions of group stigma, such as providing community role models, could help keep students’ academic anxiety in check,” Fuligni said. “And school-based interventions that foster close connections among individuals at school may help students stay interested in learning.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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