L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy, an associate professor of sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York, said exploring the role that stress plays in the lives of black and Latino youth is a good addition to much of the research literature on academic gaps that focuses on socioeconomic factors, family background, and neighborhood characteristics. He added that the paper’s conclusion—negotiating racial indignities leads to stress, and in turn, makes it harder for students of color to sleep and stay on task—is a useful contribution to the educational dialogue.
“It opens up the door for us to think about some of the interventions that we can do at the school level … talking to children about how to process stress … as well as the interpersonal work that we have to do [thinking] about what everyday racism looks like,” Lewis-McCoy said. “Not just race as an institutional practice, or racism in terms of [school segregation], but the [routine] experiences of those people who are black and Latino.”
He expressed some concerns, however, with the study’s premise that black students confronted with racial hurdles regularly disconnect from school or no longer desire an education. To the contrary, he found in researching his book Inequality in the Promised Land—a look at race and suburban schooling—that black children often sought ways to circumvent race-based obstacles. “Young people are facing discrimination on the playground … in who gets called on in the classroom and what type of feedback they receive … in which colleges or post-education opportunities they're offered,” Lewis-McCoy said, noting that children living with discrimination learn to pivot when “they don't have adults who acknowledge that or work with them to change the arrangements.” The CUNY professor said the common belief that race-based stressors lead black students to disassociate from academic achievement is “actually a wrong interpretation of their actions. We can't assume that every blocked opportunity leads to someone retreating. In fact, I think the narrative and the arc around black education is often finding success in spite of barriers.”
Agostini, the New York City teen, identifies with the stress of racial inequity—or what he calls the “psychological trauma” of constant racial harassment. He said it can take him up to a day to recover. “It’s not something that easy to shake. Being a person of color, you’re constantly … being targeted just because you’re a person of color. It makes it hard to deal.”
But as Lewis-McCoy states, Agostini has found tools to combat the racial discrimination he’s experienced, channeling his emotions into action. He is a member of the Urban Youth Collaborative, a citywide coalition of youth organizers working on school-based social-justice issues. Looking ahead, he hopes to break the cycle of racial targeting for future students like himself.
“I hope to be an example [via] protests, and actions, and rallies, and whatever I have to do,” he said. “I don't want other black and Latino students being pushed out of school … I want them to be able to go to school and get their education … I want them to be able to walk home from school … I want them to be able to just chill in the park and just hang out with their friends … I want to change people's lives for the positive.”