Understanding students? school experiences and identities in the sociopolitical context of racial hostility
Roberto Rosario

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

Black Lives Matter (BLM) as a sociohistorical and sociopolitical moment spurred national and international conversations about the nature of systemic racism. The most recent set of protests in 2020 and the ensuing conversations they sparked intensified an ongoing debate about what young people know and understand about race, racism, and systemic injustice, and the psychological implications of such a context. Drawing from critical theories of human development and education, this dissertation investigates the psychological experience of these hostile contexts for a sample of racially diverse youth. Specifically, I employ a multi-method approach to examine both the top-down influence of this context on students? experiences and the bottom-up influence of students on their learning environments?how and in what ways are students engaging in acts of liberation in the midst of this context? Across 3 experiments (N= 657), I find (a) students think about sociopolitical contexts that are identity-relevant (Study 1), and when exposed to a threatening sociopolitical context (b) question their belonging in school (Studies 2 and 3) and (c) interpret academic difficulty as less important (Study 3). Second, using critical qualitative methods, I conducted 9 same-race semi-structured focus groups (N = 32) with Black, (non-White) Latinx, White, and Multiracial youth and find that there are unique topics young people discuss based on their identities as well as some conceptual overlapping meanings young people associate with the sociopolitical context across racial groups. This dissertation provides theoretical, empirical, and practical insights into the psychological processes associated with hostile sociopolitical contexts.
About Roberto Rosario
R. Josiah Rosario is a Ph.D. Candidate in Social Psychology at Northwestern University. Josiah primarily focuses on understanding how people?s social psychological environments shape their academic and psychological outcomes. Drawing on critical educational and developmental-social psychological frameworks, Josiah?s dissertation aims to uncover the ways in which young people are affected by and resist racist sociopolitical forces in their environments, and how educators and caregivers can support young people?s development in these contexts. Leveraging critical participatory design frameworks, Josiah continues to co-design and collaborate with local elementary schools in Chicago, where he was born, to tackle the challenges they face in creating racially equitable school environments. Josiah?s work has been published in Nature Human Behaviour, Development Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Review among others. Prior to pursuing graduate education, Josiah was recognized as a Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, for his excellence in scholarly and community-based work. Josiah has also been inducted into the Edward Bouchet Honor Society for his dedication in scholarship and service to minoritized students in graduate education. His research has been supported by the Institute for Policy Research, the Dispute Resolution Research Center at Kellogg School of Business, and by The Character Lab Research Network. Josiah also dedicated years as a Fellow for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in The Graduate School at Northwestern University, where he helped to organize and lead the Diversity Peer Mentoring program, the Summer Research Opportunity Program, and other retention and recruitment initiatives.

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