An Ecological Approach to Racial Environments and Their Relationship to Mental Health

José A. Soto, Nana A. Dawson-Andoh, Dawn P. Witherspoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Although research has demonstrated that aspects of racial environments such as racial experiences and racial diversity can relate to psychological health and well-being, few studies have examined what specifically happens when individuals move from one racial environment to another. The present study asked 179 African Americans transitioning to a predominantly white institution (freshmen or junior transfers) about racial diversity (percentage of African Americans) at their prior institution, racial experiences at their prior institution, and racial experiences at the current institution and examined how these characteristics related to self-reported depression. Overall, we found that more negative previous racial experiences predicted greater depressive symptoms in college. Results also revealed a significant three-way interaction such that more positive current racial experiences predicted less depressive symptoms, but only for those students coming from predominantly negative racial environments—low racial diversity and more negative racial experiences. Our findings highlight the complex role of past and present racial environmental factors in influencing psychological health. Implications for African American college students’ success and well-being are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-221
Number of pages13
JournalRace and Social Problems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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