Dr. Deborah Rivas-Drake

What drew you to do work on Latino youth and families, or another topic that is important to you now?

There are many projects I’m really excited about, so I’ll just highlight a few! One is a book that will be out next year titled, “Below the Surface: Talking with Teens about Race, Ethnicity, and Identity” (Princeton University Press) that I coauthored with Adriana Umaña-Taylor. In it, we lay out the research to help readers develop tools for supporting healthy ethnic-racial identity development in youth as a means for improving intergroup relations. It’s been a labor of love and also very cathartic for thinking through how we can draw on research to address some of the issues Latinx, Black, and other young people (really, all of us) are facing at this historical moment. In our NSF-funded Teen Identity, Development, and Education Study (TIDES), we are also conducting research on adolescents’ ERI and peer processes (including intergroup relations), which will allow us to further empirically examine some of the issues we consider in the book.

Another major line of inquiry under way considers the implications of social-emotional learning (SEL) practices in schools for youths’ ethnic-racial identity and intergroup relations. This involves a collaboration with my colleague Rob Jagers, who is now VP of Research at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) – arguably the epicenter of SEL research, practice, and policy in the U.S. I have always been interested in the experiences that support healthy ERI development and promote coalitions among people of color, and our collaboration has brought me to the realm of SEL, civic engagement, and sociopolitical development among Latinx and Black youth, in particular. More to come on this!

In terms of Latinx youth and families, in particular, I want to draw attention to the really important work that my student, Fernanda Lima Cross, is doing on the role of documentation status in parenting. She is examining how the parenting practices of parents who are undocumented that are grounded in their cultural heritage intersect with those that are grounded in their documentation status – and the implications of these for their children’s psychological and academic adjustment. She worked with this population for many years, as an interpreter and social worker, prior to pursuing her Ph.D. and now completing her dissertation.


Who was an important mentor to you in this work, or was there a particularly influential study in the field or in a related field?

If you’ve read my work, it’s obvious that major influences on my thinking are Bronfenbrenner and Erikson. Years ago, I went back and re-read Erikson, and I was so delighted to realize then that he was very much a contextualist! In terms of my thinking about ERI, one of the key influences has certainly been the Multidimensional Model of Racial Identity developed by Rob Sellers and colleagues (1997, 1998).

In terms of mentoring: I have had the good fortune of having generous formal and informal mentors – all of whom have been faculty of color – throughout my career. I’m doing my very best to pay it forward!

Any particular advice or tips to someone starting out in the field who is doing work in your area? 

Develop a mentoring network at every stage of your career – no one person can (or should) be everything you need in a mentor. Be resourceful. Ask questions you are passionate enough about that you could envision tackling them for many years, ground them in theory, and try to pursue them with the very best methods you can. Write every day, even if it’s just to sketch out a thought, idea, or question to come back to another day.


A particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it

In a recent study with David Schaefer (UC Irvine) and Muniba Saleem, Michael Medina, and Rob Jagers (UM) (Rivas-Drake et al., in press; see below), we found numerous benefits associated with students expressing positive beliefs about interacting with peers from other ethnic/racial groups. Specifically, youth with positive diversity attitudes were more sought after as friends than those with less positive diversity attitudes. In addition, these students were more likely to have friends who shared their positive diversity attitudes and reported more friends from groups other than their own. Taken together, these results suggest that youth who feel positively about interacting with peers from different ethnic/racial backgrounds were more popular and more likely to have diverse friendships.

Successfully engaging and forming friendships with people from diverse ethnic/racial groups is an important kind of social competence, and one that is especially relevant given today’s pervasive racial tensions. For youth, being able to have positive interactions that span ethnic/racial differences is associated with a number of benefits, such as improved educational experiences, greater political tolerance, and better relationship skills. Many schools, like the one involved in the current study, are implementing practices to encourage not just awareness of difference but also empathy and the ability to take others’ perspectives. This research helps to demonstrate the importance of peers in this process, as they help shape students’ beliefs about diversity and may serve as a useful lens through which we can potentially gauge the success of these types of programs.


Upcoming talks, presentations, or publications we should know about

Rivas-Drake, D., Schaefer, D., Saleem, M., Medina, M., & Jagers, R. (in press). Adolescent intergroup contact attitudes across peer networks in school: Selection, influence, and implications for cross-group friendships. Child Development.

Rivas-Drake, D. & Umaña-Taylor, A. J. (forthcoming). Below the Surface: Talking with Teens                   about Race, Ethnicity, and Identity.Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Also, please see this new call for a special issue on “Hidden Populations” in Developmental Psychology, which is a collaboration with Dawn Witherspoon (Penn State), Mayra Bámaca (Penn State), and Gaby Livas Stein (UNCG): on.apa.org/dev_hp

You can email Dr. RIvas-Drake, or find out more here: email & weblink


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