The Relationship between Racism-Related Stress and Binge Eating among Black Female Students in Graduate and Professional Programs of Study: Examining the Role of Depression as a Mediator
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Anti-Black racism is a social toxin that not only violently affects people’s individual and collective access to resources, but significantly impacts the quality of life of those who are targeted, including the onset and maintenance of adverse psychological and physical health outcomes, such as depression and binge eating. Research finds that across the United States, experiences of racism can lead to racism-related stress, which is conceptualized as the cumulative psychological and emotional distress that can result from racial discrimination. Centering Black women in this narrative, this study explores how institutionalized racism-related stress in academia impacts the health and wellbeing of Black female graduate and professional studies students across the United States. Building upon existing research, the current study examines levels of institutionalized racism-related stress, in addition to gendered racism-related stress, reported by a sample of Black women in graduate and professional programs of study. Further, this study explores the correlational relationships between racism-related stress, depressive symptomatology, and binge eating behaviors among this population. As previous literature demonstrates significant associations between these variables as pairs, it was hypothesized that all three constructs (racism-related stress, depressive symptomatology, and binge eating) would be positively correlated among the participant sample. Finally, the current study extended previous research by testing depressive symptomatology as a mediator in the relationship between racism-related stress and binge eating. Participants were self-identified cisgender Black women currently enrolled in a graduate or professional program of study in the United States recruited through social media and snowball sampling. Respondents completed an anonymous online questionnaire that included a measure of racism-related stress related to being a student of color in higher education; a measure that assesses for the presence and severity of depressive symptomatology; a screener that assesses for the presence and severity of binge eating behaviors; and a demographic questionnaire. Through open-ended responses, participants also shared insight on the ways that their identity as Black women shape how they are treated by others at their academic institution, in addition to how these experiences impact their health and wellbeing. Results supported the prediction of a significant and positive relationship between racism-related stress and depressive symptomatology, while the remaining hypotheses were not supported. However, qualitative data highlighted critical insight on the dynamic experiences of Black female graduate students. Prominent emergent themes included participants need to combat negative stereotypes often assigned to Black women; feelings of tokenization in classroom settings; anti-Black racism and discrimination from peers and professors; and navigating white sensitivity on campus. Participants also reported that these experiences impact their health and wellbeing in a variety of ways, including general feelings of emotional distress; anxiety; and somatic symptoms, including bodily aches and pains. Implications for future research are discussed, including the need for relevant and appropriate mental health assessments and support services that target the intersectional racialized and gendered experiences of Black women. It is recommended that academic institutions work strategically to address anti-Black racism in graduate and professional programs of study to holistically strengthen campus-wide support for this often marginalized population in predominantly white college settings.