Psychology ETDs

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The negative effects of racial discrimination and microaggressions on health have been consistently documented, but only a handful of studies have examined this topic among Native Americans. The goal of this study was to test the Indigenist Stress-Coping Model (Walters, Simoni, & Evans-Campbell, 2002) among Native American college students attending two post-secondary institutions in the Southwestern United States. It was hypothesized that microaggressions would be positively related to substance use, and that cultural factors would attenuate the strength of this relationship. A total of 347 participants (65% female) completed a one-time online survey that included the Microaggressions Scale, the Actualization subscale of the Urban American Indian Identity Attitudes Scale (a measure of cultural identity), and measures of past-month and lifetime substance use. In the past month, only 43% of participants drank alcohol and only 27% binge drank — figures much lower than national averages for college students. Thirteen percent were current smokers and 20% had used illicit drugs in the past month. Almost all (94%) had experienced a microaggression in the past year. In regression models, microaggressions were positively related to using an illicit drug more than 100 times and to lifetime CAGE-AID score when controlling for gender, age, income, and cultural identity. However, microaggressions were unrelated to past-month substance use variables. While stronger Native American cultural identity was related to less past-month substance use, cultural identity did not moderate the relationship between discrimination and substance use. A subgroup of participants (n = 61) from the larger study completed a 21-day daily diary measuring substance use, discrimination, and cultural involvement. The goal was to examine the prospective influence of daytime experiences of racial discrimination on evening substance use, as well as the moderating effects of cultural identity, positive and negative interpersonal interactions, and alcohol expectancies. Using multi-level modeling, daytime discrimination did not predict evening substance use, and moderators could not be tested because of statistical convergence issues. These findings highlight cultural strengths and comparatively low rates of tobacco and alcohol use among Native American college students despite substantial experiences of lifetime discrimination; implications for future research and intervention are discussed.

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Level of Degree


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First Advisor

Venner, Kamilla

First Committee Member (Chair)

Smith, Bruce

Second Committee Member

Tonigan, J. Scott

Third Committee Member

Walters, Karina


National Institute on Drug Abuse R36 DA034112 University of New Mexico Graduate and Professional Student Association GRD Award




Native Americans, American Indian, college, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, culture, discrimination, microaggressions

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