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Trajectories of Discrimination across the College Years: Associations with Academic, Psychological, and Physical Adjustment Outcomes


Despite growing evidence that racial-ethnic discrimination has a critical impact on college students of color, there is a shortage of longitudinal studies investigating such discrimination across the course of students’ college careers. The present study examined trajectories of professor- and peer-perpetrated ethnic-racial discrimination across the first three years in college and the correlations between these trajectories and academic, psychological, and physical adjustment outcomes during students’ fourth year in a sample of 770 Black, 835 Asian American, and 742 Latino college students (total n = 2347; 60.1% female) at elite colleges and universities in the United States. Latent growth modeling revealed stability in reported peer discrimination over the first three years of college and an increase in reported discrimination from professors. Discrimination from peers and professors equally predicted unfavorable grades, a lower likelihood of on-time graduation, and less school satisfaction. Perceived discrimination from peers (but not from professors) during students’ first year predicted higher rates of depressive symptoms and more health problems in their fourth year. Although initial levels and trajectories of discrimination varied as a function of students’ ethnicity-race, the correlates between discrimination and adjustment outcomes did not vary between ethnic-racial groups. The present findings suggest that ethnic-racial discrimination is a complex, ecologically-based stressor that presents a constellation of challenges for students of color attending elite colleges and universities.

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We would like to express gratitude to the principal investigators of the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, Drs. Douglas S. Massey and Camille Z. Charles. We would also like to thank the valuable feedback from Drs. Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, Selcuk Sirin, Kesia Constantine, and Niobe Way.

Author Contributions

J.D.T. conceived of the study, participated in its designed and coordination, drafted, edited, and revised the manuscript, and performed the statistical analyses; D.H. participated in the design and interpretation of the data, provided statistical consultation and direction to the statistical analyses, and edited and revised the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.


The National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen was funded by the Mellon Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Data Sharing and Declaration

The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are available in the Office of Population Research repository at Princeton University,

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Correspondence to Juan Del Toro.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

No ethics approval was sought because the Institutional Review Board (IRB) does not require IRB review for the analysis of de-identified, publicly available data.

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Consent forms were obtained from all participants included in the study.

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Del Toro, J., Hughes, D. Trajectories of Discrimination across the College Years: Associations with Academic, Psychological, and Physical Adjustment Outcomes. J Youth Adolescence 49, 772–789 (2020).

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  • Ethnic-racial discrimination
  • Academic achievement
  • Health
  • College