All young people need to experience strong developmental relationships at school and in their communities to meet their goals and succeed. However, the process of building those relationships is not the same for everyone. For example, Latinx youth experience high levels of societal discrimination and racism. However, findings from a recent study suggest that school commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can be protective against the negative effects of school-based discrimination on SEL for Latinx students  

Latinx Youth at School

Latinx youth often experience racism and discrimination, systemically and individually, in their communities and in school. These factors lead to higher rates of poverty and decreased access to adequate housing, nutrition, and services like healthcare. 

Feeling disconnected and unsupported at school negatively affects emotional and social well-being and can lead to poor academic outcomes. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, Latinx youth have higher dropout rates than their non-Latinx counterparts. They value education but have trouble connecting with the resources they need to succeed. However, a school’s focus on DEI can provide an inclusive environment and protect against the negative effects of discrimination helping Latinx young people have access to the conditions needed to meet their goals and achieve success. 

Impact of a Commitment to DEI 

How youth perceive DEI in their learning spaces has a direct impact on their experience. When schools, classrooms, and programs commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion they take actions such as:

  • Considering students’ cultural backgrounds and needs

  • Learning to work with people with different backgrounds

  • Encouraging everyone to share their cultural background 

  • Treating everyone fairly

  • Enforcing rules fairly

When Latinx youth experience spaces that value DEI, they are better positioned to learn, feel a sense of belonging, and build developmental relationships. In addition to the benefits of experiencing strong developmental relationships with adults, research shows that DEI is a “protective factor” for Latinx youth, meaning it improves their emotional well-being. Educators can demonstrate the value of young people’s backgrounds in many ways. For example, they might ask them about themselves or explore their identities as a group activity. Such actions strengthen young people’s confidence in themselves and help them better draw from assets in their own communities.

When young people feel judged or stereotyped on the basis of race or ethnicity, they perform less well academically and struggle to belong. So educators need to prioritize supporting students from all backgrounds. Even small affirmations from teachers and other practitioners can have a long-term effect. Multiple positive experiences add up and can change students’ trajectory toward college. 

Making a Difference for Latinx Youth

An inclusive environment and commitment to DEI make a big difference for Latinx youth who may not experience belonging and support elsewhere in society. It’s critical for adults at school to show interest in students’ backgrounds, value their cultures, and treat everyone equally. 

When Search Institute researchers conducted secondary data analysis of the Developmental Relationships Survey, they examined the connections between school-based discrimination, social-emotional learning, and the protective role of DEI.  

The analysis found that a commitment to equity and inclusion helps young people who may otherwise be disengaged begin building the relationships they need to grow and thrive.


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