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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
tion versus alienation (Durkheim, 1951), educational psychologists’ emphasis on the importance of belonging for school engagement (Goodenow, 1993), and Erikson’s descriptions of identity development as a process of situating oneself within a sociocultural milieu (Erikson, 1968). Cultures provide meaning, and meaning is fundamental to well-being. Research shows that youth with stronger ethnic identity have more positive self-esteem, stronger ego identity, and greater school involvement (Phinney et al., 1997a; Wong et al., submitted), and they are less likely to engage in violence (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1999c). But a sense of belonging to a group becomes a two-edged sword if it means exclusion or hostility in relation to others. LaFromboise, Coleman, and Gerton (1993) suggest that the desirable developmental outcome is “bicultural competence,” which involves development of abilities to function and be comfortable in multiple cultural settings (see also Phinney et al., 1997b). Although issues of ethnic identity are found to be least salient for European American adolescents (Roberts et al., 1999), awareness of intergroup processes is important for them, too. The ability of other youth to achieve and enjoy bicultural competence is dependent on whether people in the majority culture are sensitive to and knowledgeable about other cultures and aware of the ways in which their privilege is experienced by others.
Interestingly, some of the best evidence for the importance of belonging comes from studies of programs designed to be welcoming to adolescents often ignored by mainstream programs. A study of a drop-in center for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth in Chicago, for example, found that the opportunity to be connected to a community of similar youth and adults made a great difference in the well-being of these youth and helped them adjust to their sexual minority status (Herdt and Boxer, 1993). Another study found that community programs that were sensitive to the special needs of youth with disabilities had positive benefits for the youth, their families, and other participants (Fink, 1997).
Other good evidence comes from programs designed to be welcoming to adolescents from multiple cultural groups. For example, black adolescents living in predominantly white neighborhoods and participating in Jack and Jill, a program for black youth, reported that this program facilitated their adjustment to the challenges of the situation (Nicholson, 1999). Similar evidence of the negative consequences of feeling devalued by one’s teachers and school peers because of one’s cultural background, language, ethnicity, and religion provides more sup-