Ellen Hawley McWhirter is the Ann Swindells Professor of Counseling Psychology; Director of Training, Counseling Psychology Program. The following article, published in 2013, is the result of a research project made possible by a grant from the UO Center for the Study of Women in Society. See also a related article in the Winter 2009 edition of CSWS Research Matters.
McWhirter, E. H., Valdez, M., & Caban, A. R. (2013). Latina adolescents’ plans, barriers, and supports: A focus group study. Journal of Latina/o Psychology, 1(1), 35-52. doi:10.1037/a0031304.
Abstract: Latina adolescents’ career and educational aspirations form in the context of their families, schools, and the larger ecologies of their lives. Contextual barriers and supports have been identified as factors that inhibit or enhance the translation of aspirations to educational and career outcomes. The purpose of this study was to provide descriptive information about postsecondary goals and the barriers and supports experienced by Latina high school girls. We also sought participants’ recommendations for how their schools could better support them. Six semi-structured focus groups were conducted with a total of 41 Latina high school students ages 14 to 19. Findings illustrate perceptions of family, friends, and school microsystems as sources of both difficulty and motivation. Barriers experienced by participants included lack of financial and language resources, negative peer influences, and discrimination from teachers, peers, and even from within their own families. Supports included parents wanting more opportunities for their daughters than they had themselves, and individualized advice and caring expectations from teachers. Based on our findings, we recommend interventions that increase access to adult advocates in schools, incorporate families, facilitate language acquisition, utilize relational-cultural models of career intervention, and provide opportunities for Latinas to provide critical feedback to their schools. We also recommend interventions that engage family strengths, counteract barriers to family-school engagement, increase teacher critical consciousness and multicultural competency, counteract racism in schools, and generate a climate of caring and high expectations.