### Exploring Racism through the Lens of Mind, Body, and Digital Identities: A Study by a VCU Doctoral Student

Exploring parental communications with children, the digital environment, and the inner workings of the human body, Stephen Gibson is conducting a comprehensive examination of racism. With funding from federal grants and a deep appreciation for his upbringing, the Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University aims to uncover insights into how present-day generations can navigate a challenging social landscape.

Gibson, a fifth-year doctoral student in the developmental psychology program within the College of Humanities and Sciences, is on the verge of completing his dissertation. His research focuses on the enduring impacts of online racism on the mental well-being of Black adolescents. Additionally, he collaborates with Fantasy Lozada, Ph.D., and her S.H.I.E.L.D. Lab, which delves into emotional development in Black and Brown communities across school, home, and internet settings.

The research holds personal significance for Gibson, who is examining “the various forms of racism and how they affect the strategies employed by parents to educate and support Black youth in the face of negative racial experiences.”

Reflecting on his own upbringing, Gibson shared, “I reflect on how my father and mother addressed the challenges of being a Black male and navigating different educational and community environments. This reflection has fueled my desire to better understand the communication between Black parents or caregivers and their children.”

In 2019, Gibson was honored with a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for his investigation into how cultural resources, such as racial identity and coping mechanisms, shield Black teenagers and influence the psychological well-being of young adults following negative racial encounters. Intrigued by Lozada’s research, Gibson joined VCU to explore the transmission of racial messages from Black parents to their adolescents.

Together, Gibson and Lozada are analyzing the layered nature of these messages. Gibson explained, “A Black parent might convey a protective message to a Black youth, such as ‘Avoid being perceived as the angry Black student at school.’ This message not only carries racial connotations but also emotional implications related to anger, along with providing a social context.”

Supported by a Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health, Gibson’s dissertation work focuses on the long-term effects of online racism on the mental health symptoms of Black teens. This research is part of a broader study on digital literacy led by Brendesha Tynes, Ph.D., at the University of Southern California, with a specific focus on data from Black adolescents.

Gibson emphasized the importance of examining how cultural assets like racial identity and critical awareness can shape Black teens’ online experiences, influencing their perception of online racism and potentially safeguarding their mental health.

His longitudinal study involves approximately 550 Black adolescents, with data collected over two consecutive years. By grouping these teens based on similar experiences of direct and vicarious online racism, Gibson aims to explore how their cultural consciousness affects their identification of online racism and how these groups differ in terms of depression and PTSD symptoms.

The findings from Gibson’s research are expected to shed light on the negative mental health consequences stemming from online racism among Black teens, underscoring the significance of addressing racism in media and digital platforms.

The grants Gibson has received have significantly advanced his research endeavors, leading to the publication of over a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. He has applied for the NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship and is set to assume a tenure-track assistant professor role in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“External funding has allowed me to dedicate my time to research and enhance my productivity,” Gibson remarked, acknowledging the impact of the grants on his academic pursuits.

Gibson’s passion for psychology blossomed during his undergraduate years at North Carolina Central University, where he also played football. An internship with developmental psychologist Makeba Wilbourn, Ph.D., at Duke University solidified his decision to pursue doctoral studies. In 2019, he earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from North Carolina State University under the guidance of Jessica DeCuir-Gunby, Ph.D.

His interest in psychology stems from the belief that parental conversations serve as guiding principles for youth as they navigate the world. Gibson explained, “I became intrigued by the psychological aspects of parental messages and their impact on children’s and adolescents’ mental health and overall well-being.”

Colleagues at VCU commend Gibson for his dedication, unique perspective, and research achievements. Marcia Winter, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the developmental psychology concentration, praised Gibson for embracing research related to his background and personal experiences, highlighting the importance of such endeavors.

Fantasy Lozada emphasized that Gibson’s success in securing grants not only underscores his research commitment but also showcases his ability to emphasize the significance of supporting the mental health and wellness of Black youth and families by amplifying their experiences and voices.

Furthermore, Lozada commended Gibson for his mentorship of undergraduate students and research assistants, as well as his presentations at national and regional conferences, noting his valuable contributions to the field of African American and Black family research.

In conclusion, Stephen Gibson’s research journey exemplifies a deep commitment to understanding and addressing the complex dynamics of racism, parental communication, and mental health within Black communities. His work not only contributes to advancing scientific knowledge but also underscores the importance of amplifying marginalized voices and experiences in academic research and discourse.