trust gap

How the trust gap works against minority students’ higher-ed aspirations


Starting in middle school, minority students who experience mistreatment from educators can develop a trust gap that follows them through high school and beyond

A “trust gap” that begins in middle school may render students less likely to attend college, even if they succeed academically, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

The research, published in the journal Child Development, focuses on middle school students of color who lose trust in their teachers due to perceptions of mistreatment from school authorities.

Researchers said low expectations from teachers, couple with wide-ranging differences in discipline for misbehavior, contribute to the disproportionate mistreatment of African American and Latino youths in schools across the United States. When these students perceive and experience such biases, it can lead to a growing mistrust of authority–a trust gap, researchers said.

“When students have lost trust, they may be deprived of the benefits of engaging with an institution, such as positive relationships and access to resources and opportunities for advancement,” said UT Austin assistant professor of psychology David Yeager. “Thus, minority youth may be twice harmed by institutional injustices.”

In their study, Yeager and researchers from UT Austin, Columbia University and Stanford University examined 483 U.S. middle school students’ perceptions of their teachers’ impartiality and how those attitudes related to any disciplinary treatment they received and to the likelihood of on-time enrollment at a four-year college.

(Next page: How the trust gap contributes to minority students’ academic challenges)

Laura Ascione