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Police Contacts and Stress Among African American College Students


  • Portions of these data were reported as part of the roundtable, Preparing children and adolescents of color for contact with police at the meeting of the Society for Community Research and Action, June 2007, Pasadena, CA, and the poster presentation, African American young adults and police contact: Domains and predictors of stress, at Teacher’s College Winter Roundtable on Cultural Psychology and Education, February 2008, New York, NY.

concerning this article should be addressed to Amber J. Landers, Department of Psychological Science, Purdue University, 703 Third St., West Lafayette, IN 47907. Electronic mail may be sent to


Attitudes toward police rarely are studied in investigations of race-related stress among communities of color. African American undergraduates (66 women, 35 men) rated the frequency and stressfulness of 83 general, college-related, race-related, and police-related events. Although respondents described police contacts as stressful, multivariate analyses of variance indicated that mean stress scores for nonpolice items were higher than for police items. Men reported significantly greater stressfulness of police contacts, and women reported slightly greater stressfulness of nonpolice situations. Further analyses confirmed significant differences in police contact stress scores as a function of the type of contacts (benign vs. malignant), gender of respondent (men greater than women), and frequency of contact. Limited differences were observed as a function of immediacy of contact (personal, witnessed, contacts of a loved one, or loved one telling of another person’s contact) and individual differences in ethnic identity. No differences were observed as a function of general affective intensity. Results suggest that the stress associated with police contact is specific and distinct from other elements of African American life in this college student sample and thus underscores the need for research on the effects of such stress in less advantaged, community-based populations.

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