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Racism’s Impacts on Substance Misuse on Long Island

The recent Erase Racism Report, titled Unequal Resources for Long Island Students Based on Race, on the segregation of Long Island Schools and their related disparities brings into focus the systematic racism and prejudices that continue to face Long Island’s minoritized communities. Of the notable findings from the report:

  • Intensely segregated districts have, on average, nearly $10,000 less in annual revenue per student than predominately White districts.
  • Intensely segregated districts have a higher number of students for every guidance
    counselor and social worker than predominantly White districts. For instance, on average,
    there is one guidance counselor for about every 1,226 students in intensely segregated
    districts. In contrast, on average, there is one guidance counselor for every 500 students in majority Black and Hispanic districts, 339 students in racially diverse districts, and 356
    students in predominantly White districts.
  • Intensely segregated districts have the highest average fiscal stress score of 19.70 of the
    four groups, according to data from the Office of the New York State Comptroller, which is more than twice the average score of predominantly White districts (8.30).
  • Intensely segregated districts have a much higher average environmental stress score than all the other district categories, with it being almost seven times the score of Predominantly White Districts, according to an analysis by the Office of the State
  • Intensely segregated districts have a higher average rate of teacher turnover
    (ERASE Racism, 2022).

Why should this be relevant to coalitions and community champions? The above are indicators that can be historically linked to individual and community risk factors for substance misuse.  Firstly, we can see a direct link between the limited engagement minoritized students could have with their schools, including Mental Health Professionals, and the risk factor of Low Commitment to School. As indicated above, the systematic pattern of more segregated schools receiving less funding clearly leads to a larger student to staff ratio, making encouraging relationships with staff harder to create, as well as support to remain in school more difficult to give on a student by student basis.

Further, the psychological stress of the present day (i.e. racism, microaggressions, COVID-19, etc.) along with the the historical traumas faced by these communities (i.e. redlining, slavery, ongoing police brutality, etc.) contribute to increased substance misuse and mental health complications. With limited access to mental health services in schools these stressors felt by youth, and the related consequences, remain under treated. This is a risk for individuals and communities on so many levels, but of course does not reflect every individual and community experience.

The truth is that our school systems largely reflect Long Island’s segregated history, and while we cannot fully address the cause through substance misuse prevention coalitions we can help address the symptoms. Where we can start is with Cultural Responsiveness: The ability of an individual or organization to understand and interact effectively with different people. Cultural Responsiveness is an integral part of the Strategic Prevention Framework, and should extend well beyond a simple assessment of your community and the implementation of brief accommodations. Be sure to consider:

If you’d like to explore these questions further, please reach out to the Long Island Prevention Resource Center. Thinking critically about this work, and how it might impact minoritized community members or exacerbate existing disparities and traumas, is essential and can help boost protective factors for individuals and the community. One should strive through Cultural Responsiveness to have all community voices and perspectives represented in the work, and shift the conversation to one of assets and strengths. We will gladly help you move along in your Cultural Responsiveness Journey!