Ciara Smalls

 Ph.D., University of Michigan, 2007
Assistant Professor
Member, Community Psychology Program
1116 Urban Life

 My research interests center around parenting and positive development in African-American families. Specifically, I investigate racial risk and resilience properties in African-American children’s lives. I also examine family and child gender as social contexts that impact the relationship between risk or resilience and African-American adolescent achievement.

It is important to look at resilience factors that lead to the healthy development of ethnic minority adolescents. I examine two important race-related variables that contribute to positive development: racial identity and racial socialization. My work shows evidence that these variables protect African Americans (buffer them from the negative effects of discrimination) and are directly associated with positive outcomes.

I use diverse analytic strategies to investigate racial identity, racial socialization, and the parent-child relationship in ways that make it more complex in the way that individuals experience them (e.g., using approaches that are multivariate, person-centered, etc.).

My research uses a strengths-based perspective and is conducted primarily with middle-income and economically disadvantaged families. I examine factors that buffer the disproportionate risk of African Americans for economic disadvantage and discrimination. While I investigate risk factors, I do not take the approach that the presence of risks directly results in maladjustment.

A growing area of my research aims to better understand parents’ relations with school and community settings. My work seeks to build awareness and encourage social support and information sharing among ethnic minority and economically disadvantaged families around their child’s experience in educational settings.

Representative Publications

Cooper, S.M. & Smalls, C. (in press). Race-specific and educational socialization: Interactional influences on the educational outcomes of African American males and females, Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Scottham, K.M., & Smalls, C. (in press). Unpacking racial socialization: Considering female African American primary caregivers’ racial identity. Journal of Marriage and Family.

McLoyd, V., Kaplan, R., Purtell, K., Bagley, E., Hardaway, C. & Smalls, C. (2009). Poverty and economic stress in adolescence (pp.444-491). In R. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (3rd edition).

Neblett, E., Smalls, C., Ford, K., Nguyên, H.X., & Sellers, R.M. (2009). Racial socialization and racial identification: Messages about race as precursors to Black racial identity. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 189-203.

Smalls, C. (2009) African American adolescent engagement in the classroom and beyond:  The roles of mother’s racial socialization and democratic-involved parenting. Journal of Youth and Adolescence,38, 204-213.

Chavous, T., Rivas-Drake, D., Smalls, C., Griffin, T., & Cogburn, C. (2008). Gender matters, too: The influence of school racial discrimination and racial identity on academic engagement outcomes among African American adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 44, 637-654.

Smalls, C., White, R., Chavous, T., & Sellers, R. (2007). Racial ideological beliefs and racial discrimination experiences as predictors of academic engagement among African American adolescents. Journal of Black Psychology, 33, 299-330.

Bowen- Reid, T.L. & Smalls, C. (2004). Stress, spirituality, and health promoting behaviors among African-American college students. Journal of Black Western Studies, 28, 283-291.