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Hidden resources and barriers in career learning assessment with adolescents vulnerable to discrimination.

The authors maintain that the social learning theory of career development and counseling has not been applied to diverse populations. To address this gap in the literature, the authors conducted a qualitative analysis of interviews with 21 middle school students in a low-income, culturally diverse, inner-city public school. Four themes emerged, reflecting the influence of discrimination on participants' career learning: contextual barriers and resources for learning, and psychological barriers and resources for learning. The authors provide a conceptual framework for assessing resources and barriers and a rationale for why these aspects often remain hidden or unexamined in career assessment with clients who are vulnerable to discrimination.

Krumboltz (1996; Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996) used a social learning perspective as a basis for describing the goal of career counseling as learning and the role of career counselors as facilitating that learning; specifically, they presented a learning theory of career choice and counseling. Krumboltz and Jackson (1993) viewed career assessment as a learning tool, not only to make inferences about how individuals' past learning experiences may match with some education or occupational pursuits and not with others, but also as a basis for helping individuals explore or create new learning opportunities that are relevant to potential career goals. We were interested in how these perspectives might apply in developing career assessment and intervention strategies with middle school students in low-income, culturally diverse, inner-city schools.

Krumboltz (1996) suggested that his theory and its learning premises applied equally well to all groups of people; however, each group (as well as individuals within groups) might have learning experiences that were markedly different from those of another group. Although Krumboltz's (1996) theory acknowledged the importance of cultural and environmental influences on the nature of individuals' learning experiences and process of career development, to date, studies that applied Krumboltz's theory have not focused on the influences of discrimination (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, social class). Nevertheless, we suggest that the learning premises of Krumboltz's (1996) theory provide a useful foundation for both counselors and clients to develop an understanding of these influences as well as strategies for negotiating barriers and building on resources. (Like Helms & Cook, 1999, we acknowledge the limitations of the term culturally diverse individuals; however, in this article, we used the term to refer to me mbers of groups that are vulnerable to discrimination.)

Expanding the Education and Career Options of Middle School Students

As Fouad and Smith (1996) suggested, early career intervention (i.e., beginning prior to high school) is important for middle school students, whose career interests and self-efficacy have begun forming; in addition, they have begun making choices that will have strong influences on later education and career decisions. Early career intervention may be even more critical for middle school students in contexts where education and career development opportunities have been limited. For example, discrimination, poverty, and access to fewer resources might prevent urban ethnic minority youths from learning about a broad range of education and vocational opportunities (Kozol, 1991).

There is a strong relationship between postsecondary education attainment and occupational level. For example, bachelor's degree recipients earn considerably higher wages than high school graduates, who in turn earn far more than high school dropouts (U.S. Census Bureau, 1997). Yet, a college opportunity gap exists for racial and ethnic minority students in low-income school communities (Education Trust, 2000). Only 47% of low-income high school graduates immediately enroll in college or trade school, compared with 82% of high-income students; and only 18% of African Americans and 19% of Hispanic high school graduates earn a bachelor's degree by the time they are in their late 20s, compared with 35% of Caucasians (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], Condition of Education 1999, as cited in Education Trust, 2000). This college opportunity gap persists regardless of academic preparation, as evidenced by the report that 22% of college-qualified high school graduates with low family incomes did not p ursue postsecondary education, compared with only 4% of high-income graduates (NCES, Access to Postsecondary Education for 1992 High School Graduates, as cited in Education Trust, 2000).

Recent efforts to use early (i.e., prior to high school) career education to prepare non-college-bound (or work-bound) youth, those who move directly from high school to employment (e.g., Olsen, 1997), include the school-to-work transition movement (e.g., School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994). We agree that early career education is needed to develop students' employability skills that enhance the likelihood of being hired, successful, and satisfied in various work settings (Blustein, Phillips, Jobin-Davis, Finkelberg, & Roarke, 1997) and that such preparation is valuable for all students. We argue, however, that for non-college-bound youth, in particular, early career assessment and intervention should also include comprehensive and culturally appropriate preparation for accessing expanded opportunities and achievement in postsecondary education and career options. Such expanded career/education preparation is needed, given the enhanced career options and earning potential for graduates of postsecondary programs (Marshall & Tucker, 1992) and given that youth who may become non-college-bound are disproportionately represented in low-income and racial/ethnic minority groups for which a college opportunity gap continues to exist.

Culturally appropriate career assessment is the basis for effective career interventions (Fouad, 1993). We designed our study to assess the career learning aspirations of middle school students in a low-income, culturally diverse, inner-city public school; the students participated in a comprehensive program that prepared them for higher education. The learning theory of career counseling (LTCC; Krumboltz, 1996) offers a promising theoretical framework for developing a culturally appropriate assessment of the career and learning aspirations of this population of middle school students.

The Role of Career Assessment

Krumboltz's (Krumboltz, 1979; Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1990) learning theory of career counseling is an extension of his social learning theory of career decision making. His theory suggested that beyond the traditional use of assessment instruments to summarize clients' past learning experiences and to match these with congruent education or occupational environments, there is a potential for counselors to expand the use of assessment results to suggest promising new learning experiences that remain untapped. One premise underlying Krumboltz's theory is that individuals' learning experiences may facilitate or limit their career development. Another premise is that learning is a lifelong process and that all people of all ages can learn new skills, interests, values, beliefs, personality qualities, and problem-solving strategies.

Regarding the career and educational aspirations of the participants in our study, career assessment could be used to help these students consider their learning experiences, focusing on both possible limitations and potential resources, as well as to identify areas for new learning. For example, we might explore their developing interests, skills, and beliefs regarding future career and educational options. From a social learning/LTCC perspective, we propose that it would be premature for middle school students to foreclose on considering ambitious career aspirations and post-secondary education options.

The limited learning experiences of individuals at this age can certainly be seen as a temporary state; thus, career assessment could be used to define targets for new learning. Career counselors could help these students develop educational and career interests that they might not have considered but could explore, given appropriate social support and environmental opportunities. As Krumboltz (1996) posited ,

Many clients have limited interests because they have had relatively little opportunity to learn about alternative activities. It is hard to be interested in something one has never tried. Counselors could take a proactive stand in encouraging clients to try out new activities to determine whether new interests can be identified. (p. 62)

The goal of career counseling, particularly with middle school students, is not to determine a delimited career choice but rather to expand students' learning about potential career and educational interests, abilities, beliefs, and options. Furthermore, we believe that for students from groups that are vulnerable to discrimination, the career assessment process should include an examination of social, cultural, economic, and discrimination influences (i.e., environmental or contextual influences) in their lives.

Such a process would help the students learn how to use this information to expand their education and career aspirations. From a LTCC perspective, environmental contexts as well as individuals' beliefs and assumptions can either facilitate or impede their progress in developing career and learning potentials. Krumboltz and colleagues (Krumboltz, 1991; Krumboltz & Jackson, 1993; Levin, Krumboltz, & Krumboltz, 1995) developed tools and strategies for using the process of career assessment and counseling to affirm individuals' facilitative beliefs and to challenge their blocking beliefs. However, applications of LTCC have not yet examined the influences on career learning of discrimination that is based on race, ethnicity, gender, and social class.

On the other hand, social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) has generated research to suggest how the learning experiences of certain groups may be influenced by both environmental and perceived discrimination (see, e.g., Chartrand & Rose, 1996; Fouad & Smith, 1996; Hackett & Byars, 1996). These influences on learning experiences probably include both potential resources of and barriers to individuals' career development (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2000). Swanson and Woitke (1997) defined career barriers as "events or conditions, either within the person or in his or her environment, that make career progress difficult" (p. 434). Lent et al. (2000) noted that "[i]f one is interested in restoring previously blocked or discarded options, it also seems essential to study those aspects of the environment--and of the individual's appraisal of, and response to, the environment--that can facilitate career choice and development" (p. 42). Lent, Hackett, and Brown (1999) proposed that one targe t for developmental and remedial interventions that promote students' career development across the school years and beyond concerns negotiating barriers as well as enhancing career supports.

On the basis of SCCT conceptualizations of resources and barriers, we propose an extension of LTCC perspectives for developing culturally appropriate approaches to career assessment. We contend that in environmental contexts in which individuals are vulnerable to discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status, both clients and counselors could benefit in the career assessment process from learning more about unexamined resources that can be developed and barriers that can be negotiated in dealing with the influence of discrimination. Thus, career assessment could include a constructive approach to addressing discrimination influences that limit culturally diverse individuals' potential to develop their educational and career aspirations.

Our study was designed to examine the learning experiences of a group of middle school students who were vulnerable to discrimination. Specifically, we attempted to identify aspects of participants' learning experiences, including the effects of discrimination that might act as resources for and barriers to expanding learning in their career development.



The participants were from a cohort of students in a comprehensive school-university-community project with the U.S. Department of Education called "GEAR UP" (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs). One component of GEAR UP was to address disadvantaged students' career development needs, beginning in middle school and continuing through high school graduation, so that they might be more prepared to obtain a postsecondary education. The participants in our study were 21 students in the 1999-2000 sixth-grade cohort of a public middle school that was located in a large urban area in the Northeast. The school's community was culturally diverse (in 50% of the school district's families, a language other than English was spoken at home) and of low socioeconomic status. (More than 80% of the district's middle school students were eligible for free lunches, and 48% of the families lived below the U.S. poverty level.) Approximately 42% of the community's adults had not completed high. school , and approximately 12% had completed a baccalaureate degree.

Ten (47.6%) of the participants were boys, and 11 (52.4%) were girls. Their ages ranged from 11 to 14 years: 6 (28.6%) were 11 years old at the beginning of the assessment, 11 (52.4%) were 12 years old, 3 (14.3%) were 13 years old, and 1 (4.8%) was 14 years old. The students identified their race/ethnicity as Black or African American (10, 47.6%); Hispanic or Latino/a (5, 23.8%) and White, Caucasian, or European but not Hispanic or Latino/a (2, 9.5%) or biracial or multiracial (4, 19%). Biracial/ multiracial participants described the race/ethnicity of their parents as combinations of Black, Caucasian, Hispanic/Latino, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, German, and Pakistani. Participants reported their acculturation status as first generation, born outside the United States (2, 9.5%); second generation, with either parent born outside the United States (9, 42.9%); third generation, with all grandparents born outside the United. States (5, 23.8%); fourth generation, with at least one grandparent born outside the United States (1, 4.8%); or fifth generation or beyond, with the participant, parents, and grandparents all born in the United States (4, 19%). Seven participants (34%) were monolingual in English only; 5 (24%) were fluent in an additional language (Spanish, Russian, or Jamaican patois; 11 (52%) reported that an additional language was spoken at home; 2 (10%) reported that two additional languages were spoken at home (patois and Spanish for one, Spanish and French for the other); and 4 participants (19%) were learning an additional language (Spanish) in school. (Percentages do not total 100 because some students could be placed in more than one category of language learning experience.)

Participants were recruited through cover letters and consent forms sent to students' parents through the school's GEAR UP cohort coordinator (an administrator/mentor/liaison/advocate) who was employed by the school to coordinate GEAR UP activities for this cohort of sixth graders and who would follow them in successive grades). As a prerequisite to beginning the assessment, we also obtained student informed consent to voluntarily participate in the study.


The first author is an assistant professor in a graduate counseling psychology program at a large private urban university in the Northeast. She is a Caucasian European American woman in her 40s, married, with biracial (African American and Caucasian) children of middle school age. At the time of this study, she had 19 years of experience as a career counselor, practicing with a broad range of multicultural populations in various settings. Her therapeutic approach was primarily cognitive-behavioral. Her research in the 5-year period that preceded the current study focused on assessment and intervention for unintentional racial biases. She was trained as a counseling psychologist, and her a priori assumptions were that clients enter counseling with strengths and assets as well as problems and difficulties and that all counselors are subject to ethnocentric limitations and, thus, should continually work to develop multicultural competencies.

At the time of this investigation, five research assistants constituted the team that helped the first author to collect and analyze the interview data. (As is characteristic of qualitative methods, the researchers participated in both data collection--conducting interviews--and data analysis--making meaning of their interviewees' responses, Gresswell, 1998; Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). All research assistants were single graduate students at the same university who were in their 20s. One research assistant, the second author, was a Caucasian Mexican American doctoral student in counseling psychology who immigrated to the United States at the age of 12. Another research assistant, a doctoral student in school psychology, was a Caucasian Jewish and Russian American woman who emigrated to Israel at age 2 and then to the United States at age 12. Three research assistants were master's-level students in counseling, all U.S.-born women whose parents or grandparents were immigrants: a Chinese American, an Italian Ameri can, and an Eastern European. A focus on multicultural competence was infused throughout these students' graduate programs as well as throughout their training and supervision on this research team. The socioeconomic status of all the researchers was middle-class.

Data Sources

On the basis of their review of the literature, Subich and Billingsley (1995) recommended that an appropriate approach to career assessment with racial and ethnic minorities should include both objective assessment instruments and subjective qualitative assessment methods that are sensitive to clients' cultural experiences, social context, and environmental conditions. In a larger career learning assessment project, we used both objective instruments and qualitative assessment methods. The present study focused on a qualitative analysis of resource and barrier themes in the interview data. A series of semistruceured interviews were conducted with individual students to elicit their perceptions of career-related learning experiences from their particular cultural context. Relevant to career and college options, topics for discussion in the interviews included instrumental and associative learning experiences concerning their interests, abilities, and beliefs, ideal aspirations and realistic expectations, possi ble resources and barriers, and areas of interest for future learning. (See Appendix for a list of questions from the semistructured interview guide that specifically addressed resources, barriers, and possible effects of discrimination on career learning.)


Individual participants completed the entire assessment during approximately 10 weekly meetings, each of which lasted approximately 45 minutes. The first author recruited, oriented, trained, and provided ongoing supervision for the research assistants to conduct the assessments. The researchers conducted audiotaped semistructured interviews during the initial 5 weeks in order to collect qualitative data and to establish a working relationship with participants. The researchers used an interview guide, a list of topics to be covered, and sample nondirective questions that provided a level of consistency of content across interviews while allowing participants to tell their stories in their own terms (as recommended by McCracken, 1988). During the first meeting, the interviewer obtained student informed consent and demographic information and spent time getting to know the participant. (Bilingual interviewers were available to conduct interviews in Spanish if a participant indicated that this was his or her pre ferred language, but none of the participants reported such a preference.) The final five weekly meetings were used to administer the cultural and career assessment measures.

After one research assistant completed a verbatim transcription of the audiotaped interview, a second researcher checked it for accuracy. The researchers used a grounded theory style of qualitative methodology that was designed to explore the research questions and discover meaning from the participants' experiences (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Focusing on the interview questions that were relevant to resources, barriers, and possible discrimination influences on the participants' learning experiences, the researchers conducted a theme analysis of and assigned codes to the interview transcriptions. Data analysis began with each researcher independently examining the interview data and using a modified analytic inductive approach of purposive sampling in which the researcher identifies data that "facilitate the expansion of the developing theory" (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992, pp. 71-72). The resources and barriers categories were developed, defined, and refined through an iterative process of mo ving back and forth between the data and the categories, modifying the categories to include new pieces of interview information. At several points, the research team assembled as a group to discuss their analyses and interpretations, presenting participant quotes, detailed descriptions, and rationales for categories that were relevant to the resources and barriers themes of the study. At each stage of group analysis, the research team members were encouraged to critique, agree or disagree, or expand on the developing categories of resources and barriers to career learning, particularly possible discrimination influences on career learning. Using a grounded theory method of analysis (Strauss & Corbin, 1990), this process included data reduction and theme generation through open, axial, and selective coding to consequently generate a conceptual framework. The initial process of breaking down and categorizing the data (open coding) was followed by making connections between categories (axial coding), then devel oping and validating core categories or central themes (selective coding), around which other categories were refined and integrated.


Themes and Sample Descriptions of Hidden Resources and Barriers in Career Learning Assessment

On the basis of our qualitative analysis, the following sample descriptions and excerpts (participant quotes) were categorized by four central themes that focused on the influence of discrimination: (a) contextual barriers to learning, (b) psychological barriers to learning, (c) contextual resources for learning, and (d) psychological resources to expand learning and negotiate barriers. Using these themes as a foundation, we developed a conceptual framework for analyzing resources and barriers to learning with individuals from groups that are vulnerable to discrimination by race, ethnicity, gender, or class. In the following section of this article, we present relevant quotes from participants, including descriptive information that was summarized from interview transcripts (in parentheses), and we pose hypotheses (in brackets) about how some aspects may serve as both barriers to and resources for expanding learning in career development. In order to protect the privacy of participants, we provide minimal ide ntifying information in these sample excerpts, which are organized by central themes and subthemes; quoted material is from the participants.

Contextual barriers to learning. One common theme among participants was that the neighborhood or community in which they lived and attended school was unsafe. Participants also identified low income and negative social support as contextual barriers. Following are sample descriptions. Another theme of contextual barriers concerned the influence of discrimination.

* Unsafe environment: "Like, in my community, I feel much better inside.... There are drug dealers, criminals, and crack." The participant felt safer at school but it (the school) is fenced in "and they have bars over the windows. It's like really, really safe in the school area." However, in the surrounding school zone, there are "bad, bad people... who hide in the bushes,... and they kidnap children. They hurt. They damage."

* Unsafe environment: "You really can't do nothing 'cause they're building new things, like, they're fixing the buildings and they're breaking the floors and stuff." (The surrounding neighborhood includes graffiti-covered, abandoned buildings that are under demolition and redevelopment construction work. Thus, the participant is restricted to being indoors.) "People start trouble and stuff" in his neighborhood.

* Discrimination: This participant's father, a Puerto Rican man, told him of a time when he and a friend were harassed by police officers at a bar for doing nothing at all. The participant had learned from his father that he might encounter discrimination and unjust treatment over which he had no control.

* Discrimination: This participant, a 12-year-old African American boy, viewed other people's mistrust [prejudice] as a barrier; when asked if anything could get in his way when looking for a job, he said that he might not get the job "if they don't think you're trustworthy."

* Low income: His family and friends told him that college costs too much money; about college, the participant said, "the advantage of this is getting a good education and a better career and the disadvantage is the money."

* Negative peer pressure: "Friends... they start trouble."

Psychological barriers to learning. One psychological barrier to learning was the perception expressed by many of the participants that equal opportunity exists for all people to go to college or to pursue the career of their choice, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or biracial/bicultural characteristics. This attitude may be an example of the earliest status of racial identity development, conformity or preencounter (Helms, 1990), and could possibly serve as a resource until the individual encountered discrimination. The risk, nevertheless, is that the individual might not develop strategies that are necessary for coping and persisting in the face of inevitable barriers. Other psychological barriers to learning were related to possible negative self-efficacy for and performance in academics and mathematics as well as relationships. The following are examples:

* Negative self-efficacy for academics: A father tells his daughter (an African American girl who excels in school) that "a person's intelligence is more important than the college they go to" but cautions her that she "should not be overqualified for jobs." [Inconsistent messages about achievement may reduce the student's confidence in her academic ability.]

* Negative self-efficacy for academics: The female participant perceived boys as a barrier to doing well in school because they provided a distraction--"They look at you in class and make you not pay attention." Also, her mother told her that boys would be a distraction to her in high school and college.

* Negative self-efficacy for math: "I used to like math. It got...It's hard. And I'm lazy. I don't like to study ... In CA (Communication Arts, which the students enjoyed), I study. In math, I don't (study). I don't know why. I should."

* Negative performance in mathematics: An 11-year-old biracial girl has failing grades in mathematics.

* Negative self-efficacy for relationships: A 12-year-old African American girl's mother and father were divorced; her father was living with his girlfriend, and the participant was not happy with this--"things don't work out between men and women in my family."

Contextual resources for learning. Many participants listed specific members of their immediate and extended families as valuable role models and sources of social support. The nature of the support included imparting the value of education as well as providing strategies for coping with barriers to learning. School and community role models, associative or vicarious learning from role models on television, and friends and cultural sources of social support were all identified by the participants as contextual resources for learning. The following are sample descriptions from our analysis of the interview data.

* Family support: Several family members told an 11-year-old African American boy that education pays off, and he had been counseled to "have something (an education) to back you up."

* Family support for academics: "My mommy said that I don't need to do chores because I have to learn my lessons."

* Positive role model, community support: One participant's mother was a GEAR UP parent coordinator.

* Positive family role models: Family and mother teach her (a 12-year-old. Jamaican girl) how to overcome bad influences.

* Best friend: "If I have no one to turn to, she will always be there."

* Cultural support: A participant's Jamaican background and family support were viewed as a source of self-discipline and motivation.

* School community support: An 11-year-old Jamaican African American boy felt that he was supported by the teachers, the principal of his school, and by the people who put him in programs like GEAR UP: "If they didn't really care, I would be failing right now."

* Positive role model (i.e., a GEAR UP cohort coordinator): An 11-year-old Caucasian Italian American said, "He helps me do well in school and life."

* Social support for academics (Club 90 students): Those students make the honor roll and, thus, earn privileges to attend special school trips throughout the year.

* Social support: A 12-year-old Jamaican girl attended after-school program with other children in the community.

* Social support (community and church involvement): An 11-year-old biracial girl "attends Sunday School."

* Positive role models: A 12-year-old Puerto Rican girl saw a commercial on TV about kids in college playing sports, swimming in a pool, earning good grades; this was first time she remembered thinking that she might want to attend college.

Psychological resources for learning. One possible psychological resource for learning was the participants' belief that no barriers exist relative to race, ethnicity, gender, or biracial/bicultural characteristics. (Alternatively, as noted previously in this article, this belief could also serve as a barrier if, when individuals were confronted with racism, sexism, or discrimination, they had not developed strategies to constructively negotiate such barriers.) Other psychological resources for learning were bicultural competence; coping efficacy for discrimination; and coping strategies for managing conflict, stress, and peer pressure. Positive self-efficacy in academics and mathematics as well as in other domains were seen as psychological resources for learning. Finally, for each child interviewed in this study, our qualitative analysis generated a substantial list of transferable skills. The following are descriptions of some psychological resources that could potentially expand learning, even when there are discrimination barriers.

* Bicultural competence and coping efficacy: If faced with job discrimination, the individual knows how to negotiate implicit norms, values, and standards for behavior in two cultures. "Because I've been here, living here, I know how the system works. So I'll know what to do before that happens.... Like, suppose they look at the way my culture is to know how I work. But, ... I'll act the way, the American way. And I'll do stuff in American ways. I won't do them in Jamaican ways ... (the) American (way) is like, they don't force things. They do it on their own. So, they just do work. They don't have to have somebody tell them twice or three times. They just do work." [This approach, however, may be a personal barrier to learning if the participant has internalized negative stereotypes about Jamaicans.]

* Coping efficacy for discrimination: A participant noted that prejudice exists for Blacks and Hispanics, thus, the individual must work harder than other people to prove him- or herself.

* Coping efficacy for racism or sexism: An 11-year-old Jamaican girl believed that regardless of race or gender, hard work would yield what one wants: "See now, girls and women haven't always had the freedom and opportunity to do things that they want.... I think that anybody can do whatever they want to do if they put their mind and. heart into it." She is willing to develop needed skills: "I'll have to train myself to get good people skills." She is open to learning from her mistakes and persisting in the face of adversity: "When you have a bad experience, you learn more for the next time.... If you stop trying, you can bring yourself can drugs, alcohol, and bad records (jail) bring you down."

* Coping strategies for conflict management: A 12-year-old African American girl mediated a volatile argument between two classmates to help "patch up" a misunderstanding; when a girl in her neighborhood. threateningly told her to "get off the block, you don't belong here," she calmly responded by telling her that she had lived on the block for 10 years and she was not bothering anybody.

* Coping strategies for emotional self-regulation and stress management: A 12-year-old Dominican girl closed her eyes after seeing a scary movie to calm herself down, called her friends on the phone when she felt lonely at home, sang and danced along with the radio when she was sad about something to help make herself feel better.

* Coping efficacy for peer pressure: An 11-year-old African American girl avoided peer groups in which there were "people with attitudes... like if I'm trying to do good in school and they're trying to bring me down" and "I pick my friends wisely," she said relating the story of a friend who was doing "bad things," so she stopped being friends with her.

* Coping efficacy: An 11-year-old Puerto Rican girl ignored children in school who made fun of her and knew they would stop if she ignored them.

* Collective efficacy: One participant wrote a letter to the principal and had many of her classmates sign it about a teacher who would not let students leave (the classroom) to go to the bathroom.

* Positive self-efficacy in academics and mathematics: A 12-year-old Jamaican girl made the academic honor roll, earned good grades in mathematics, and stated that she could attend college because "I'm very smart."

* Positive self-efficacy: A 12-year-old African American girl's dance teacher told her "she really has the moves down."

* Transferable skill: A Puerto Rican girl who was bilingual in English and Spanish had an interest in becoming a pediatrician and aspired to be able to translate medical terms for her patients: "If the baby is born, maybe like, if the parents are from Puerto Rico and they don't speak English, I can speak Spanish to them."

* Transferable skills: Writing, creating, imagining, editing, storytelling, producing, entertaining, illustrating, computer graphics, and word processing--an 11-year-old African American boy said, "I make my own comic books. Everything's different. I make my own heroes and own story lines. And I color it and then make copies at the computer."

* Transferable skills: Social, interpersonal, makes friends easily--people say "hi" to a 12-year-old African American girl as she walks all the way down the hallways.

* Transferable skills: Physical coordination, teamwork, self-discipline, health enhancing activity--an African American boy who enjoyed and was active in sports--soccer, shuttle run.

* Transferable skills: Creating, artistic, self-expression, dramatizing, musical, entertaining, writing--a biracial boy liked to sing, dance, play the piano, write, act, and draw.

* Transferable skills: Planning, goal setting, budgeting money, committee work, sales--a biracial girl planned a trip with her mother that entailed selling candy and budgeting money.

* Transferable skills: Cooking, sharing in household responsibilities, caring for family, learning new skills in nontraditional areas--a Puerto Rican boy learned to cook, and his mother told him that he made the best eggs.

Summary of Our Analysis

To summarize, the analysis of our interview data suggested four central themes that are subsumed by several categories of issues. Thus, we offer the following conceptual model for assessing resources for and barriers to career learning with youths who are vulnerable to discrimination.

1. Contextual Barriers to Learning

* Unsafe environment

* Discrimination

* Low income

* Negative social support

* Negative role models

2. Contextual Resources for Learning

* Positive social support

* Positive role models

* Programs such as GEAR UP

3. Psychological Barriers to Learning

* Unrealistic belief in equal opportunity

* Negative self-efficacy for academics, mathematics, and relationships

* Limited coping strategies

4. Psychological Resources for Learning

* Transferable skills

* Coping efficacy

* Coping strategies

* Constructive self-efficacy for academics, mathematics, and relationships

Discussion and Implications

Unlike previous research applications of Krumboltz's (1996) LTCC, our study examined the possible influences on career-related learning of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, and social class. Our results suggest that with youths who are vulnerable to discrimination, there are potentially unrecognized resources and barriers that should be considered in career assessment in order to help these individuals expand their learning opportunities, aspirations, and achievement in academic and career development. Grounded in the LTCC premise that a fundamental goal of career assessment and counseling is to expand new learning, we offer propositions concerning what counselors and clients need to learn about the influence of systemic career/education barriers and resources. We also discuss possible reasons that these aspects of career assessment often remain hidden or unexamined. Finally, we propose that one approach to improving culturally relevant career assessment is the conceptual framework derived from the present study for addressing hidden resources and barriers to career learning.

Counselors and Clients Need to Learn About Hidden Resources and Barriers

In the United States, the learning experiences of culturally diverse groups are likely to differ from the worldview assumptions of most career development theories and counseling practice (including LTCC premises) because of the systemic environmental barriers that have historically limited the education and career options of Asian, African, Hispanic, and Native American individuals of both genders as well as White women (Carter & Cook, 1992). Although conditions have improved, education and occupational barriers continue to limit these groups' achievement (Bennett, 1992). Likewise, because these disenfranchised groups are disproportionately represented at lower socioeconomic levels, social class also interacts to limit their opportunities (Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Leong, 1995). Systemic discrimination has played a role in keeping individuals from disadvantaged groups tapped in this cycle (Arbona, 1996). Yet, career development theory and practice have failed to acknowledge the cultural context of their clien ts, including the influence of systemic discrimination barriers (Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994) on education and, career opportunities. In the present study, however, we used the LTCC as a framework to focus on assessing possible influences of systemic discrimination on participants' learning experiences.

What do counselors need to learn about systemic career/education barriers? Career counselors need to learn that systemic career/education barriers do exist for their culturally diverse clients. In gathering assessment data, counselors need to learn about the nature of the environmental and structural barriers that may limit the career learning opportunities of their particular clients. For example, for the middle school students in our study, safety concerns in an inner-city environment that has a high crime rate may present barriers to learning opportunities for these youths when their freedom is restricted to the relative safety of their home or school. This may limit their opportunities to explore their neighborhoods, visit local colleges, play outside with peers and develop interpersonal skills and extracurricular interests, or interact with people in the community who might serve as constructive career-related role models; all of these activities offer learning opportunities. Counselors need to learn ab out and include such contextual factors in their career assessments in order to develop effective intervention strategies to help clients constructively negotiate career/education barriers and expand their career-related learning opportunities.

It is important for counselors to identify generic categories of possible barriers that can hinder the learning opportunities and achievement of disadvantaged groups; counselors must be able to recognize those barriers and address them during career assessment. However, intergroup and intragroup variability indicate that what might be considered a barrier to one group or individual may not be so for others. Thus, counselors need to learn how to assess the meaning of systemic/structural barriers within the context of an individual's situation. As Krumboltz (1996) suggested, different groups, as well as individuals within groups, vary in their learning experiences.

Why do barriers relevant to discrimination remain hidden or unexamined? Counselors' learning experiences and woridview assumptions about privilege (McIntosh, 1998; Sue et al., 1998) contribute to their lack of awareness of or attention to systemic career/education barriers for their clients who are members of disadvantaged groups. These blind spots leave important gaps in career assessment data that likely limit the effectiveness of the career interventions on which they are based and further limit the education/career opportunities of culturally diverse clients. For example, during their career assessments with clients who are members of racial minority groups, career counselors who have not personally experienced racism or who believe that racism no longer exists may fail to consider the effects of discrimination. Thus, they may overlook or miss significant barriers for these clients (e.g., the previously described African American participant's expectation that he might not get some jobs because of employe rs' mistrust or prejudice against him). With such gaps in career assessment data, counselors may be unable to help clients who are vulnerable to discrimination to develop strategies for overcoming such career barriers.

Another reason why barriers relevant to discrimination remain hidden or unexamined in career assessment and counseling is that issues of race, culture, class, and gender are controversial, and most people generally find it difficult to talk openly about these issues on a personal level (Eberhardt & Fiske, 1998; Fine, Weis, Powell, & Wong, 1997). Many counselors, too, find it difficult to know how to sensitively and effectively deal with such controversial issues with their clients. To address these limitations in their assessment skills and counseling practice, career counselors need to develop multicultural competencies (see Carter, 1995; Jackson, 1999; Sue et al., 1998). In our study, the counselor-trainee research assistants who interviewed the participants received ongoing training and supervision with the first author; the training focused on developing the assistants' multicultural knowledge, attitudes, and skills. For example, in weekly consultation group meetings, the research assistants explored thei r discomfort about asking participants specific questions about race, culture, gender, and class; they confronted their own hidden biases; and they role-played using alternative approaches to addressing these issues empathically.

What do counselors need to learn about individuals' psychological responses to systemic career/education barriers? Similar to Carter and Cook's (1992) conceptualization of systemic career barriers, Fitzgerald and Betz (1994) referred to one category of barriers as structural factors--those characteristics of a society or organization and its people that limit access to opportunities in the career environment (e.g., discrimination, poverty, and inadequate educational opportunities). In our conceptual model, we refer to such factors as contextual barriers.

Fitzgerald and Betz (1994) referred to a second category of barriers as cultural factors or beliefs and attitudes that reflect negative stereotypes that may exist among group members as a result of socialization and internalization (e.g., occupational gender or racial stereotypes that become internalized and self-perpetuating for the individual). From an LTCC perspective, these barriers constitute unhelpful beliefs. Our conceptual model of psychological barriers to career learning includes such beliefs and attitudes but more broadly encompasses an individual's psychological responses (cognitive, affective, and behavioral) to systemic and structural career/education barriers. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that individuals learn through exposure to inequity and discrimination can constrict their use of existing resources and can limit their exploration of areas that might be beneficial to their career development. For example, one of our interviewees was an African American girl of Jamaican heritage who exc elled in school. However, her confidence in her academic ability seemed to be diminished because her father discouraged her from considering college in the future; he warned her that she "should not be overqualified for jobs."

The meaning individuals make of their learning experiences with systemic discrimination are likely influenced by their gender role socialization as well as by their cultural and family expectations, values, and beliefs (Fouad & Bingham, 1995; Leong & Hartung, 1997). Level of acculturation may be a factor in how immigrants from cultures that have more collectivist than individualist values respond to learning experiences with systemic education/career barriers (Mena, Padilla, & Maldonado, 1987). Yet, gender role expectations may take precedence over family and cultural expectations (Fouad & Bingham, 1995; Gottfredson, 1996). During the career assessment process, counselors need to identify those aspects of their clients' sociocultural learning that may function as psychological barriers to education and career opportunities.

A central factor in LTCC concerns how career-related beliefs and behaviors are influenced by an individual's learning experiences, both instrumental and associative. We posit that culturally diverse individuals may vary in their level of awareness of systemic education/career barriers, the meaning they make of them, and their response to them; this awareness is, at least in part, a function of their direct and indirect learning experiences (i.e., instrumental and associative learning). Racial/ethnic minority individuals may vary in their level of racial identity development (Helms, 1990) based on their learning experiences regarding discrimination. We can use as an example a young racial/ethnic minority individual in middle school who has not yet had a dissonance experience in which the individual's learned belief in equality for all Americans is confronted with a contradictory discrimination experience (whether personal or vicarious). This individual may process information at a beginning level of racial ide ntity development. A career counselor might use this information in the assessment process to develop preventative (versus remedial) intervention strategies to help the client learn how to cope constructively when faced with discrimination. Counselors may benefit from learning about their clients' level of racial identity development in conducting a career learning assessment of barriers.

What do clients and counselors need to learn about barriers? Culturally diverse clients could use the help of career counselors to learn strategies for coping with both systemic/structural barriers and realistic negative outcome expectations that limit their academic and career development (Brown & Lent, 1996; Hackett & Byars, 1996). From a social cognitive/SCCT perspective, one such strategy is to promote strong academic and career self-efficacy (or expectations about one's performance abilities) in order to facilitate persistence in the face of barriers. Hackett and Byars (1996) offered the example of how an African American girl may learn from experiencing subtle racism or sexism in the classroom that her academic efforts and performance will not be equitably rewarded. As a consequence of this negative outcome expectation, she may attribute the differential performance feedback to an inherent lack of ability on her part, thus lowering her self-efficacy and persistence and eroding her performance. Alternat ively, "depending on her awareness of racism and the strength of preexisting efficacy in the particular performance area, she might be able to correctly attribute the differential performance feedback to bias and an inequitable reward system" (Hackett & Byars, 1996, p. 327). In order to develop strategies to help such a client learn how to cope effectively with such barriers, a career learning assessment should not only identify preexisting sources of self-efficacy in this girl's life and learning experiences on which to build but also, from an LTCC perspective, target new sources for developing self-efficacy and learning experiences.

What do counselors need to learn about resources? Recently, Brown and Krane (2000) hypothesized that career assessment and interventions that are aimed at targeting and strengthening an individual's network of contextual support may be more effective than would focusing on developing strategies to help the individual identify perceived barriers and develop skills to negotiate barriers. We agree that a career learning assessment should include an analysis of one's network of contextual support toward the goal of developing intervention strategies to expand such resources. Furthermore, we believe that resources and barriers are interrelated and that both aspects are too often ignored in career assessment with individuals from groups that are vulnerable to discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or class.

Counselors need to learn how to cultivate the client's positive sources of social support for coping with barriers and, from an LTCC perspective, how to broaden learning experiences. Culturally appropriate career learning assessment should identify the client's current and potential sources of social support for his or her career/academic development, including parents, family, teachers, peers, and community members (Hackett & Byars, 1996; Lent et al., 1999). Among the people who help them do well in school and life, our participants listed members of their families, school, peers, and community.

Cultural influences on learning experiences may serve as resources for clients' career development. For example, resources that could serve as resiliency factors for clients in negotiating career/education barriers include a strong sense of ethnic identity development (Ogbu, 1991) or bicultural competence (LaFromboise, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993). Our participants provided several examples of ethnic pride and bicultural competence. For example, early gender role socialization may be less traditionally sex typed for many African American females (Myers, 1989). Such role socialization may expose these individuals to a wider range of learning experiences and opportunities to acquire a variety of skills, with a facilitating effect on their self-efficacy for nontraditional careers (Hackett & Byars, 1996).

Career counselors also need to identify resources that will support their clients' development of skills in academic and career areas in which their groups face systemic barriers to opportunities. Hackett (1995) advocated the need for career assessment and intervention with at-risk youth to promote self-efficacy, particularly in the areas of mathematics and science. Several of our participants indicated low self-efficacy for mathematics. We might help such students expand their educational and career options by targeting resources and teaching them strategies that promote the students' self-efficacy and performance in mathematics.

What do counselors need to help clients learn about their resources? Counselors need to help clients recognize and develop their current and potential resources. We propose that one untapped area of assessment in which counselors might help clients to expand their learning is in teaching them about the nature of functional or transferable skills as well as how to identify their own current and potential transferable skills. The concept of functional/transferable skills, derived from Bolles (2002), is that one naturally learns skills from all aspects of one's life--such as teaching, organizing, persuading, assembling, supervising, computing, researching, analyzing, deciding, operating, designing, or repairing--that might transfer or be applied in other areas, such as in academic or career settings. For example, a Latino middle school child may benefit from learning to label some of the skills that he has enjoyed developing while completing a social studies project, such as researching, analyzing, and organizin g information, as well as how he might use these skills in other academic domains (e.g., science) or apply these skills to a wide variety of careers.

Why do the resources of culturally diverse clients remain hidden or unexamined? What might prevent counselors from recognizing the resources of their culturally diverse clients? Pinderhughes (1989) suggested that because counselors hold stereotyped negative expectations about racial/ethnic minority clients, whether consciously or unintentionally, their ability to focus on the strengths or resources of their clients is limited. Therefore, as many other authors have recommended (e.g., Sue et al., 1998), it is ethically imperative that counselors develop multicultural competencies. These include (a) counselors' awareness of their own worldviews and aspects of privilege that operate to blind them to unintentional biases; (b) empathic awareness of the contextual and personal influences of systemic discrimination on their culturally diverse clients; and (c) skills to integrate these insights in a developmentally and culturally appropriate manner to facilitate clients--from an LTCC perspective--in exploring new lear ning experiences for attaining educational and career aspirations. One such method we propose is to include an analysis of resources in and barriers to career assessment in order to identify resources that should be further developed as well as strategies for negotiating barriers.

Assessing Resources and Barriers to Career Learning for Individuals Vulnerable to Discrimination

One method counselors might use to sensitively and appropriately address the possible effects of discrimination in career assessment with culturally diverse clients would be to explore with them the questions that are outlined in the Appendix. Career counselors might use the conceptual model generated from this study as a checklist to identify both contextual and psychological aspects of clients' learning experiences, which could serve as resources for or barriers to new learning and expanding education and career possibilities. Using their interviewing skills, career counselors may gain an ipsative understanding of what individual clients perceive as resources and barriers. Furthermore, they may validate or refute hypotheses they develop from the conceptual framework through a process of checking in with clients.

Limitations and Future Research

One limitation is that the results of this exploratory qualitative analysis of a small sample may not generalize to the experiences of youths in other urban contexts who are vulnerable to discrimination in various forms. In particular, in the context of the overall GEAR UP project, it is likely that the participants in this study had more access than their peers to resources as well as more opportunities to explore how to cope with barriers. Future research could examine resource and barrier themes relevant to the discrimination experienced by other groups of marginalized youths and evaluate the usefulness of the conceptual framework we generated in our study.

The qualitative analysis of our data was likely enriched by diversity, that is, our backgrounds and conscientious attention to exploring our own biases in the process of coding, categorizing, and interpreting the data. Nevertheless, another group of researchers, with their own unique constellation of diversity experiences, biases, and degree of openness to exploring these influences on the data analysis, might have generated a different conceptual model. Future studies could replicate the present study with other groups of researchers to modify or further develop our conceptual framework and its four proposed influences of discrimination on career learning.

One goal of career assessment is to provide a foundation for designing and implementing interventions. Future research could focus on using our conceptual framework to develop intervention programs specifically designed to meet the needs of diverse, low-income, middle school students. Studies could examine the efficacy of various career interventions that are designed to build on contextual and psychological resources to help mitigate the effects of contextual and psychological barriers.

Finally, quantitative career and cultural assessment instruments, such as the Career Beliefs Inventory (Krumboltz, 1991) and the Multi-Group Ethnic Identity Measure (Phinney, 1992), may also provide information regarding individual clients' possible resources and barriers. Future research could investigate how information gained from the present qualitative approach to career assessment might be incorporated with information gained from quantitative instruments.


There is ample evidence that members of disadvantaged groups (e.g., racial and ethnic minorities, women, low-income individuals) do not have equal access to education and career opportunities. Because of the pervasive and controversial nature of this issue, counselors often have difficulty recognizing and addressing with their culturally diverse clients the influences of this issue on the counselors personally. Thus, it is likely that counselors conduct incomplete or inaccurate career assessments of their culturally diverse clients, resulting in potentially unhelpful intervention recommendations.

Although Krumboltz (1996) suggested that his theory and its learning premises applied to diverse groups, previous studies that applied LTCC; did not focus on the learning experiences of individuals from groups who are vulnerable to discrimination. Our study applied LTCC perspectives in examining the learning experiences, including discrimination influences, of middle school students in a low-income, culturally diverse, inner-city public school. On the basis of a qualitative analysis of career assessment interviews and drawing on multicultural counseling literature and SCCT conceptualizations of resources and barriers, we proposed an extension of the LTCC for expanding new learning and access to education and career opportunities with clients who are vulnerable to discrimination. As one approach to improving culturally appropriate career assessment, we presented a tentative conceptual framework for analyzing both resources and barriers that often remain hidden or unexamined. This framework focused on four them es regarding the effect of discrimination on career learning: (a) contextual barriers to learning, (b) psychological barriers to learning, (c) contextual resources for learning, and (d) psychological resources to expand learning and negotiate barriers. Counselors could use this career assessment framework to more effectively help their culturally diverse clients to expand learning opportunities.


Interview Guide Questions on Resources, Barriers, and Possible Discrimination Influences


* Have you had any experiences when you felt especially proud of or happy about who you are or something about you? If yes, could you tell me about it?

* What people or things do you think help you do well in school?

* What people or things do you think might help you do well if you went to college?

* What people or things do you think might help you do well toward finding and keeping a job or career?

* What people or things do you think help you do well in your life overall?


* Have you had any bad experiences with people making fun of you or disliking you for who you are or for something about you? If yes, could you tell me about it? And who or what helped you to deal with this bad experience?

* What people or things do you think could get in the way or keep you from doing as well as you might do: In school? If you went to college? Toward finding and keeping a job or career? In your life overall? And how so?

Possible Discrimination Influences

* In looking back over your answers about what you're thinking you may like or not like about different activities, jobs, careers, and college, do you think that any of these things are more or less OK, or probably CAN or CANNOT be done: For girls/women to do? For boys/men to do? For people in your family to do? For kids in your school to do? For people in your neighborhood or church or community to do? For people of your (name of this child's self-identified race, ethnicity, and/or cultural background) to do? And how come?


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Margo A. Jackson and Christian D. Nutini, Counseling Psychology, Fordham University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Margo A. Jackson, Counseling Psychology, Fordham University-Lincoln Center, 113 West 60th Street, New York, NY 10023 (e-mail:
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Author:Nutini, Christian D.
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Date:Sep 1, 2002
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