ABSTRACT

Increased cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and national diversity in education systems poses important challenges for educational inclusion and social integration of all students. This article reviews mainly quantitative research on the social experiences of students with immigration and racial/ethnic minority backgrounds, with a focus on the literature addressing their relations and interactions with teachers and peers. Reviewed articles, though all relevant for educational psychology, come from multiple academic disciplines such as educational, developmental and social psychology, and sociology, including interdisciplinary approaches as well. Topics covered include the importance of these social ties for educational and social outcomes; the development of key strands of research; methodological advances; and the individual, dyadic, and contextual explanations of the educational inclusion and social integration of students with immigration and racial/ethnic minority backgrounds.

In terms of relations and interactions with teachers, we find that students’ immigrant background and racial/ethnic minority status usually predict the quality of relations and the frequency of various types of interactions with educators. Differential treatment has been found, for example, in the form of teachers’ lower frequency of positive speech and academic feedback, and greater occurrence of teachers’ negative remarks and behavior management, directed toward certain immigrant and racial/ethnic minorities. In terms of quality of teacher–student relations, teachers have also been found to hold weaker, more conflictive, and less supportive relationships with members of some immigrant and racial/ethnic groups. This is crucial because the literature suggests that students’ relations and interactions with teachers are, generally, even more important for the outcomes of students with immigration and racial/ethnic minority backgrounds than for those of their majority peers. It is important to note though that relevant differences in these patterns appear between racial/ethnic groups and countries of origin within national contexts. Student gender has also been found to moderate the effect of immigrant and racial/ethnic minority group membership on teacher–student relations and interactions in several contexts. Important predictors of teachers’ relations and interactions with students who have immigration or racial/ethnic minority background are the stereotypes and different expectations that teachers hold toward these student groups.

With regard to relations with peers, we find that school communities are typically segregated in terms of race, ethnicity, and immigration background/origin, with friendships being less likely, and dislike and bullying being more likely, between than within groups (though results on bullying are somewhat mixed in this regard). In terms of individual explanations, minority students’ language proficiency has been identified, while classroom norms, socio-economic status, and ethnic identification of self and others may moderate the likelihood of intergroup friendship. At the same time, structural processes, such as clustering (i.e., befriending friends of friends), contribute to the reinforcement of segregation, which highlights the importance of using tools of social network analysis to account for such tendencies. In terms of macro-level factors, residential segregation and ability tracking (that is often strongly associated with racial/ethnic background and immigrant status) contribute to the relative lack of interethnic ties through limiting opportunities for exposure to others from different groups. However, increasing heterogeneity and diversity do not proportionately increase the number of cross-group social ties, since individuals in more diverse settings appear to select same-group friends with higher probability, given the opportunity structure.

We conclude the article by identifying promising areas for future research and discussing implications for policy and practice.