Multiculturalism at least as Effective as Cultural Specificity in Test of Prevention Program

By Jill Schiabig Williams
NI NOTES Contributing WriterA multicultural version of a substance use prevention program tested in middle schools in Phoenix, Arizona proved at least as effective as culturally targeted versions, according to recent research by Drs. Michael L. Hecht, Michelle Miller-Day, and Flavio Marsiglia and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State Universily The NIDA funded researchers compared a multi cultural version of a drug prevention program—which included cultural values from all of the groups participating in the program—to two cul ture-specific programs. The latter programs are based on the hypothesis that messages matched to the stu dent’s culture are more effective than messages that are nor culture-specific. This is good news for the future of drug prevention in schools serving culturally diverse students,” says Dr. Hecht. “It is very difficult logistically to deliver culture-specific programs in culturally diverse schools, Multi cultural programs are much easier to deliver, and now we find that they’re also as effective as culture-specific programs.” Research has shown that students respond better to drug prevention programs when they see their culture and images of themselves represented in the prevention message. More minority youth respond favorably to programs that feature a teacher or characters from their own ethnic group.

‘We know that kids need to see something of their own lives and cul tures reflected in the programs,” Dr.
hecht explains. “But we wanted to test the effectiveness of multicultural prevention programs and compare their effectiveness to selectively targeted or matched interventions.”
The prevention program, dubbed “keepin’ it REAL.” (see text box on p. 10), is a school-based intervention targeting substance use among urban middle schools. Its goals are to reduce use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana; promote antidrug norms and attitudes; and develop effective drug resistance decision making and communication skills. Through NIDA funding, “keepin’ it REAL.” was developed, tested, and evaluated in 35 middle schools in Phoenix. Designed to reflect aspects of the adolescents’ cultures and learning styles in content and format, it includes 10 classroom lessons that promote antidrug norms and teach substance use resistance skills, life skills, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, The intervention was reinforced by a public Service announcement radio and billboard campaign and by booster activities. Three versions of the curriculum were created and delivered: one based on Mexican-American culture, one based on African-American and European-American culture, and a multicultural version using five lessons from each of the other two versions. The large proportion of Mexican or Mexican-American students (approximately 74 percent) in the study population contributed to the choice of Mexican-American culture for one curriculum version.

“In developing this program, we studied the process by which kids resisted drugs and used a narrative approach to teach these skills to other kids. The whole program is from youth through youth for youth,” observes Dr. Hecht. Stories of drug resistance were collected from adoles cents in each ethnic group and used to write scripts for videos that were then performed and videotaped by local high school students. These 10 videotapes (5 or the Mexican-American version, 5 for the African-American version) form the core of the pro gram. They teach resistance skills through enactments of successful drug resistance in recognizable locales, by youths similar to the students in age and ethnicity.

The lessons content is built on previous research on what is effective in drug prevention. In addition, researchers infused the curriculum with cultural norms and values that are predominant within certain groups example, the value of family to Mexican Americans, respect to African Americans, and individualism to European Americans. Affirming these values can help students use familiar behaviors and attitudes to resist drugs. The curriculum emphasizes family and cultural norms that discourage behaviors like drug use, equipping students with the skills to tap their social support systems to effectively resist drug offers.

‘We dont generalize about the cultures. We give them stories. We show them scenarios that come from their mouths. It’s always a specific situation with no moralizing,” says Dr. Hecht, In the fall of 1998, 25 Phoenix middle schools were randomly assigned to one of the three versions of the curriculum, and 10 schools were assigned to the control condition. Schools in the control condition received other drug prevention programs already planned for those schools, including a statewide anti-tobacco campaign. The research team administered a pre-intervention survey to all participants and then implemented the curriculum in 7th-grade classes in the 25 treatment schools.

Followup surveys were conducted 2 months, 8 months, and 14 months after curriculum implementation. Surveys included questions on demographics; recent alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use; use of resistance strategies learned in the program; antidrug norms; and intentions to accept substances. The final sample included 6,035 students, of whom 55 percent were Mexican American, 17 percent were non- Hispanic white, 9 percent were African American, and 19 percent were of other Latino or multi ethnic Latino origin.

The results showed that the interventions were significantly more effective than the control condition.

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