Find Your Passion: Proactive and Positive

Gates Scholar seeks to help inner-city youth with self-esteem

Phillip Jordan

By Suzanne Dowling

A 65-year-old research study, an HBO documentary, and his own research have helped solidify Phillip Jordan’s life-long passion to aid inner-city African-American children with issues such as self-esteem and expectations.

As a McNair scholar, Jordan chose to replicate a 1939 research study that looked at racial preference among African-American children.

Commonly known as “The Clark Doll Study,” researchers asked black children, ages 6-9, their perception of a white doll and a black doll. The majority of the children said the black doll looked “bad,” and nine said the white doll looked “nice.” The test results influenced the U. S. Supreme Court to hold school segregation to be unconstitutional in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case.

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In 2006, an HBO documentary, “A Girl Like Me,” looked at the same issues and found the results were, essentially, the same.

“Watching that HBO documentary really spurred me to do this research project because it fit so well with my goal of working with inner-city kids,” says Jordan, a Gates Scholar and the first in his family to attend college.

“I’ve always wanted to help people because growing up I observed that most people in my neighborhood had such defeatist attitudes, and that’s not what I’m about. I’m proactive and positive.

“That’s the main reason I’m in psychology. I want to do interventions and programs in the community to help turn around such attitudes. The majority of my campus activities and community service are targeted toward this population.” One example of Jordan’s role in the community is his service, for the past two years, as a Big Brother.

In Jordan’s study, he examined both black and white preschool children to see if similar preferences for skin tone would replicate the Clark study. To modernize the study’s design, Jordan said he made several changes including using cartoons and offering more choices to the children.

Phillip Jordan

“We used computerized cartoons, as opposed to dolls, for the stimuli because we felt that the current generation of young children was more exposed to computer stimuli than to dolls.

“Also we wanted to offer children more than the traditional forced choice of having to select between black and white characters, as in previous studies. Therefore, we offered the children the option of also choosing ‘both’ or ‘neither’ when choosing a cartoon in responding to questions.

“I felt that children shouldn’t have to choose between black and white, especially because children may not have a preference, and you’re sort of forcing them to choose.”

According to Jordan, his findings revealed that neither the children’s gender nor their race affected their selection of the cartoon skin tone.

“This finding contradicted the findings of others who reported that black children preferred and showed more positive characteristics to whites than to blacks.”

In contrast, in a post test that followed the skin tone variation question and involved showing children only a black and a white cartoon character, a race effect was found for the question “which cartoon would you choose for your best friend?”

Phillip Jordan

“I told a moral where the positive character was African American to see if this would cause a shift in the children’s preferences.”

The story was found to have no effect on children’s preferences.

“Basically our findings were black children seemed to identify with the black cartoon and white children with the white cartoon.

“I don’t know why exactly that happens, but I think further research needs to be done to find out.”

But, for now, Jordan said this research, coupled with his UA experiences, has well prepared him to move forward toward making his passion his career.

“Thanks to the opportunities I’ve had here at UA, I am convinced, more than ever, that my decision to work with inner-city youth is not only right, but needed desperately.”

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This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.