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Relational health and disordered eating in black, latina, and white female college students

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Relational health and disordered eating in black, latina, and white female college students
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Goldman, Lynne G., 1947-
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English
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vi, 123 leaves : ; 29 cm.

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Adolescents ( jstor )
College students ( jstor )
Colleges ( jstor )
Community relations ( jstor )
Eating disorders ( jstor )
Mentors ( jstor )
Minority group students ( jstor )
Social psychology ( jstor )
White people ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Counselor Education thesis, Ph.D ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Counselor Education -- UF ( lcsh )
Eating disorders in women ( lcsh )
Hispanic American women ( lcsh )
Women college students -- United States ( lcsh )
Women, Black -- United States ( lcsh )
Women, White -- United States ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2001.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 102-122).
General Note:
Printout.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Lynne G. Goldman.

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RELATIONAL HEALTH AND DISORDERED EATING IN
BLACK, LATINA, AND WHITE FEMALE COLLEGE STUDENTS














By

LYNNE G. GOLDMAN


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2001




RELATIONAL HEALTH AND DISORDERED EATING IN
BLACK, LATINA, AND WHITE FEMALE COLLEGE STUDENTS
By
LYNNE G. GOLDMAN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
2001


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
In recognition of my growth within connection, I acknowledge the people who
have been an integral part of my support network during the many years of my academic.
journey.
First and foremost, I thank my best friend and husband, Dr. Richard Goldman,
whose unfailing faith in my ability to accomplish my goal constantly buoyed my spirits
and helped me stay the course even during my most arduous struggles. I also thank my
two wonderful sons, Brian and Michael, who believed in me and offered their support
openly and lovingly.
Special thanks go to my mother and sister. Though it is currently difficult for my
mother, Ruth Greenstein, to understand my accomplishment, she has always been one of
my biggest fans and an ardent believer in the benefits of education throughout our
lifetime. My sister, Sue Kurtz, has offered unconditional love and support even when her
own road has been quite rocky.
I would also like to thank my friends, who from near and far, have always
encouraged and guided me to remain positive and connected. Gail, my dearest friend of
28 years, has always been a beacon of light through some very dark times. Tovah, Suni
and Mary Ann, my grad school buds, have been constantly supportive and understanding
during my dissertation process. And last but not least, the laughter and encouragement
from my colleagues, Ann, Sarah, Berta, Sandy, Jeannie, Bev, Linda, Julie, and Paula has
been priceless.
11


I would like to give my gratitude to my doctoral committee: Dr. James Archer,
Chair; Dr. David Miller; Dr. Silvia Echevarria-Doan; and Dr. Joe Wittmer. Without their
guidance, the completion of this research project would not have been possible.
in


TABLE OF CONTENTS
page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii
ABSTRACT vi
CHAPTERS
1 INTRODUCTION 1
Overview 1
Theoretical Framework 4
Statement of the Problem 6
Need for the Study 9
Purpose of the Study 12
Rationale for the Approach 13
Research Questions 15
Definition of Terms 16
2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 19
Introduction 19
Theoretical Model 19
Risk Factors for Disordered Eating in College Women 27
Sociocultural Environment 28
Adjustment to College 33
Race and Ethnicity 36
Protective Factors Against Disordered Eating in College Women 40
Peer Relationships 41
Mentor Relationships 47
Community Relationships 52
Chapter Summary 58
3 METHODOLOGY 60
Overview 60
Population 60
Sampling and Sampling Procedures 61
Design 61
IV


Instrumentation 62
Relational Health Indices 62
Eating Attitudes Test-26 64
Data Analysis 67
Hypothesis and Research Questions 67
Hypothesis 67
Research Questions 67
4 RESULTS 70
Data Collection 70
Data Analyses 71
Hypothesis 71
Research Questions 73
5 DISCUSSION 81
Hypothesis Summary and Explanation of Finding 81
Research Questions and Explanations of Findings 83
Limitations of the Study 90
Implications of the Findings and Recommendations 91
Implications for Theory 92
Implications for Practice 93
Implications for Research 94
Summary 95
APPENDICES
A COVER LETTER 97
B THE RELATIONAL HEALTH INDICES 98
C THE EATING ATTITUDES TEST-26 101
REFERENCES 102
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 123
v


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
RELATIONAL HEALTH AND DISORDERED EATING IN
BLACK, LATINA, AND WHITE FEMALE COLLEGE STUDENTS
By
Lynne G. Goldman
May 2001
Chair: James Archer, Jr.
Major Department: Counselor Education
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between Black, Latina,
and White female college students relational health, specifically peer, mentor, and
community relationships, and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. Relational
health was defined according to the constructs of mutuality, authenticity, and
empowerment or zest within the Stone Centers Relational Model, a theory of womens
psychological development. Participants in the study were 237 Black, Latina, and White
female undergraduate students who completed the Relational Health Indices and the
Eating Attitudes Test-26. Results of this study showed a significant correlation between
peer and community relationships and disordered eating. No association between mentor
relationships and disordered eating was detected. Between group differences among the
three ethnic groups was not a significant research result. The implications of these
findings for theory, practice, and research are discussed.
vi


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Overview
Researchers consistently report that between 4 and 18 percent of female college
students meet the criteria for the clinical eating disorders of anorexia nervosa, bulimia
nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (Drewnowski, Yee, & Krahn, 1988; Hesse-Biber,
Marino, & Watts-Roy, 1999; Mintz & Betz, 1988; Pope, Hudson, Yurglen-Todd, &
Hudson, 1984; Pyle, Neuman, Halvorson, & Mitchell, 1991). Furthermore, between 60
and 80 percent of college women engage in subclinical eating disorders which are
characterized by excessive dieting and exercising, fasting, and other harmful behaviors
that fall short of the criteria set by clinical eating disorder scales (Hesse-Biber et al.,
1999) yet represent characteristics which are a part of a continuum of disordered eating
(Scarano & Kalodner-Martin, 1994; Tylka & Subich, 1999). Many of these weight and
body image concerns or even obsessions are so common on college campuses that they
have become normalized by our current sociocultural environment (Hesse-Biber, 1996).
The negative impact of disordered eating on physical and psychological health
and on social and vocational functioning has been documented extensively (Kaplan &
Woodside, 1987; Katzman & Wolchik, 1984; Mizes, 1988; Sharp & Freeman, 1993;
Williamson, Kelley, Davis, Ruggiero, & Bloudin, 1985). Women who have an eating
disorder report a wide variety of physical and psychological symptoms, including
dizziness, sleep disturbance, gastrointestinal complaints, anxiety, depression, and
1


2
substance abuse (Mitchell, 1984). Furthermore, these girls and women often experience
interpersonal difficulties, including conflicted relationships with family members, social
alienation, interpersonal distrust, and impaired sexual functioning (Coovert, Kinder, &
Thompson, 1989; Evans & Wertheim, 1998; Grissett & Norvell, 1992; Thelen, Farmer,
Mann, & Pruitt, 1990).
Most of the eating disorder research to date has focused primarily on White
women, often to the exclusion of other racial or ethnic groups (Lester & Petrie, 1998).
Only a small number of studies in the United States have specifically observed eating
disorder symptomatology in women of color (e.g., Abrams, Allen, & Gray, 1993; Akan
& Grilo, 1995; Altabe, 1998; Anderson & Hay, 1985; Caldwell, Brownell, & Wilfrey,
1997; Fitzgibbon, Spring, Avellone, Blackman, Pingitore, & Stolley, 1998; Grange,
Telch, & Agras, 1997; Gray, Ford, & Kelly, 1987; Hiebert, Felice, Wingard, Munoz, &
Ferguson, 1988; Lester & Petrie, 1998; Lester & Petrie, 1995; Nevo, 1985; Pumariega,
Edwards, & Mitchell, 1984; Robinson & Andersen, 1985; Rucker & Cash, 1992; Siber,
1986). In addition, only a few of these studies specifically examined disordered eating in
female college students of color. Root (1990) has suggested that even though certain
factors in minority cultures, such as an appreciation of a healthier body size and a stable
extended family and social structure, may protect some minority women from disordered
eating, the reality of within-group individual differences has been largely ignored.
Smolak and Levine (1996) report that disordered eating begins most commonly
during adolescence, the transitional period of growth between puberty and adulthood.
This is a time when a young girl needs to meet major developmental tasks and master the
developmental issues of separating from the family (Chatoor, 1999). Concurrently, a


3
young girl feels pressure to adapt to puberty when her body proportions change from
those of a child to those of a young adult (Surrey, 1991a). She needs to make the
transition between loosening the ties with her parents and increasing her dependency on
her peers. In order to find her place in her peer group, she needs to deal with personal
and cultural values regarding body image, sexuality, and achievement (Chatoor, 1999).
In addition to all of these life challenges, the stressful event of leaving home for college
intensifies these developmental difficulties for young women and sets the stage for
struggles with disordered eating (Martz & Bazzini, 1999). Young women of color face
additional hardships in coping with the vagaries of college life as they discover the lack
of available connection to minority women role models and mentors in the university
environment (Turner, 1997).
Many traditional theories of human psychological development focus on the
consolidation of an autonomous identity through separation and individuation from
parental figures (Tantillo, 1998). Relational theory posits that the construction of the self
for women occurs through psychological connection and mutual sharing (Gilligan, 1982;
Jordan, 1986, 1995, 1997; Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991; Kaplan &
Klein, 1985; Mikel-Brown& Gilligan, 1992; Miller, 1976, 1984, 1986, 1988; Stem,
1990; Surrey, 1985). Miller & Stiver (1997) state that a females sense of self and of
worth is most often grounded in the ability to make and maintain relationships.
Furthermore, it has been proposed that women who fail to recognize and meet their needs
for interpersonal connectedness struggle with higher levels of eating pathology than those
who value their relationships (Steiner-Adair, 1990; Surrey, 1991a).


4
Although all students contend with difficulties related to adjustment to college,
this transition is generally more difficult for racial/ethnic minority students than for
White students (Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000). Ponterotto (1990) reviewed demographic
trends, enrollments, and attrition and graduation rates for Black and Latino students. He
indicated that minority students were more likely than White students to report feelings
of isolation and often feel unwelcomed and unappreciated on predominately White
college campuses. It is possible that these adaptation struggles and feelings of isolation
affect the mental and physical well-being of college women of color and may be
manifested in the attitudes and behaviors of disordered eating.
Currently, there is little research focused specifically on college women who
engage in disordered eating and their relationships, and research on the relationships of
eating disordered minority college women is virtually nonexistent. Looking more closely
at the dynamics between eating disordered behaviors and relationships may help increase
the understanding of the struggles of college women and potentially provide inroads for
effective education, prevention, and intervention strategies.
Theoretical Framework
The importance of social support and relationships in girls and womens lives has
been studied extensively from various perspectives (Buehler & Legg, 1993; Evans &
Wertheim, 1998; Fhrer, Stansfeld, Chemali, & Shipley, 1999). Researchers have
indicated that the nature and quality of girls and womens relationships appear to be
more meaningful to their psychological health than their overall number or specific
interpersonal structure (Gilligan, Lyons, & Hammer, 1990; Hobfoll, 1986; Lu & Argyle,
1992). In particular, those growth-fostering relationships that are intimate and mutual


5
have the ability to foster self-disclosure, coping strategies, emotional resiliency, and
additional social support (Genero, Miller, Surrey, & Baldwin, 1992; Miller & Stiver,
1997).
In accordance with these principles, feminist scholars and researchers at the Stone
Center at Wellesley College have developed a theory called the Relational Model, which
is a paradigm for the understanding of female psychological development and well-being
(Jordan et al., 1991). Whereas Ericksons model of psychosocial development focuses on
the task of separation-individuation for healthy adolescent development (Erickson, 1963),
Relational Model theorists conceptualize ongoing, growth-fostering connection as critical
to womens healthy psychological development (Jordan, 1997; Surrey, 1985). The
Relational Model proposes that as relationships grow, so grows the individual.
Participating in growth-fostering relationships is both the source and goal of girls and
womens psychological development (Miller & Stiver, 1997).
The relational qualities of mutual engagement, authenticity, and empowerment or
zest have been shown to be important in the arenas of both intrapersonal and
interpersonal growth. The Relational Model defines engagement as perceived mutual
involvement, commitment, and attunement (Surrey, 1991b). Engagement may have a
beneficial impact on individuals as well as relationships as indicated in studies on
empathy and closeness. These qualities of engagement mediate stress and depression and
are associated with self-actualization, self-esteem, low interpersonal distress, and
relationship satisfaction (Beeber, 1998; Burnett & Demnar, 1996; Gawronski & Privette,
1997; Schreurs & Buunk, 1996; Sheffield, Carey, Patenaude, & Lambert, 1995).
Authenticity is not a static state that is achieved at a discrete moment in time, but rather a


6
girls or womans ongoing ability to represent herself in a relationship with increasing
truth and fullness and thereby acquire knowledge of self and other (Miller & Stiver,
1997). Research on authentic self-disclosure and openness appears to be related to being
liked, increased liking of others, and motivation in relationships (Collins & Miller, 1994;
Kay & Christophel, 1995). Empowerment or zest, the experience of feeling personally
strengthened, encouraged, and thereby motivated to take action (Liang, Tracy, Taylor,
Williams, Jordan, & Miller, 2000), has been shown to have a direct impact on positive
affect, meaningful activity, and creativity (Hall & Nelson, 1996; Spreitzer, 1995).
When considering a females important growth-fostering relationships outside of
her immediate family, close ties with peers and adult mentors and affiliation with some
type of community are three of the most significant types of connections in later
adolescence and young adulthood (Gilligan et al., 1990; Hagerty, Williams, Coyne, &
Early, 1996; Leadbeater & Way, 1996). Though the importance of these three types of
relationships in female psychological development has been mentioned in the literature,
there has been little empirical research within these sociocultural arenas especially related
to the connections of college age woman. In addition to which, there is even less
research specifically focused on relational dynamics and disordered eating in the female
college population (Rorty, Yager, Buckwalter, & Rossotto, 1999).
Statement of the Problem
Colleges and universities across the nation are reporting dramatic increases in the
past two decades in disordered eating attitudes and behaviors among their female students
(Hesse-Biber, 1996). Many college women who are at normal weights regularly express
a strong desire to be thinner and to hold beliefs about food and body image that are


7
similar to those of women who have clinical eating disorders (Hesse-Biber et al., 1999).
A number of researchers have concluded that instead of viewing eating disorders as
discrete categories, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder may
actually be at the extreme end of a complex continuum of a persons relationship to food
and her body (Hart, 1985; Scarano & Kalodner-Martin, 1994). At one end of the
continuum, individuals express satisfaction with their body image and a desire to practice
healthy eating and lifestyle habits. The other end of the continuum is marked by
excessive weight loss and/or cycles of binge eating with or without purging via fasting,
vomiting, laxative abuse, diet pills, and/or excessive exercise. A wide range of other
attitudes and behaviors related to food and body image otherwise known as subclinical
eating disorders exist between the opposing poles of this continuum (Hesse-Biber et al.,
1999; Shisslak & Crago, 1994; Tylka & Subich, 1999). The potential negative physical
and psychological ramifications of these varied attitudes and behaviors are numerous.
Eating disorders are associated with serious and even fatal medical complications
(Lemberg, 1999; Pomeroy, 1996). Mortality in anorexia nervosa can range from 6% to
20% in the clinical population (Crisp, Callender, Halek, & Hsu, 1992). Recent studies
have shown that even with treatment, only about one half of the affected clinical
population recover and up to one half of this remaining group are severely disabled by
chronic sequela of the disorder (Cavanaugh & Lemberg, 1999). Death is most often a
result of starvation, fluid and electrolyte abnormalities, or suicide (Beumont, Russell, &
Touyz, 1993). A distressing number of patients with bulimia nervosa also die, usually
from cardiac arrhythmias related to electrolyte imbalances (Cavanaugh & Lemberg,
1999). Although death secondary to binge eating is uncommon, fatalities do occur from


8
complications such as gastric rupture or tearing (Lemberg, 1999). Many other chronic
physical maladies are directly related to the continuum of disordered eating such as
cardiac complications, bowel dysfunction, renal electrolyte abnormalities, alterations of
endocrine function, pulmonary complications, and dental problems (Pomeroy, 1996).
The psychological features of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating
disorder are often similar. They may include depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, the
need for approval and acceptance by others, difficulty expressing anger and frustration,
and feelings of disgust and guilt associated with their eating disorder (Evans &
Wertheim, 1998; Surrey, 1991a). These feelings may become magnified as the disorder
progresses and the affected girl or woman may become more socially isolated,
withdrawn, and obsessed with losing weight (Lemberg, 1999). Concentration difficulties
related to malnutrition, preoccupation with food and exercise, and depression are also
common and oftentimes interfere with academic performance (Thurstin, 1999).
A critical developmental challenge for adolescent girls in our culture is to come to
terms with the biological changes accompanying pubertal development (Striegel-Moore
& Cachelin, 1999). The accompanying adolescent growth spurt, the normal tendency to
gain weight, and the significant increase in body fat relative to overall weight are
important factors in girls developing preoccupation with culturally mandated thinness
(Wooley & Wooley, 1980). Certain facets of the college social environment also
exacerbate this focus on thinness. Because college is a time in which dating serves an
important social function and appearance is a critical determinant of partner attraction,
the pressure on young women to be attractive which directly equates with low body
weight is especially salient during these years (Martz & Bazzini, 1999).


9
Traditional theories of psychodynamic object relations and family systems ascribe
the fundamental problems of eating disorders as a failure to separate and individuate from
familial connections and a failure to gain a sense of independence and autonomy in
relationships (Fishman, 1995; Friedlander & Siegal, 1990; Rhodes & Kroger, 1992).
Contemporary researchers and theorists have challenged the validity and applicability of
these constructs to girls and women (e.g., Gilligan, 1982; Gilligan et al., 1990; Guisinger
& Blatt, 1995; Jordan, 1991; Lang-Takac & Osterweil, 1992; Rude & Burnham, 1995;
Steiner-Adair, 1990; Surrey, 1991a) and these researchers and theorists now state that the
formation and maintenance of relationships and connections to others is critical to female
identity development (Gilligan, Rogers, & Tolman, 1991; Kenny, 1987; Lapsley, Rice, &
Shadid, 1989; McDermott, Robillard, Char, Hsu. Tseng, & Ashton, 1983). In addition,
the importance that girls and women attach to maintaining relationship connections with
others has been overlooked in the majority of previous eating disorder research
(Friedlander & Siegal, 1990; Steiner-Adair, 1991).
Need for the Study
Numerous theoretical models have been proposed to explain the etiology of eating
disorders. Several domains including the socio-cultural context, the familial context,
constitutional vulnerability, and adverse life events have been suggested as potential risk
factors (Striegel-Moore, 1993). Even though the theoretical models differ in the
emphasis placed on given risk domains, there is considerable agreement that the etiology
of eating disorders is multi factorial (Striegel-Moore & Cachelin, 1999). Risk for eating
problems derives from a combination of specific risk factors unique to eating disorders
and general risk factors that are associated with other mental health disorders. Exposure


10
to these risk factors occurs in diverse settings such as family, school, and peer group and
the salience or potency of risk factors derives in part from the point in development at
which they occur. Risk is also cumulative in that the greater the number of risk factors
experienced, the greater the chance a girl or woman will develop an eating disorder
(Striegel-Moore & Steiner-Adair, 1998).
Until recently, disordered eating was thought to be rare among girls and/or
women of color. As a consequence, only a few studies have included minority
populations (Striegel-Moore, Schreiber, Lo, Crawford, Obarzanek, & Rodin, 2000).
However, girls and women of color have higher rates of eating disorders than has
previously been described or documented in the research literature (Crago, Shisslak, &
Estes, 1996; Striegel-Moore & Smolak, 1996). A major problem with these limited
studies is that the results are oftentimes inconsistent and/or contradictory.
For example, some of the research that has examined Latina and White
differences in eating disorders has been equivocal, with several studies finding similar
incidence rates (Jane, Hunter, & Lozzi, 1999). Other researchers have found that Latinas
are both heavier and less concerned with their weight than Caucasian females (Harris &
Koehler, 1992), while Fitzgibbon et al. (1998) and Smith and Krejci (1991) reported that
certain eating disorder symptoms were more severe in their sample of Hispanic girls and
women compared to White participants. In a study of college females, low self-esteem
was associated with eating disordered behaviors and attitudes among Black and White
students (Akan & Grilo, 1995). In another study, Black female college students were less
likely than White female students to feel depressed after a binge, reported less family
emphasis on food and weight, and felt that a five pound weight gain would not make a


11
difference in their attractiveness (Gray et al., 1987). Abrams et al. (1993) found that
Black women who were less enculturated into the Black culture scored higher on dieting
and weight concern measures, while Akan and Grilo (1995) found no association
between enculturation and eating attitudes and behaviors. Inconsistencies in eating
disorder research studies with women of color abound and may be due in part to the
inherent diversity with respect to sociocultural background and acculturation and
assimilation within ethnic categories (French, Story, Neumark-Sztainer, Downes,
Resnick, & Blum, 1997).
Research on the etiology of eating disorders is not as advanced as research on
other mental health disorders such as depression. In addition to which, factors that
contribute to resilience against eating disorders have not yet been investigated in detail
(Striegel-Moore & Cachelin, 1999). One possible model for explaining resilience may be
the Stone Centers Relational Model of female psychological development.
Qualitatively, researchers have examined female development through the lens of the
Relational Model and have concluded that mutually empathic relationships are essential
for a sense of overall well-being and for promoting healthy growth and development in
girls and women (Surrey, 1991a). However, empirical examination of this model has
been limited by a lack of validated instruments designed to measure the specific
constructs of the Relational Model (Liang et al., 2000).
The only published measure that explicitly reflects the constructs of the Relational
Model of female development is the Mutual Psychological Development Questionnaire
(MPDQ; Genero et al., 1992). The MPDQ is an assessment based specifically on
impressions during verbal interactions with a spouse, partner, and/or friend. This


12
instrument assesses the unitary concept of perceived mutuality within dyadic
relationships, which is only one aspect of the Relational Model (Liang et al., 2000). A
new measure, the Relational Health Indices, has been developed and validated to examine
the growth-fostering qualities of peer, mentor, and community relationships based on the
three types of relational constructs (authenticity, engagement, and empowerment/zest)
which comprise the Stone Centers Relational Model of female development (Liang et
ah, 2000).
Researchers have stated that peer, mentor, and community relationships are
important factors in the psychological and physical well-being of Black and Latina
adolescents (e.g., Falicov, 1998; Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000; Leadbeater & Way, 1996;
Way & Chen, 2000). However, very little empirical research has been done which looks
at the possible relationship of disordered eating in older female adolescents of color and
their specific relationship connections. This type of research may assist in the future
development of successful programs for eating disorder prevention, education, and
intervention on college campuses.
Purpose of the Study
This research was undertaken to determine the relationships among White, Black,
and Latina college womens peer, mentor, and community relationships and their
disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. This study empirically used the theoretical
constructs of the Stone Centers Relational Model of female psychological development.
As noted, such an application cannot be found to date in the research literature.
One of the primary purposes of this research was to empirically examine eating
disorders in a diverse female college population. It has been recognized that the college


13
years are an especially vulnerable time for young women in our sociocultural
environment to develop disordered eating attitudes and/or behaviors (Martz & Bazzini,
1999). As American college campuses become more racially diverse, it is important to
study the dynamics of disordered eating in varied female college populations. Eating
disorders in Black female college students have been examined in a limited number of
studies with inconsistent results. Research on Latina college women and disordered
eating is almost nonexistent. Therefore, this research seeks to expand the empirical
knowledge base of college women of color and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors.
Another purpose of this research is to examine specific types of relationships of
college women. Chatoor (1999) stated that developmentally the older adolescent female
needs to begin loosening the ties with her parents and increase her relational involvement
with others. College women typically develop important relationships with peers,
mentors, and various types of communities. The value of social support to both physical
and psychological health has been well documented (Hobfoll, 1986), but the possible
relationship of eating problems to the peer, mentor, and community relationships of a
diverse population of female college students has not been studied. There is a possibility
that these types of relationships, which are integral to the constructs of the Stone Centers
Relational Model, may prove to be a factor of resilience for female college students
vulnerable to the struggles of disordered eating.
Rationale for the Approach
This research is unique in its focus on Relational Health as a potential factor of
resilience in college womens struggle with the behaviors and attitudes of disordered
eating. Whereas existing measures of social support have tended to assess the structure,


14
quantity, and general functions of support, Relational Health represents more nuanced
aspects of a broad range of interpersonal connections that are believed to be fundamental
to female psychological development (Liang et al., 1998). In addition, almost all of the
previous studies on girls and women and relational theory have been qualitative in design
and rarely look at the dynamics of disordered eating.
This research also sought to expand the knowledge base on disordered eating by
directly addressing the role that peer, mentor, and community relationships of a diverse
female college population have on the continuum of eating problems. The recognition of
the Relational Health of White, Black, and Latina college women as a variable in the
complex structures of disordered eating may provide insights for university mental health
providers and college administrators as they attempt to make inroads within this
nationwide female student health epidemic.
In this study, Relational Health was assessed using the three scales of the
Relational Health Indices (RHI). Liang et al. (2000) developed these scales in response
to research that validates that among growth-fostering relationships, close ties with peers
and adult mentors and belonging to a supportive community are three of the most
significant types of connections in later adolescence and young adulthood (Gilligan et al.,
1990; Hagerty et al., 1996; Leadbeater & Way, 1996). The RHI was developed for a
female college student population.
Disordered eating was assessed using the Eating Attitudes Test-26 (EAT-26)
(Gamer, Olmstead, Bohr, & Garfinkel, 1982), a 26-item self-report measure of eating
attitudes and pathology. This instrument has been useful in identifying eating
disturbances which interfere with normal psychosocial functioning in non-clinical


15
samples in high risk populations such as female college students (Alexander, 1998;
Button & Whitehouse, 1981; Gross, Rosen, Leitenberg, & Willmuth, 1986; Heesacker &
Neimeyer, 1990; Mazzeo, 1999; Thompson & Schwartz, 1982).
Research Questions
The following research questions were examined in this study:
1. What is the relationship between peer relationships and disordered eating?
2. Does the relationship between peer relationships and disordered eating differ
for White, Black, and Latina female college students?
3. What is the relationship between mentor relationships and disordered eating?
4. Does the relationship between mentor relationships and disordered eating
differ for White, Black, and Latina female college students?
5. What is the relationship between community relationships and disordered
eating?
6. Does the relationship between community relationships and disordered eating
differ for White, Black, and Latina female college students?
7. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
disordered eating?
8. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
peer relationships?
9. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
mentor relationships?
10. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
community relationships?


16
Definition of Terms
The following list of terms are operationally defined according to their meanings
in this study.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is often life-endangering and is
characterized by a distorted body image, excessively low weight, and a relentless pursuit
of thinness (Lemberg, 1999).
Authenticity is the process of acquiring knowledge of self and others and feeling
free to be genuine in the context of the relationship (Liang et al., 2000).
Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of
binge eating in the absence of regular use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors such
as vomiting, excessive exercise, and laxative abuse (Lemberg, 1999).
Black is the term used to refer to girls and women of both African American and
Caribbean American heritage (Comas-Diaz & Greene, 1994).
Body image refers to feelings and attitudes toward ones own body (Hsu &
Sobkiewicz, 1991).
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge
eating accompanied by inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight
gain such as self-induced vomiting and/or laxative abuse (Lemberg, 1999).
Connection is an interaction between two or more people that is mutually
empathic and mutually empowering (Miller & Stiver, 1997).
Continuum of disordered eating places unrestrained eating (asymptomatic group)
at one end of the continuum, clinical eating disorders (eating disordered group) at the


17
other end of the continuum, and the milder forms of disturbed eating (symptomatic
group) at intermediate points (Tylka & Subich, 1999).
Disconnections are the experiences of feeling cut off from those with whom we
share a relationship. This cutting off is experienced as the pain of not being understood
and of not understanding the other person. It is an encounter that works against mutual
empathy and mutual empowerment (Miller & Stiver, 1997).
Empathy is the capacity that exists in all people to feel and think something
similar to the feelings and thoughts of another person (Miller & Stiver, 1997).
Engagement is a relational quality that is defined by perceived mutual
involvement, commitment, and attunement to the relationship (Liang et al., 2000).
Latina is the term used to refer to girls and women of Mexican, Caribbean, and
South and Central American heritage (Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000).
Mentor is an adult person other than a primary caretaker, peer, or romantic partner
who is available for support and guidance and is a positive role model (Leadbeater &
Way, 1996).
Mutual empathy is a joining together based on the authentic thoughts and feelings
of all the participants in a relationship. It is different from one-way empathy and out of it
flows mutual empowerment (Miller & Stiver, 1997).
Mutual empowerment is composed of five essential components: zest, action,
knowledge, worth, and a desire for more connection (Miller & Stiver, 1997).
Mutuality is a way of relating, a shared experience in which all of the people
involved are participating as fully as possible (Miller & Stiver, 1997).


18
Relational Model/Theory is a paradigm for the assessment of women's
psychological development and well-being. The goal is not for the individual to grow and
mature out of relationships, but to grow into them. Growth-fostering relationships are
both the source and the goal of womens development (Miller & Stiver, 1997).
Relationship is the set of interpersonal interactions that occur over a length of
time. A relationship is usually a mixture of both connections and disconnections (Miller
& Stiver, 1997).
Subclinical eating disorders are disordered eating behaviors that do not meet
diagnostic criteria for a clinical eating disorder, yet are problematic for the individual and
may be a precursor to a more serious eating disorder at a later time (Lemberg, 1999).
Zest/empowerment is the experience of feeling personally strengthened,
encouraged, and inspired to take action (Liang et al., 2000).
Organization of the Remainder of the Study
The remainder of this study is organized into four chapters. Chapter 2 presents a
review and analysis of relevant, related literature. Chapter 3 presents the research
methodology including a description of the population and sample, sampling procedures,
research hypotheses, and instrumentation. Data collection procedures, data analyses, and
the results of the study are presented in Chapter 4. Chapter 5 concludes the study with a
summary of the dissertation research, discussion of results, limitations, implications, and
recommendations for future research.


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Introduction
The purpose of this chapter is to summarize the professional literature relevant to
this study of relational health and disordered eating in Black, Latina, and White female
college students. This literature review includes the following topics: (a) traditional
models of human psychological development and the Wellesley College Stone Centers
Relational Model of female psychological development and well-being; (b) risk factors
for disordered eating in college women which include sociocultural context, college
adjustment, and race and ethnicity; and (c) protective factors against disordered eating in
college women which include peer relationships, mentor relationships, and community
relationships.
Theoretical Model
Many theorists of human development (e.g.. Bios, 1962; Erickson, 1968;
Levinson, 1978) have proposed that the processes of individuating oneself from others
define various stages of adolescent development. From this perspective, development of
a sense of self is believed to be attained through a series of crises by which an individual
adolescent accomplishes independence and autonomy via separation from others
(Johnson, Roberts, & Worell, 1999).
19


20
Bios (1962), a psychoanalytic theorist of adolescent development, was an ardent
believer in the necessity of separation and individuation. He proposed that the
developmental stage of adolescence could be considered the second individuation
process, whereas the first process of individuation occurs towards the third year of life
with the attainment of object constancy. Bios (1967) further suggested that failure to
individuate fully in adolescence leads to the probable consequences of deviant
development or psychopathology.
In Eriksons (1963) developmental schema, following the initial stage of trust
versus distrust in the first year of life, every subsequent stage until young adulthood
involves some variation of separation from others. It is not until the early 20s when an
individual reaches the stage of intimacy versus isolation that close relationships with
others are emphasized (Erikson, 1968).
Levinson (1978) considered the ages from 17 to 22 as the stage of early adult
transition. During this stage, he proposed that separation was the primary theme
especially separation from adolescent groups and family of origin. Levinson (1978)
believed that this stage was characterized by an entrance into new, more autonomous
roles with a significant increase in psychological distance from the family.
Such traditional theories of lifespan development have become influential in
Western culture because they represent prescriptions for what should happen in the
process of human development (Miller, 1984). From this perspective, according to
McGoldrick (1989), the reality of continuing interpersonal connection is often lost or
relegated to the background. Miller (1991) contended that the prevalent definition of a


21
mature autonomous self is not congruent with female experience which is more aptly
described by a mutually interacting self, informed by mutual empathic experience.
During the last three decades of the twentieth century, writers on the psychology
of women have questioned the priority of valuing individuation and autonomy over
relational connection in female psychological development and well-being (Gilligan,
1982; Jordan et al., 1991; Miller, 1976). Substantial research has validated the fact that
women are healthier both physically and psychologically when they develop in the
context of relationships from infancy through later adulthood and that this connectedness
to others helps not hinders the development of a solid sense of self (Ainsworth. 1989;
Beeber, 1998; Buehler & Legg, 1993; Burnett & Demnar, 1996; Evans & Wertheim,
1998; Kenny, 1991; Lu & Argyle, 1992; Rhodes & Kroger, 1992).
Chodorow (1978) stated that the most important feature of early infantile
development is that it occurs in relation to another person or persons, usually the mother.
She proposed that a female affiliative or relational self emerges from a parenting
structure in which mothers interact differently with their sons and daughters. Daughters
are treated as maternal projections and never fully separate from her, and thereby come to
define themselves as connected to or continuous with others with more permeable ego
boundaries. Boys, on the other hand, in order to develop a sense of male gender identity
are treated as separate from their mothers and come to identify themselves as
differentiated from others with more rigid ego boundaries.
This sense of developing within* rather than away from relationships with
others seems to follow females as they progress through the evolving stages of infant,
child, adolescent, and adult development (Ainsworth, 1989; Gilligan, 1982; Gilligan et


22
al., 1991; Kenny, 1987, 1991; Miller, 1991). This construct of connection and the
importance of social support and relationships in girls and womens lives have been
studied extensively from various perspectives (e.g., Boyce, Harris, Silove, Morgan,
Wilhelm, Hadzi-Pavlovic, 1998; Buehler & Legg, 1993; Fhrer et al., 1999; Harris,
Blum, & Resnick, 1991; Warren, 1997).
Boyce et al. (1998) examined the mediating effect of social support in the
development of depression among 193 high-risk, low socioeconomic females between
the ages of 16 and 50 with dependent children. Major depression was associated with
perceptions of low parental care in childhood, low care with current partner, and an
unsatisfactory social support network. Buehler and Legg (1993) examined the effects of
social support on the relationship between stressful life change and the psychological
well-being of 144 separated women aged 20 to 45 with dependent children. The
relationship between life change and psychological well-being was positively associated
with various aspects of social support. In a large cohort of 1,877 middle-aged female
British Civil Servants, Fhrer et al. (1999) found that regardless of the source of social
support, social relationships within and outside the workplace appeared to be negatively
associated with psychological distress. In a study of 36,284 Minnesota adolescents in the
7lh through 12th grades, girls were found to express more emotional distress than boys
when feeling disconnected in intimate relationships. Those girls who experienced lower
levels of connectedness with others evidenced higher levels of emotional stress, negative
body image, suicide attempts, and pregnancy risks (Harris et al., 1991). Warren (1997)
examined relationships between depression, stressful life events, social support, and self
esteem in 100 middle class African American women aged 20 to 35. Statistical analysis


23
revealed a positive relationship between depression and stressful life events and a
negative relationship between depression and social support.
Research findings from such studies have indicated that the quality and nature of
womens relationships are probably more meaningful than their specific quantity or
structure (Liang et al., 2000). Some large etiological studies have found significance for
the value of network size and health for men, but not for women (House, Robbins, &
Metzner, 1982; Schoenbach, Kaplan, Fredman, & Kleinbaum, 1986). Womens physical
and mental health tends to benefit most from relationships with female friends and
relatives who are nurturing and providers of emotional support (Berkman & Syme, 1979;
Wheeler, Reis, & Nzlek, 1983). In addition, Wheeler et al. (1983) found that high
numbers of social contacts do not ward off loneliness. It is only when these relationships
involve emotional intimacy and disclosure that women are able to combat feelings of
loneliness and alienation. VanderVoort (1999) examined 280 male and female
undergraduate students and found that the women in the study reported significantly more
satisfaction with their social support systems and less isolation and depression. For these
college women, the emotional support given by their various relationships met their
emotional needs by enabling them to feel valued as well as process or work through their
emotional difficulties (Vandervoort, 1999).
Those relationships that are intimate and mutual can facilitate self-disclosure,
emotional resiliency, coping strategies, and additional social support for girls and women
(Genero, Miller, Surrey, & Baldwin, 1992; Jordan, 1986; Miller & Stiver, 1997). From
this basic construct, researchers at the Wellesley College Stone Center have developed
the Relational Model as a theoretical paradigm for the assessment of womens


24
psychological development and well-being (Liang et al., 2000). Relational Model
theorists have focused on the self-in-relation and consider their theory to be a relational
approach to the understanding of female psychological development and the importance
of relationships in the lives of girls and women (Miller & Stiver, 1997). They have
identified three major growth-fostering characteristics of relationships, which have been
supported by previous research. They are mutual engagement, authenticity, and
empowerment or zest (Liang et al., 2000).
Mutual engagement is defined as perceived mutual involvement, commitment,
and attunement to the relationship (Surrey, 1991b). Mutual engagement may have a
beneficial impact on individuals as well as relationships as indicated in studies on
empathy and closeness (Liang et al., 2000). These qualities mediate stress and depression
and are associated with self-actualization, self-esteem, low interpersonal distress, and
relationship satisfaction (Beeber, 1998; Burnett & Demnar, 1996; Gawronski & Privette,
1997; Schreurs & Buunk, 1996; Sheffield, Carey, Patenaude, & Lambert, 1995).
Authenticity is not a static state that is achieved at a discrete moment in time, but rather a
girls or womans ongoing ability to represent herself in a relationship with increasing
truth and fullness and thereby acquire knowledge of self and other (Miller & Stiver.
1997). Research on authentic self-disclosure and openness appears to be related to being
liked, increased liking of others, and motivation in relationships (Collins & Miller, 1994;
Kay & Christophel, 1995). Empowerment or zest, the experience of feeling personally
strengthened, encouraged, and thereby motivated to take action (Liang et al., 2000), has
been shown to have a direct impact on positive affect, meaningful activity, and creativity
(Hall & Nelson, 1996; Spreitzer, 1995).


25
The Relational Model was initially conceptualized by Surrey (1985) as the
mutually interacting self or the self-in-relation. She posited a theory of female
psychological development that rejected the notion that connectedness and differentiation
were dichotomous and viewed the overall maturation process as the development of a
complex, defined self within a structure of connected relationships. Surrey (1985)
contended that a young womans self-esteem was dependent on her capacity to develop
relational competence, which included the capacity to experience and communicate
accurate empathy. The traditional definition of empathy is a temporary blurring of ego
boundaries which allows an individual to experience the affect of another followed by a
distancing then return to an objective position (Nelson, 1996). Jordan (1991), another
Stone Center theorist, contended that this perspective on empathy inaccurately
perpetuates seeing the self as either distinctly autonomous or merged and imbedded.
Jordan (1991) proposed that it is possible for an individual to feel connected to another or
be affectively joined while at the same time appreciate and be fully aware of her own
separateness. She also contended that the skillful use of empathy requires well-defined
ego boundaries.
Relational competence as defined by the Relational Model is the ability to attend
to the affect and experience of another individual and then respond in an appropriate
manner that compromises neither that individual self nor another (Nelson, 1996).
Mutuality, authenticity, and empowerment or zest are the key components of this
relational skill (Liang et al., 2000). Relational competence leads to mutual
empowerment, a state in which each person can receive and then respond to the feelings
and thoughts of the other, each is able to enlarge both her own and another persons


26
feelings and thoughts, and simultaneously each person enlarges the relationship (Miller &
Stiver, 1997). Psychological health is therefore the outgrowth of connection with others
while psychological distress develops in response to repeated and chronic patterns of
disconnection (Miller, 1988). According to the principles of the Relational Model, the
goal of healthy psychological development for girls and women is attained via the
increasing ability to build and enlarge mutually enhancing relationships in which each
individual can feel an increased sense of well-being through being in touch with others
and finding ways to act on individual thoughts and feelings (Surrey, 1985).
Pollack and Gilligan (1982), in a study using Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)
cards, found that male subjects reported seeing more violent images when people were
physically brought closer together in TAT pictures. Women, on the other hand, related
more violent stories when people were set further apart. Pollack and Gilligan (1982)
concluded that closeness and relatedness form the context for girls and womens
psychological development and exclusion and isolation are purposefully avoided.
In this research study, peer, mentor, and community relationships were
hypothesized as potential protective factors in Black, Latina, and White college womens
struggles with disordered eating. Among growth-fostering relationships, close ties with
peers, mentors, and belonging to a community are three of the most significant types of
connections for young adults (Liang et al., 2000). Rosen & Neumark-Sztainer (1998)
reviewed options for primary prevention of eating disturbances and stated that almost
nothing is known or written about the protective factors that may increase resilience to
the development of disordered eating. Protective factors are conceptualized as
characteristics in an individuals world that mitigate against the development of


27
behavioral and psychological problems despite the existence of risk factors (Rutter,
1979). For this population, relevant risk factors for the problems associated with
disordered eating are the sociocultural environment (Striegel-Moore, 1993) and the
stresses involved with adjusting to and successfully navigating the challenges of college
life (Martz & Bazzini, 1999). Women of color face additional hardships in college
adjustment especially in predominantly White university settings (Gloria & Rodriguez,
2000), therefore race and ethnicity was also considered a relevant risk factor.
Risk Factors for Disordered Eating in College Women
The attitudes and behaviors of the continuum of disordered eating generally
develop in adolescence and increase in prevalence as young women transition through
their college years (Alexander, 1998). Bulimia nervosa is virtually unheard of prior to
adolescence and the vast majority of women clinically diagnosed with bulimia nervosa
have symptom onset before the age of 25. Similarly, in clinical samples the modal age of
onset of binge eating is 18 and it is rarely seen in children. Anorexia nervosa does occur
in prepubertal children but the incidence increases dramatically after puberty, with the
majority of cases beginning before the age of 25 (Woodside & Garfinkel, 1992).
Researchers have estimated that 3% to 19% of college women have bulimia, 1%
to 2% have anorexia, and as many as 61% display subclinical eating disordered attitudes
and behaviors such as extreme body consciousness, chronic dieting, overexercising,
bingeing without purging, and/or purging without bingeing (Mintz & Betz, 1988). These
unhealthy symptoms may actually be considered relatively normative among
undergraduate women (Mazzeo, 1999). Striegel-Moore and Cachelin (1999) stated that
the etiology of disordered eating is multifactorial and varies for each individual girl


28
and/or young woman. If inroads are to be made in the area of primary prevention, it is
important to understand the risk variables for disordered eating in the female college
population.
Sociocultural Environment
Concerns with food and weight have become such a major sociocultural
preoccupation for girls and women in Western culture that it is almost impossible to grow
up female today without ever feeling fat, worrying about weight, and developing
ambivalent feelings towards food (Friedman, 1998). At a very young age, girls are
socialized to hate obesity and to accept a cultural standard of thinness that is close to or
below the minimum required weight for reproduction (Wooley & Wooley, 1982).
Adolescent girls receive the message to be thin no matter what the costs, to deny their
needs and appetites to achieve this goal, and to deny their selves and their bodies to
please others (Mirkin, 1990).
Collins (1991) examined Black and White elementary school girls and found that
a majority of the subjects expressed a bias toward thinner child and adult figures and 42%
preferred body figures that were different and thinner than their own perceived body
shape. This finding was true across all age, weight, and ethnic groups. Collins (1991)
concluded that the onset of disparate figure perceptions and expectations regarding
thinness among females might be evident as young as 6 or 7 years of age.
Puberty and adolescence appear to be critical developmental stages for the
evolving preoccupation with body shape and weight (Surrey, 1991). Adolescent girls
growth spurt, which involves the normal tendency to gain weight and increase their body
fat, seems to be an important factor in this growing preoccupation (Wooley & Wooley,


29
1982). Among many young women in a Western culture that values thinness, weight
gain and the personal experience ofgetting fatter seem to initiate psychological
disturbances in body image and attempts toward weight reduction (Surrey, 1991).
Although girls tend to naturally gain weight and body fat during puberty, Western culture
encourages girls to strive for an extremely thin body ideal and then judges them harshly
according to this unrealistic standard (Steiner-Adair, 1990).
Clausen (1975) stated that there is a correlation between female adolescent body
build and actual positive and negative evaluations, prestige, and success in relationships.
While boys were given social approval for academic success and achievement, girls were
praised for their physical appearance and more specifically for being slim (Clausen,
1975). Rosenbaum (1993), in a study of adolescent girls, found all subjects preferred
small, unobtrusive body parts with the exception of a preference for large breasts. In
addition to which, given three wishes about what they would change about their bodies,
the girls consistently chose these priorities: (a) to lose weight and keep it off, (b) blond
hair and blue eyes, (c) a clear complexion and a perfect figure (Rosenbaum, 1993).
Robinson, Killen, Litt, and Hammer (1996) surveyed 939 6th and 7th grade girls
aged 10 to 14 years old in order to assess body dissatisfaction. Latina girls reported
significantly greater body dissatisfaction than White girls even among the leanest 25% of
the subjects. Striegel-Moore, Schreiber, Pike, and Wilfley (1995) examined 311 Black
and 302 White girls aged 9 to 20 years old for racial and food intake differences looking
at the dynamic of the drive for thinness, a variable linked to the etiology of eating
disorders. Black girls in the study reported significantly greater drive for thinness than
White girls. In an Essence magazine study of 600 randomly selected Black females aged


30
17-62 years old, results showed that surveyed subjects had adopted attitudes toward body
image, weight, and eating, and suffered from levels of depression that were comparable
to their White counterparts. These factors also served to increase their risk for eating
disorders (Pumariega, Gustavson, Gustavson, & Motes, 1994). Root (1990) states that
racial/cultural context may afford protection from disordered eating to an ethnic group,
but it does not necessarily protect individuals who are subject to the standards of the
dominant Western culture. Levels of acculturation and assimilation are also important
variables to be considered in the relationship of disordered eating and women of color.
Thompson (1992) labeled our current sociocultural environment as a culture of
thinness, an environment which glorifies thinness as the ticket to happiness and success
and denigrates overweight bodies by linking them to such negative characteristics as
laziness, ugliness, and failure. Antifat prejudice is so acceptable in our society that
Crandall (1991) stated that it is a better element for studying the dynamics of
discrimination and prejudice than is the study of racism or sexism since the latter are
influenced by social desirability factors.
Images of supposedly attractive women such as beauty pageant winners and
Playboy centerfolds have become progressively thinner since the 1960s (Garner,
Garfmkel, Schwartz, & Thompson, 1980; Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann, & Ahrens, 1992).
This contemporary sociocultural phenomenon of thinner and thinner female bodies has
also been prevalent in female fashion models employed by leading modeling agencies
(Morris, Cooper, & Cooper, 1989).
American women report a preoccupation with body weight that begins before
puberty and intensifies in adolescence and young adulthood (Brumberg, 1988). In a 1984


31
Glamour magazine survey of 33,000 women, when asked to choose among potential
sources of happiness, the majority of respondents chose weight loss over success at work
or in interpersonal relationships. Eighty percent of these surveyed women also believed
that they had to be thin in order to attract men (Brumberg, 1988). This perfect female
weight represented by media image ideals has progressively decreased to that of the
thinnest 5-10% of American women and consequently, 90-95% of American women feel
as if theyll never be able to measure up physically (Seid, 1994).
Individuals who adhere to popular stereotypes of female beauty are more likely to
exhibit thoughts and behaviors associated with disordered eating (Hesse-Biber, 1991;
Mintz & Betz, 1988). Garfmkel and Gamer (1982) found that women who were dancers
and fashion models and therefore experienced a heightened pressure to conform to a thin
body shape were at greater risk for developing eating disorders. Heinberg & Thompson
(1995) determined that direct exposure to media-communicated images of thin, attractive
women via print or film materials produced an immediate increase in womens body
dissatisfaction and dysphoric mood.
Steiner-Adair (1990) interviewed 32 White girls aged 14 to 18 years old in order
to examine their perceptions of cultural values and cultural and individual images of
women. Three weeks after the interviews were finished, girls completed the Eating
Attitudes Test (EAT), which assessed eating disordered behavior. Interpretation of the
interviews revealed two different patterns of responses: the wise woman pattern and the
superwoman pattern. Sixty percent of the girls fit into the wise woman response pattern,
indicating a personal awareness of the cultural expectations and values of a womans
autonomy and independent achievement in career and appearance, yet differentiating


32
their own individual ideal from this societal image. Forty percent of the girls fell into the
superwoman response pattern, identifying with the independent and autonomous
superwoman as the societal ideal as well as their own. All of the wise women scored in
the noneating disorder range of the EAT in contrast to the 11 of 12 superwomen who
scored in the eating disorder range. Steiner-Adair (1990) concluded that those girls who
uncritically accept a societal image that conflicts with their own female developmental
history of connection are at a greater risk for developing eating disorders.
In another research study looking at body image, Schwartz and Thompson (1982)
examined the effects of the thin sociocultural ideal on normal college women and
found that a high percentage of these young women engaged in disordered eating
behaviors including both binge eating and purging. They concluded that there is a large
percentage of functioning female college students who engage in eating disordered
behaviors in order to stay thin. Although only a minority of adolescent girls develops
clinical eating disorders, a large majority of these young women diet and suffer from
subclinical eating concerns, body dissatisfaction, and what has been called a normative
discontent (Rodin, Silberstein, Striegel-Moore, 1985).
The prevalence of the continuum of disordered eating attitudes and behaviors in a
diverse population of female college students across the nation has been documented in
various research studies (e.g., Abrams et al., 1993; Akan & Grilo, 1995; Alexander, 1998;
Drewnowski et al., 1988; Gray et al., 1987; Hesse-Biber et al., 1999; Pyle et al., 1991).
The exact numbers of affected college females varies widely but Riley (1991) stated that
eating disorders are among the most rapidly increasing diseases of our time. In response
to this pervasive problem, Striegel-Moore & Cachelin (1999) stated that intervention


33
studies are clearly needed that are based on models of risk and resilience in the arena of
disordered eating. Within the current body of eating disorder research, the sociocultural
environment as a possible risk factor is well documented. In contrast, the variables of
adjustment to college for young women have not been empirically explored as potential
risk factors for disordered eating.
Adjustment to College
Attending college away from home for the first time entails a major transition for
late adolescents which is fraught with a great deal of stress (Wintre & Yaffe, 2000).
Students envision a new life free of parental control, filled with interesting and novel
experiences, with new people to meet and stimulating academic activities (Pancer,
Hunsberger, Pratt, & Alisat, 2000). The reality of students experiences at a college or
university is actually harsher and more stressful than many late adolescents ever
anticipate (Comps, Wagner, Slavin, & Vannatta, 1986).
Students need to adjust to the new responsibilities of young adult independence
and cope with an environment that is very different from the one they have been used to
at home during their high school years (Pancer et al., 2000). Usually students are moving
away from home for the first time and are therefore cut off from their existing support
network made up of extended family and close friends (Rice, 1992). In addition, they are
forced to perform many tasks that were formerly done by their parents such as doing their
own laundry and managing their finances (Koplik & Devito, 1986). On top of all of these
challenges, their collegiate academic requirements are usually more difficult than the
work they did in high school (Pancer et al., 2000).


34
Most of the work in establishing an independent identity for young adults is
completed during college rather than during high school. The majority of college
students spend at least part of their college years in a state of moratorium. During this
period of moratorium, a student actively explores options for values and beliefs
concerning politics, religion, career, etc. and women also consider family and gender
roles. This developmental stage is both exciting and challenging but can also be
psychologically stressful for most college students (Smolak & Levine, 1996).
Chickerings (1969) model of college students psychosocial development has
been widely researched and is a structured way of conceptualizing this developmental
period. It was recently updated (Chickering & Reisser, 1993) and includes the following
seven vectors: (a) developing competence, (b) managing emotions, (c) moving through
autonomy toward interdependence, (d) developing mature interpersonal relationships, (e)
establishing identity, (e) developing purpose, and (f) developing integrity. This model
defines the development of mature interpersonal relationships via tolerance and
appreciation of individual differences and a capacity for intimacy. These dynamics are
similar to the growth-fostering characteristic of mutual engagement within the Relational
Model. Chickerings fifth dimension of establishing identity includes the need to find
comfort with body and appearance and self-acceptance and self-esteem (Chickering &
Reisser, 1993). This developmental task directly relates to college womens struggles
with their sociocultural environment and the continuum of disordered eating. Chickering
and Reissers (1993) updated version of student developmental theory recognizes the
importance of students experiences with relationships in the formation of their core
sense of self.


35
Although some students adjust fairly well to these major developmental
challenges, others are overwhelmed and are unable to make use of positive coping skills.
Many students experience physical and/or emotional problems related to the struggles of
college adjustment (Wintre & Yaffe, 2000). Striegel-Moore and Steiner-Adair (1998)
stated that adolescent young women in response to a wide range of difficulties and
stressors in life might often use disordered eating as a coping mechanism. The multiple
challenges of adjusting to college life and feeling successful in the university
environment would be considered a major life stressor for many young adult women and
therefore could be a potential risk factor for disordered eating.
Certain facets of the college sociocultural environment may also contribute to
college females vulnerability to a continuum of attitudes and behaviors related to
disordered eating (Martz & Bazzini, 1999). Hesse-Biber (1996) stated that there are
several reasons why the college environment may be a breeding ground for weight
obsession and eating problems. College provides a semi-closed environment that tends
to amplify sociocultural messages. Disordered eating is often spread through imitation,
competition, and/or solidarity, sociocultural experiences, which are commonplace on
university campuses. In addition, weight gained during college is especially detrimental
in a climate primed to value thinness and often begins the vicious cycle of disordered
eating. Stress leads to overeating, which leads to weight gain, which leads to restricted
eating, binge/purge cycles, and/or overexercising, which may lead to more stress if these
compensatory behaviors fail to work (Hesse-Biber, 1996).
Because college is a time in which dating serves an important social function,
the constant pressure on young women to be attractive may be particularly salient during


36
these years (Martz & Bazzini, 1999). Low body weight has become critical in defining
attractiveness for these young women and their appearance is an important determinant of
attracting and dating young men (Rodin et al., 1985). Therefore, this period of a young
womans life may present stress-related pressures to look perfect in order to appeal to
and attract friends and potential romantic partners (Martz & Bazzini, 1999).
Epidemiology suggests an increased incidence of disordered eating since the 1960s for
women in their 20s and 30s. Many of the struggles associated with the entire arena of
problem eating for these women oftentimes began in their college years (Pawluck &
Gorey, 1998).
In summary, the transition involved in the academic and social adjustment to
college for residential students is oftentimes very challenging. Many students are unable
to make use of positive coping mechanisms and as a result end up dealing with physical
and/or psychological problems. This transition is especially difficult for young women as
they face on-going pressures to be attractive in order to attract both friends and dating
partners. Many young college women become involved in the continuum of disordered
eating as they strive for the perfect body. Adjustment to college life on predominantly
White university campuses may be even more difficult for minority women than for
White female students as they face additional challenges associated with their race and/or
ethnicity.
Race and Ethnicity
The number of both Black and Latina female college students enrolling in
colleges is growing and most of these young women attend predominantly White
institutions of higher education. Their minority status in these settings usually translates


37
into different academic and personal experiences than those encountered by their White
female student counterparts (Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000; Schwitzer, Griffin, Ancis, &
Thomas, 1999). Although all students must contend with academic stresses and
adjustment difficulties, coping with the challenges of college life is generally more
difficult for racial/ethnic minority students than for White students (Gloria & Rodriguez,
2000). Ponterotto (1990) stated that many Black and Latina students often feel
unwelcomed and unappreciated on predominantly White university campuses. There is
little written in the literature specifically on Black and Latina female college student
adjustment, therefore the majority of the following studies are based on samples of both
male and female students of color.
Using qualitative research methods, Schwitzer et al. (1999) described a model that
identified four key features that tend to constitute African American students' social
adjustment to college experiences. Focus group participants in this study were 22
traditionally aged 4th year seniors, a majority of which were female, at a predominantly
White university. The first two features in the model relate to aspects of adjustment to
the institutional climate as a whole and are labeled sense of underrepresentedness"" and
direct perceptions of racism. The next two features refer to specific influences on
academic relationships with faculty. In this study, respondents reported feeling
unsupported and different and stated that the transition to the institutions social
climate had been hard, difficult, a struggle, or unhappy. They also felt
isolated, frustrated, overlooked, or misunderstood by others on campus because
of their race.


38
This four-feature descriptive model for Black students described by Schwitzer et
al. (1999) is consistent with the literature on other models of successful college
matriculation and persistence. These models focus on two central tasks involved in
college adjustment which are establishing successful interpersonal relationships in the
campus environment also known as social adjustment and effectively interacting with
faculty in and outside the classroom which is a component of academic adjustment
(Baker, McNeil, & Siryk, 1985; Baker& Siryk, 1984).
Gossett, Cuyjet, and Cockriel (1998) reported that 324 African American students
attending four midwestem universities felt marginalized in their campus environment.
This marginalization occurred in diverse situations involving administrative staff,
academic advising, classroom activities, faculty interactions, peer interactions, and
student services. The college environment, particularly when perceived as
discriminatory, hostile, alienating, or isolating, can be a major factor in the impediment
of African American students participation and persistence in higher education (Allen,
1992).
Cervantes (1988) found that many African American and Latino students felt a
need to assimilate into the White university culture in order to be accepted. Blending in
required them to hide and/or disown their ethnic background, which resulted in feelings
of isolation, cultural alienation, and an overall sense of being unwelcomed in higher
education because of their cultural, racial, or ethnic differences.
Sedlaceks (1999) meta-analysis of twenty years of research on Black students on
White college campuses found that racism, both individual and institutional, remains a
major problem for Black students across the country. Institutional racism involves


39
university policies and procedures, either formal or informal, which result in negative
outcomes for Black students. This type of racism is often more of a problem for Black
students than is racism expressed and/or acted out by individuals (Sedlacek, 1999). A
common example of institutional racism is the separate African American and White
fraternity and sorority systems in which African American organizations are stereotyped
and must compete with the larger White Greek system for university funding (Schwitzer
etal., 1999).
Smedley, Myers, and Harrells (1993) study, which included a diverse sample of
Hispanic and Latino students, reported that students on predominantly White college
campuses faced stressors associated with their minority status. They exhibited
considerable psychological sensitivity to the campus social environment including
interpersonal tensions with White students and faculty and actual or perceived
experiences of racism and discrimination. Among Latino sophomores and juniors
attending several different universities, perceptions of racial-ethnic tensions and
experiences of discrimination affected numerous dimensions of adjustment to their
college experiences (Hurtado, Carter, & Spuler, 1996).
In addition to the stresses of racism, many Latino students also struggle with the
psychological and social impact of functioning within two different cultures (Torres,
1999). Feeling isolated, alienated, or nonentitled, Latino students are often faced with
the need to adopt a bicultural understanding of themselves as Latino young adults
attempting to navigate the White cultural world of academia (DeFreece, 1987).
Bicultural adaptation is an example of a healthy coping strategy, but one that can be very
stressful as Latino students are challenged to maintain their cultural values and identity


40
while adjusting to the university culture and environment (Gloria & Robinson Kurpius,
1996).
In summary, the transition to college, which involves social, emotional, and
academic adjustments, is a normal but often very stressful life event. The stressors
associated with that transition might be greatest for students attending a college or
university where the predominant racial and/or ethnic culture differs from their own. The
aforementioned research studies predominantly examined the variables involved in
academic persistence for Black and Latino college students without looking specifically
at the unique adjustment problems of minority women. The pressures and strain of
college, from academics to social life, magnify female students problems with body
image and weight because women often use food or restriction of food as a means of
calming and/or coping (Hesse-Biber, 1996). A Black or Latina female college student
may be especially vulnerable to the continuum of disordered eating as she copes with the
additional stressors associated with her minority status within a White college or
university environment.
Protective Factors Against Disordered Eating in College Women
Epidemiologists, after studying thousands of lives through time, have consistently
found that close, intact relationships predict health. Compared with those with few social
ties, people supported by friends, family, fellow members at school, work, church or
other support groups are less vulnerable to ill health and premature death (Myers, 2000).
The problem of disordered eating in female college students is a serious health concern
but there has been a paucity of research specifically focused on eating pathology and
relationship connections (Steiner-Adair, 1990). The Stone Centers Relational Model


41
proposes that relational health within peer, mentor, and community relationships is
associated with mental health and adjustment in college-aged women (Liang et al., 2000).
This research study hypothesized that relational health is a protective factor in the
development of attitudes and behaviors associated with the continuum of disordered
eating in Black, Latina, and White female college students.
Peer Relationships
Positive experiences of friendship contribute significantly to cognitive, social, and
moral development as well as to psychological adjustment and socioemotional health for
adolescents (Brown, Way, & Duff, 1999). In a study of 1,131 fifteen to sixteen-year-old
teenagers, Vilhjalmsson (1994) found that parental support had the largest effect on self-
assessed health, closely followed by friend support, and support by other adult figures.
However, Eder (1985) more than a decade ago, stated that very few studies have focused
on female peer relationships during adolescence and even less research has looked at
girls friendships with other girls. This statement remains true even today especially in
the field of psychological research. Despite evidence that peer relationships are critically
important for adolescents and young adults, little is known about the intricacies, nuances,
and contexts of female friendships especially in young women of color (Brown et al.,
*
1999).
An increasing number of theorists have noted the different cultures that are
manifest in male and female peer relationships (Bukowski, Newcomb, & Hartup, 1996).
Maccoby (1990) stated that interactions between females place priority on the building of
interpersonal connections, whereas interactions between males are more directed toward
the enhancement of individual status. In addition, the socializing influences of peer


relationships rival, and in some respects surpass, the socializing influence of parental
figures (Maccoby, 1990). Young females tend to evaluate close friendships with other
females equally as intimate or even more intimate than they rate their relationships with
their parents (Blyth & Foster-Clark, 1987).
Beginning in early adolescence, girls report more frequent interactions of an
intimate and supportive nature with female friends than boys do with their male friends
(Johnson et al, 1999). Wright (1982) characterized female friendships as face-to-face
with an emphasis on talking and male friendships as having a side-by-side orientation
focused on doing things together such as sports and competitive games. Furman and
Buhrmester (1992) studied 200 12- to 15-year-old male and female adolescents and asked
them via telephone interviews to recount the social events of the preceding 24-hour
period. They found that female friendships provided more opportunity than male
friendships for the fulfillment of interpersonal or communal needs. Females reported
more frequent interactions with friends, and also substantially higher levels of self
disclosure and emotional support in daily interactions (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992).
Waldrop and Halverson (1975) found that young girls who had intense and intimate
friendships were rated as more socially mature than other girls, whereas young boys who
were rated as more socially mature had a greater number of friends.
The results of several large prospective epidemiological studies such as the
Alameda County Population Monitoring Study (Berkman & Syme, 1979), the Tecumseh
Community Health Study (House et al., 1982), and the Evans County, Georgia Study
(Schoenbach et al., 1986) highlight the significance in the connection of physical health
and social support network size for men but not for women. Women tended to benefit


43
more from relationships with other female friends and relatives who are more intimate
and nurturing thus providing better emotional support. Wheeler et al. (1983) stated that
high numbers of social contacts do not ward off feelings of loneliness for an individual.
Only when these relationships involve emotional intimacy and disclosure, a person no
longer experiences loneliness.
VanderVoort (1999) studied 280 college undergraduate students in order to
examine the relationship between social support and mental and physical health. In this
study, poor functional support or quality of support was related to mental and physical
health problems while structural support or social network size was not. Women in this
study reported significantly more satisfaction with their social support systems and less
feelings of isolation. VanderVoort (1999) concluded that intimate, emotional support
meets our emotional needs by enabling individuals to feel valued as well as process or
work through their emotional difficulties. Processing feelings and meeting ones
emotional needs also helps ward off chronic negative affects such as depression, anxiety,
and hostility which have been shown to be related to poor physical health (VanderVoort,
1995).
A consistent finding of a variety of research studies is that the integrating
experiences of involvement, engagement, and affiliation are central to students healthy
development and progress in college (Hurtado & Carter, 1997). Schwitzer et al. (1999)
stated that a critical factor in the retention and success of African American students at
predominantly White universities is the individual students experience of the campus
social environment. Academic, institutional, personal-emotional, and social adjustments
are the major demands facing all college students. Of these four, adjusting to the social


44
environment seems to be central to the success of many Black students in White
institutional settings (Schwitzer et al., 1999).
Gloria, Robinson, Kurpius, Hamilton, and Wilson (1999) examined the influence
of social support, university comfort, and self-beliefs on the persistence decisions of 98
African American undergraduates enrolled in a predominantly White university. The
sample included nearly three times as many females as males. Each of the three
constructs significantly predicted persistence, with social support and university comfort
as being the strongest predictors. Watson and Kuh (1996) found that the quality of
African American students relationships with peers, faculty, and administrators tended to
be as important as individual academic effort in their scholastic achievement.
Additionally, descriptions of ethnic/racial minority families as cohesive and
interdependent contribute to an expectation that positive interpersonal attachments are
salient to the psychological adjustment of Black college students (Kenny & Perez, 1996).
Conversely, negative interpersonal experiences in predominantly White university
settings can limit or mediate the ability of some Black students to engage in learning,
developmental programs, and other valuable opportunities that are an integral part of
campus life (Schwitzer et al., 1999). A common example of negative interpersonal
experiences are African American students living on campus and being confronted with
unwelcoming residence hall environments, less friendly peers, and racial problems which
were undetected by other White college students in similar residential situations
(Johnson-Durgans, 1994).
A Latino teenagers experience of growing up in America has been described as
entremundos meaning between two worlds (Falicov, 1998). This is often an uneasy


45
period of coexistence between two very different cultural orientations, languages, sets of
values, and philosophies of life. The development of a coherent ethnic identity, which
encompasses knowing and valuing who one is socially and ethnically, is critical to
effective coping and a healthy outlook on life (Falicov, 1998). However, the degree to
which Latino college students adhere to cultural prescription varies by age, proximity to
culture and family, and interactions with friends and others of similar ethnic background
(Sodowsky, Lai, & Plake, 1991). Higher education, with its inherent exposure to
differing cultures and new experiences, may either solidify or threaten Latino students
abilities to function in a healthy and effective way (Ethier & Deaux, 1990).
Gloria and Rodriguez (2000) stated that in struggling with their cultural identity
and formulating their role and function in the collegiate environment. Latino students
have found that different forms of social support are very helpful. Social support refers
to the helpfulness of social relationships and is a recognizable buffer to the negative
influences of stressful events and depression in Latinos (Briones, Heller, Chalfant,
Roberts, Aguirre-Hauchbaum, & Farr, 1990). For Latinos, family is a primary means of
social support and adherence to familismo, a strong sense of family centrality and
importance, is a core value. Latinos in general do not value individuation from ones
parents and family to the same extent as those of the dominant culture. Greater value is
placed instead on relationships in which individual needs are secondary to the welfare of
the family or group (Gloria & Rodriguez, 2000). For young adults in college who are
away from home and family for the first time, peer relationships take on additional
importance as a primary social support system that facilitates psychological and physical
well-being. Close friendships, considered by many social scientists to be the most


46
satisfying and rewarding of all human relationships, are very important for the social,
emotional, and physical health of all adolescents and young adults regardless of ethnicity
or race (Brown et al., 1999).
In looking at this important developmental stage of later adolescence, Striegel-
Moore and Smolak (1996) stated that several studies have reported a link between
stressful life events such as college adjustment and the onset of eating disorders. Strober
(1984) found that the magnitude of life stress experienced by eating disordered patients
18 months prior to the onset of their disorder was 2.5 times greater than that of a
normative sample of female adolescents. Smolak, Levine, and Gralen (1993) found that
girls whose transition to middle school coincided with other stressors such as the onset of
dating and menarche were significantly more likely to have elevated scores on the EAT-
26 (Gamer et al., 1982) when compared with girls whose school transition was not
accompanied by other stressors. Smolak and Levine (1996) stated that the availability of
social support as an adolescent enters middle school or moves away to college may either
buffer or intensify the stresses of these pivotal adolescent transitions and thereby affect
potential eating pathology.
In summary, there is a relationship between physical and psychological health and
peer relationships for adolescents and young adults. Especially for young women,
support that is intimate and nurturing is most beneficial and in addition, reflects the
Relational Model characteristics of mutual engagement, authenticity, and empowerment
or zest. This research finding is also valid for Black and Latina women who struggle
with adjustment to predominantly White university environments. Since there is a
paucity of research on peer relationships and disordered eating, this study hypothesized


47
that peer relationships may also act as a protective factor in disordered eating in ways that
are similar to the positive effects of social support on social, emotional, and physical
health. In addition to peer relationships, mentoring relationships may also have a
significant influence in the well-being of female college students.
Mentor Relationships
Adolescents consistently identify non-parental adults as playing a very important
role in their psychological development (Blyth, Hill, & Smith, 1982). Despite this fact,
there is a paucity of research on the impact and nature of mentoring relationships for
adolescents and young adults and even less research on female mentoring relationships.
Most of the literature on mentoring has focused exclusively on adult professional
development and career advancement (Carden, 1990).
The word mentor is derived from the classical Greek character Mentor, an old
and trusted friend of Ulysses who was charged with the care of Telemachus, Ulysses
son. A definition and model for mentoring evolved from this first mentor as the
development of a relationship that is characterized by an individually delivered and
intentional process that is supportive, nurturing, insightful, and protective (Scott, 1992).
Over the past several decades, mentoring in America has become an integral part of the
business world. Senior executives in big business who had a mentoring relationship
reached their positions at a younger age and earned a higher income (Roche, 1979).
Businesses continue to be firmly entrenched in the benefits of mentoring and support
formal programs to develop mentoring relationships (Scott, 1992).
In his research study based on longitudinal interviews with 40 men in varied
career pursuits, Yale developmental psychologist Levinson (1978) described mentoring


48
as a form of a love relationship. Functioning as guides, teachers, and sponsors, mentors
help their protgs realize their goals and dreams in life. Levinson (1978) maintained
that the mentoring relationship is one of the most important developmental relationships a
person can have in early adulthood. This psychosocial view of mentoring from the
prospective of adult growth and development differs from the concept of mentoring in the
business world (Beck, 1989) and is more closely aligned with mentoring in an
educational setting. In the field of education, the main focus of the mentor-protg
relationship is experiential learning. Mentors in education facilitate learning by acting as
teachers, guides, counselors, role models, and friends (Beck, 1989).
A review of the literature describing beneficial mentoring relationships in
educational settings identified three general categories of components that are helpful to
female college students: (a) psychosocial support, (b) role modeling, and (c) professional
development (Jacobi, 1991). Within the psychosocial arena, supportive mentors have
offered opportunity for growth of self-awareness and identities, which have resulted in,
increased assertiveness, positive presentation of self, and high career expectations (Bruce,
1995). Role modeling affords young women the opportunity to see other women in a
variety of situations successfully balancing career and personal goals and thereby
challenging sociocultural beliefs and attitudes, which are self-limiting (Shakeshaft,
Gilligan, Pierce, 1984). Finally, mentors have assisted in professional development by
offering visibility, protection, and sponsorship as well as facilitating student interaction
with a variety of people in career promoting endeavors (Bruce, 1995).
Soucy and Larose (2000) studied 158 academically at-risk adolescents (63 males,
95 females, 16-20 years old) in order to determine the value of mentoring contexts as


49
determinants of adolescent adjustment. The students completed questionnaires twice
during their first semester of college, once before and once again after they participated
in a mentoring program. Soucy and Larose (2000) found that the perception of a secure
relationship with a mentor was predictive of adolescent adjustment to college. Nora.
Cabrera, Hagedom, and Pascarella (1996) in a national study of 3,900 freshman college
students found that for females only, the most significant positive effect on college
persistence came from mentoring experiences in the form of nonclassroom interactions
with faculty.
Despite the widely acknowledged benefits to both protg and mentor, mentoring
has been focused primarily within the population of White men. European American
women and ethnic minorities of both genders have historically been underrepresented in
the mentoring process (Atkinson, Casas, & Neville, 1994). According to Blackwell
(1989), mentors tend to select protgs who are of the same gender and who share social
and cultural attributes such as race, ethnicity, religion, and social class. This tendency of
mentors to select same sex and ethnicity protgs is problematic in educational settings
because women and ethnic minorities are so underrepresented among university faculty
and staff positions (Atkinson et al., 1994).
Having ethnically similar mentors who have successfully traversed the academic
environment may create a sense of vicarious self-efficacy or a belief in ones ability to
persist in their pursuit of higher education especially for minority students on
predominantly White college campuses (Gloria et al., 1999). Absence of powerful Black
figures as role models has strong effects on the feelings of loneliness and isolation of
Black students. Because Black students are dealing with racism and face a difficult


50
adjustment to a White university, they are particularly in need of a person that they can
turn to for advice and guidance (Sedlacek, 1999).
Latino students in the university environment face a similar dilemma. Gloria and
Rodriguez (2000) stated that role models and mentors not only serve as primary social
support for Latino students, they also provide help in increasing academic persistence.
An analysis by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (1995) reported a
faculty to student ratio of 1 to 76 for Latinos, compared with a ratio of 1 to 54 for African
Americans, and 1 to 24 for White students. Although empirical research with Latino
students in mentor-protg relationships is limited, Fiske (1988) suggested that Latino
students and other racial/ethnic minority students who attend predominantly White
institutions can be positively guided through their experience of culture shock
stemming from being on their own, overt and covert discrimination, and the loneliness
and tensions inherent in finding their way within an alien culture. Gloria and Rodriguez
(2000) stated that Latino students who have a mentor who takes personal and academic
interest in their educational experiences are more likely to succeed in the university
environment.
Whereas the traditional male-to-male mentoring models within the business world
rely on an acceptance of hierarchy and focus on task activities, females appear to desire
more psychosocial and emotional support in their mentoring relationships (Kalbfleisch &
Keyton, 1995). In support of this premise, Ball (1989) suggested that a good mentor for a
woman (and maybe a man) is more than a good role model, a mentor is also a teacher, a
sounding board, a cheerleader, and a friend. Kalbfleisch and Keyton (1995) stated that if
gender plays a role in accounting for differences in friendships, it is also likely that the


51
mentoring experience will be different as well. In support of this contention, Reich
(1986) found that more women than men noted that their relationships with mentors
(67% versus 42%) and protgs (63% versus 44%) developed into close friendships.
In comparing male-to-female and female-to-female mentoring relationships,
Jeruchim and Shapiro (1992) stated that affective, or emotional quality is more vital for
women that for men. More importantly, developing intimacy in a female mentoring
relationship yields increased levels of productivity and development for the relationship
while avoiding the negative effects of possible sexual overtones. Worell and Remer
(1992) underscored the therapeutic nature of female-to-female mentoring relationships
and stated that women may receive ancillary benefits beyond those normally accrued
through the mentoring process. Kalbfleisch and Keyton (1995) stated that greater
intimacy, based on sharing, self-disclosure, listening, and building rapport is more likely
to build stronger mentor-protg relationships. These are some of the same qualities
identified as growth-producing in Relational Model relationships.
Kalbfleisch and Keyton (1995) studied 56 mentor-protg relationship pairs in an
attempt to examine the dynamics of female mentoring relationships. They found that the
nature of these relationships closely reflected models of female friendship that are
characterized by emotional intimacy and differ from the more hierarchical and task-
oriented male mentorships and friendships. In another study of urban adolescent girls,
Leadbeater and Way (1996) found that those girls who had mentors that listened,
understood, and validated their experiences and feelings evidenced transformations in
personal confidence and ability and were encouraged to develop strategies of resistance


that maintained health. These mentoring relationships appeared to serve as a buffer
against a variety of social stressors.
Mentoring relationships in educational settings are helpful in the psychosocial
support of college women in addition to being influential in role modeling and
professional development. There has been little empirical research that has specifically
examined the effects of mentoring relationships on struggles with disordered eating. It is
possible that mentoring relationships that involve mutual engagement, authenticity, and
empowerment/zest may be a potential protective factor for female college students in
their struggles with the continuum of disordered eating.
Both peer relationships and mentoring relationships are defined by the dynamics
of dyadic communication. Another type of relationship structure, group or community
affiliation, has also been shown to have a beneficial impact on an individuals social and
psychological functioning.
Community Relationships
In addition to dyadic relationships such as close peer and mentor relationships,
community or group affiliation has been shown to have a significant impact on social,
psychological, and physical functioning. Community relationships contribute to an
individuals sense of belonging (Liang et al., 2000). Maslow (1954) stated that human
behavior could be explained as motivation to satisfy needs. He identified belonging as a
basic human need, ranking it third in his hierarchy. Anant (1966) posited that belonging
is the missing conceptual link in understanding mental health and mental illness from a
perspective of relationships and interactions. Anants (1967) early empirical research on
belonging, described initially as the recognition and acceptance of a member by other


53
members in a group, suggested that there was an inverse relationship between the
construct of belonging and anxiety. Anant (1967) however, questioned the validity of his
belonging measure and stated that it may have tapped dependence rather than the
construct of belonging.
Narrative accounts of a sense of belonging depict its importance for psychological
and physical well-being (Hagerty & Patusky, 1995). Dasberg (1976) interviewed battle-
fatigued Israeli soldiers and reported descriptions of feelings of loss of belonging, of
being cut-off and uprooted, abandoned, rejected, and psychologically severed. He stated
that the lack of a sense of belonging was the common denominator in the soldiers mental
breakdowns during war. World War II Holocaust child survivors reported that they felt
they did not belong anywhere in terms of country, social group, or age after being
rescued from the Nazi concentration camps (Kestenberg & Kestenberg, 1988).
Kestenberg and Kestenberg (1988) stated that belonging is an important component of
identity and object relations and that a child grows and develops a sense of belonging not
only to family, but also to community, cultural group, and nation.
Researchers who have studied the role of social relations in health promotion have
suggested that social network ties and social integration influence mortality (Hagerty &
Patusky, 1995). Between 1979 and 1994, there have been eight longitudinal community-
based prospective studies that reveal an association between social ties and mortality
rates from a broad range of diseases. Although there were substantial variations among
these studies in measurement of social relationships, in types of communities
investigated, and length of follow-up, the results were remarkably consistent. In almost
all cases, those individuals who were most socially isolated and disconnected were at


54
increased mortality risk (Berkman, 1995). Berkman (1995) stated that for social support
to be health promoting, it must provide not only a sense of belonging and intimacy, but it
must also help people to be more competent and self-efficacious. Similarly, Relational
Model theorists have also stated that the characteristics of growth-fostering relationships
empower individuals by increasing a sense of self-worth, vitality, validation, knowledge
of self and others, and a desire for further connection (Liang, 2000).
Hagerty, Lynch-Sauer, Patusky, Bouwsema, and Collier (1992) posited that sense
of belonging represents a unique relational phenomenon that is different from the singular
constructs of loneliness and alienation. They defined sense of belonging as the
experience of personal involvement within a particular environment or system so that the
persons feel themselves to be an integral part of that environment or system. Sense of
belonging was proposed to have two defining attributes: (1) valued involvement or the
experience of feeling valued, needed, or accepted, and (2) fit, the perception that the
individuals characteristics articulate with or compliment the environment or system
(Hagerty et al., 1992). Hagerty et al. (1996) in a study of 379 community college
students (59% female) postulated that a lower sense of belonging is related to poorer
psychological functioning, which can be represented by depression, loneliness, anxiety,
history of psychiatric treatment, and suicidality. They also stated that sense of belonging
seems to be more strongly related to both social and psychological functioning for
women that for men. In addition, women when compared to men were more likely to
report a sense of belonging due to their community relationships and involvement.
In a study of 31 clients diagnosed with and in treatment for major depression and
379 students in a midwestern community college, Hagerty and Williams (1999) examined


55
the effects of sense of belonging, social support, conflict, and loneliness on depression.
According to results of this study, a sense of belonging was a better predictor of
depression than perceived social support. Hagerty and Williams (1999) posited that
perceived social support refers to the perceived presence or absence of potentially
supportive relationships, while sense of belonging is related to the perception of self as
integrated within an interpersonal system. This experience of integration involves
multiple components of cognition, emotion, and behavior that speak to the quality and
specific characteristics of interpersonal relationships (Hagerty & Williams, 1999). This
construct of sense of belonging shares many of the defining characteristics of the Stone
Centers Relational Model of relational health.
Hurtado and Carter (1997) reported that a consistent finding of a variety of
research studies is that the integrating experiences of involvement, engagement, and
affiliation are central to students development and progress in college. In their study of
272 Latino students (58.1% female and 41.9% male), Hurtado and Carter (1997) found
that membership in religious and social-community organizations were strongly
associated with students sense of belonging within the university environment. In
addition, these organizational memberships seem to have strong external-to-campus
affiliations that helped students maintain some link with the communities that they were
familiar with before they entered college.
Sedlacek (1999) suggested that Black students need to have identification with
and be active in a community as part of their support system. This community may be on
or off campus, large or small, but will commonly be based on components of race and/or
culture. Because of racism, Black students have historically been excluded from being


56
full participants in many White organizations within the educational system even though
Blacks seem to be more community oriented that Whites (Sedlacek, 1999). Bohn (1973)
found that a high score on the Community scale of the California Psychological
Inventory was associated with Black student success in grades and college retention.
Davis (1991) studied 888 Black college undergraduates and stated that Black students
college experiences were more favorable when there was involvement and participation
in extracurricular activities sponsored by campus organizations such as clubs, fraternities,
sororities, and interest groups. Attinasi (1989) stated that minority students who made
sense of their environments through group memberships that also helped them acquire
needed college skills, also benefited by being linked to the larger whole of campus life.
Harris (1992), in a qualitative study of 54 African American young women (14 to
25 years old), stated that a sense of belonging for the African American female is defined
by the cultural construct of interdependence which starts during childhood and involves a
familial type attachment to both family and community. This sense of belonging has
served as a strength for African Americans and has helped to mitigate feelings of
isolation and detachment (Harris, 1992).
Swift and ODougherty Wright (2000) studied whether specific functions of
social support buffered the relationship between different types of stressful life events
and anxiety and depression in 60 college women. They found that belonging support and
self-esteem support were the most significant buffers of specific stressors. Belonging
support, which was indicated by feelings that one has others with whom to engage in
activities, decreases a females chances of experiencing symptoms of anxiety and
depression. Self-esteem support also buffered the relationship between interpersonal


57
events and anxiety and depression (Swift & ODougherty Wright, 2000). Relational
theory suggests that a womans self-esteem is strongly affected by her ability to maintain
mutually intimate emotional connections within relationships (Miller & Stiver, 1997).
Within a community perspective, Spencer (1998) implemented a hospital-based
outpatient psychiatric treatment program for women based on the Relational Model. In
this group setting, healing occurred in the context of connected relationships and
therefore building connections among the participants was central to the success of the
program. In another group research study, Tantillo (1998) developed a relational
approach to group therapy for women with bulimia nervosa. Through promoting
validation, self-empathy, mutuality, and empowerment, the group members learned to
identify and change relational patterns that have kept them connected with food and
disconnected from themselves and others. The goal of treatment was to help women
move toward mutually empathic and empowering relationships inside and outside the
group (Tantillo, 1998).
Resilient adolescents and young adults are sociable and able to seek and gamer
social support from a variety of sources (Johnson et al., 1999). In contrast, females who
struggle with disordered eating often report a sense of isolation, social anxiety,
impoverished relationships, public self-consciousness, and a failure to seek social support
(Szmukler, Dare, & Treasure, 1995). Research studies have shown that community
relationships that promote a sense of belonging and are defined by the growth-producing
qualities of the Relational Model have had a beneficial influence on the physical and
psychological health of women. Therefore, this research study hypothesized that


58
community relationships may be a potential protective factor for Black, Latina, and
White female college students in their struggles with disordered eating.
Chapter Summary
The research literature reviewed herein provided supporting evidence for a study
of relational health and disordered eating in Black, Latino, and White female college
students. The beneficial impact of different types of social support on the physical and
psychological health of young women was validated by various research studies.
Consistent with this research, social support via the growth-producing qualities of the
Relational Model was hypothesized to have a positive influence on college womens
struggles with the continuum of disordered eating.
This chapter included information about traditional theories of human
psychological development and the Wellesley College Stone Centers Relational Model
of female psychological development and well-being. The nationwide epidemic of
disordered eating on college campuses was described in addition to the salient risk
factors, which included sociocultural context, college adjustment, and racial and ethnic
factors. Possible protective factor against the struggles with disordered eating in female
college students were hypothesized as peer, mentor, and community relationships.
Disordered eating in the female college population has been researched
extensively, but there is a paucity of research focused specifically on these young women
and their relationships. In addition, research on the relationships of eating disordered
minority college women is virtually nonexistent. The importance of social support and
relationships to the physical and psychological health of girls and young women has been
well documented in the research literature. Therefore, this study hypothesized that


59
relationships also play a part in the dynamics of disordered eating for female college
students. This study provides researchers, health educators, counselors, and other health
care providers information about potential protective factors in the struggles with
disordered eating and can also lead to the development of more effective programs of
prevention, education, and intervention with eating disordered college women.


CHAPTER 3
METHODOLOGY
Overview
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between White, Black,
and Latina college womens peer, mentor, and community relationships and their
disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. A correlational design for survey research was
utilized. Data were gathered on peer, mentor, and community relationships, as measured
by the Relational Health Indices (RHI) and on eating disordered attitudes and behaviors
as measured by the Eating Attitudes Test-26 (EAT-26).
This chapter describes the methodology employed in this study. It includes
descriptions of the population, sample, sampling procedures, research design,
instrumentation, and data analysis. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the
methodological limitations of this study.
Population
The population from which the sample for this study was drawn is undergraduate
White, Black, and Latina female students from a large co-ed residential university in the
southeastern United States. Total university enrollment for the fall 1999 semester was
44,276 students with 75% of this number being undergraduate students. The ratio of
women to men is 51:49. Black student enrollment is approximately 6.5% or 2,900
60


61
students and Latino/a students number approximately 4,200 or 9.4% of the total student
population (University of Florida, 2000).
Sampling and Sampling Procedures
The mail survey packet was sent to a stratified random sample of 480 female
undergraduate students. This sample consisted of three groups, 160 in each group, of
White, Black, and Latina female undergraduate students. Separate lists of current female
White, Black, and Latina undergraduate students were acquired from the university
Registrars office. Freshmen were not included since data collection occurred in the fall
semester and it was proposed that these students would not have had enough time at the
university to establish collegiate relationships. Recent community college transfers were
also eliminated for this same reason.
After obtaining IRB approval for the sample and the methodology, each randomly
selected student was mailed a packet which contained a cover-request to participate letter,
two assessment instruments with specific instructions for completion, and a return self-
addressed stamped envelope One week later a follow-up postcard was sent to each
randomly selected student. Follow-up emails and phone calls were also made to students
that had not yet returned the mail survey packets.
Design
The design for this study was a correlational design for survey research. The
independent variables were White female peer, mentor, and community relationships,
Black female peer, mentor, and community relationships, and Latina female peer, mentor,
and community relationships. The dependent variable was problem eating or more


62
specifically disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. The independent variables were
operationalized by the three scales (peer, mentor, and community) of the Relational
Health Indices (RHI) in addition to the variable of ethnicity. The Eating Attitudes-26
(EAT-26) operationalized the dependent variable.
Instrumentation
Relational Health Indices
The Relational Health Indices (RHI; Liang et al., 2000) is a new instrument that
measures womens relationships. It is comprised of three scales that assess growth-
fostering connections with peers, mentors, and communities. The RHI was developed
using the Stone Centers Relational Model, a theory of girls and womens psychological
development (Jordan et al., 1991; Miller & Stiver, 1997). Within each of the three
relationship domain scales, there are three subscales that have been identified as key
aspects of growth-fostering relationships. These subscales are empathy/engagement,
authenticity, and empowerment/zest.
The Peer Relationship scale (RHI-P) contains 12 items, the Mentor Relationship
scale (RHI-M) contains 11 items, and the Community Relationship scale (RHI-C)
contains 14 items. Subjects rated these relationship domains according to a five-point
Likert-type scale with the responses never, seldom, sometimes, often, and always with
corresponding values from one to five. A high mean composite score on each of these
scales corresponds to a high degree of relational health in the context of peer, mentor, and
community relationships. The subscale composite Cronbachs alpha coefficients for
internal consistency are peer = .85, mentor = .86, and community = .90 (Liang et al.,
2000). The RHI was developed for a female college student population.


63
Convergent validity (r = .69) has been assessed by the correlation of the RHI-P
scale and the Mutual Psychological Development Questionnaire (MPDQ; Genero et al.,
1992). The MPDQ is a 22-item instrument that measures Relational Model concepts in
close dyadic relationships. The RHI-P was also very similar to two of the scales of the
Quality of Relationship Questionnaire (QRI; Pierce, Sarason, Sarason, & Solky-Butzel,
1997), the Support scale (r = .61) and the Depth of Relationship scale (r = .64). The QRI
also assesses aspects of a dyadic relationship. Moderately high positive correlations (r =
.50) were also found between the RHI-P and the Friend Support subscale of the
Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS; Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet, &
Farley, 1988). This 4-item scale measures perceived social support from friends (Liang
et al., 2000).
Convergent validity for the RHI-M is similar to that of the RHI-P. When
correlated to the MPDQ, the relationship is r = .68. The correlations with the QRI
Support scale (r = .58) and Depth of Relationship scale (r = .51) are both moderately
strong (Liang et al., 2000). Both the MPDQ and the QRI were designed for assessing
dyadic relationships and there is no equivalent measure for assessing the convergent
validity of the community relationship scale (Liang et al., 2000).
Concurrent validity was measured using several psychological outcome scales.
The RHI-P, RHI-M, and the RHI-C relationship scales were all negatively correlated (r =
-.35, -.14, -.47) with the UCLA Loneliness Scale (RULS; Russell, Peplau, & Cutrona,
(1980). The RHI-C scale was also negatively correlated (r = -.39) with the Center for
Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) and negatively
correlated (r = -.32) with the Perceived Stress Scale (PS; Cohen, Kamarck, &


64
Mermelstein, 1983). The Relational Health Indices (RHI) has good reliability and
validity and has utility as a new quantitative instrument that can be used for theory
development of the Stone Centers Relational Model of female psychological
development.
Eating Attitudes Test-26
The Eating Attitudes Test-26 (EAT-26; Gamer et al., 1982) is a 26-item self-
report questionnaire designed to measure the degree to which respondents possess a
variety of behaviors and attitudes associated with disordered eating (Heesacker &
Neimeyer, 1990). The original version of the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT; Gamer &
Garfinkel, 1979) consisted of 40 forced-choice items rated on a six-point Likert-type
scale. Respondents rated whether each item applies always, very often, often,
sometimes, rarely, or never. The higher the score, the more symptomatic the
respondent. The 26-item version of the EAT was subsequently developed from factor
analyses when items not loading on any of the three factors (dieting, bulimia and food
preoccupation, and oral control) were eliminated (Gamer et al., 1982). The total score of
the EAT-26 is highly correlated (r = .97 for female college students) with the 40-item
EAT total score (Hersen & Bellack, 1988).
The EAT-26 consists of three factors. Factor I, dieting, reflects a pathological
avoidance of fattening foods and shape preoccupations. Respondents who score highly
on Factor I are overestimators of their body size and may be dissatisfied by their body
size and shape but are not bulimic. Factor II, bulimia and food preoccupation, is
positively related to bulimia and a heavier body weight. Factor III, oral control, reflects
self-control about food as well as an acknowledgement of social pressure to gain weight


65
(Gamer et al., 1982). All three factors are combined in an overall total score that reflects
a variety of behaviors and attitudes associated with disordered eating.
When scoring the EAT-26, Gamer et al. (1982) recommend that the responses
never, rarely, and sometimes receive a score of 0, while the responses often, very
often, and always receive scores of 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Total scores may range
from 0-78. Higher scores signify more extreme pathology on each of the three factors.
Higher total scores indicate more pathological eating symptomatology overall. A score
equal to or greater than 20 reflects eating patterns, dieting, and preoccupations with body
weight that interfere with normal psychosocial functioning (Garfinkel & Garner, 1982).
The EAT-26 can also be used as a continuous measure of eating disturbances in a
nonclinical population (Koslowsky, Scheinberg, Bleich, Mark, Apter, Danon, &
Solomon, 1992). In the statistical analyses in this study, EAT-26 scores were treated as a
continuous variable and the participants total score was equal to the sum of all of the
coded responses.
The EAT-26 has been used to assess the presence of eating pathology in both
clinical and non-clinical settings (Hersen & Bellack, 1988). While this instrument may
indicate the presence of disordered eating attitudes and behaviors, it does not reveal the
motivation or possible psychopathology underlying the disturbed eating patterns (Gamer
et al., 1982). Therefore, the EAT-26 may be most suitable as either a treatment outcome
measure in clinical groups or as a screening instrument in non-clinical settings to identify
individuals who have disturbed eating patterns (Hersen & Bellack, 1988).
Internal consistency (alpha = .94) and test-retest reliability (r = .84) of the EAT-
26 are excellent (Garfinkel & Gamer, 1988). Gross et al. (1986) found total scores of the


66
EAT to be moderately correlated with the three eating disorder symptom scales (Drive
for Thinness r = .81; Body Dissatisfaction r = .50; Bulimia r = .42) of the Eating Disorder
Inventory (EDI; Gamer, Olmsted, & Polivy, 1983). Williamson (1990) reported
unpublished data from a sample of both clinical and nonclinical subjects and found the
EAT to be moderately correlated (r = .67) with the Bulimia Test (Smith & Thelan, 1984)
and the Eating Questionnaire-Revised (r = .59; EQ-R; Williamson, Davis, Goreczny,
Bennett, & Watkins, 1989).
Button and Whitehouse (1981) administered the EAT to a large sample of
students at a technical college and reported that this assessment instrument was useful in
identifying study participants with abnormal concerns regarding eating and weight.
Thompson and Schwartz (1982) used the EAT to identify college women with abnormal
eating concerns who were later distinguished from anorexic patients with regard to social
adjustment. Gross et al. (1986) demonstrated criterion validity for the EAT by
discriminating bulimia nervosa subjects from normal subjects. The EAT-26 was used to
compare eating disturbances between Japanese and American college women (Mukai,
Kambara, & Sasaki, 1998) and in another study, EAT scores in both Asian and Caucasian
college women were significantly positively correlated with fear of fat (Sanders & Heiss,
1998). Jane, Hunter, and Lozzi (1999) administered the EAT-26 to Cuban American
women in order to discern whether continuing identification with and participation in
aspects of Cuban Hispanic culture may serve as a mitigating factor in the predisposition
and development of eating disorders. Due to wide and varied use over time, the EAT and
the EAT-26 have been found to have very good concurrent, predictive, and discriminant


67
validity (Williamson, Anderson, & Gleaves, 1996). This measure of eating attitudes and
behaviors was chosen for its good psychometric properties.
Data Analysis
One regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure
with the three scales of the RHI (RHI-P, RHI-M, RHI-C) and ethnicity, and the
interactions of ethnicity with the RHI-P, RHI-M, and RHI-C are the independent
variables. In addition, three ANOVAs were used with the RHI-P, RHI-M, and RHI-C as
dependent variables and ethnicity as the independent variable.
Hypothesis and Research Questions
Hypothesis
There is a negative relationship between the relational health of White, Black, and
Latina college womens peer, mentor, and community relationships and the attitudes and
behaviors related to disordered eating. One regression equation was used where the
EAT-26 is the dependent measure with the three scales of the RHI (RHI-P, RHI-M, RHI-
C) and ethnicity, and the interactions of ethnicity with the RHI-P, RHI-M, and RHI-C are
the independent variables.
Research Questions
1. What is the relationship between peer relationships and disordered eating? A
regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the RHI-P
is the independent variable.
2. Does the relationship between peer relationships and disordered eating differ
for White, Black, and Latina female college students? A regression equation was used


68
where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the interaction of ethnicity with the
RHI-P is the independent variable.
3. What is the relationship between mentor relationships and disordered eating?
A regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the
RHI-M is the independent variable.
4. Does the relationship between mentor relationships and disordered eating
differ for White, Black, and Latina female college students? A regression equation was
used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the interaction of ethnicity with the
RHI-M is the independent variable.
5. What is the relationship between community relationships and disordered
eating? A regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and
the RHI-C is the independent variable.
6. Does the relationship between community relationships and disordered eating
differ for White, Black, and Latina female college students? A regression equation was
used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the interaction of ethnicity with the
RHI-C is the independent variable.
7. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college women's
disordered eating? A regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent
measure and ethnicity is the independent variable.
8. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
peer relationships? An ANOVA was used with the RHI-P as the dependent variable and
ethnicity as the independent variable.


69
9. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college women's
mentor relationships? An ANOVA was used with the RHI-M as the dependent variable
and ethnicity as the independent variable.
10. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
community relationships? An ANOVA was used with the RHI-C as the dependent
variable and ethnicity as the independent variable.


CHAPTER 4
RESULTS
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between Black, Latina,
and White college females' relational health, specifically peer, mentor, and community
relationships, and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. The data collection
procedures, data analyses, and results of this study are presented in this chapter.
Data Collection
One hundred-sixty research packets were sent to a stratified randomized sample
of Black, Latina, and White sophomore, junior, and senior undergraduate college females
for a total sample of 480 students. Each research packet contained a cover-request to
participate letter, the Relational Health Indices (Peer, Mentor, and Community Scales)
and the Eating Attitudes Test-26, and a self-addressed stamped envelope. Approximately
one week after the packets were mailed, a follow-up postcard was sent to each student in
the study. Subsequent follow-up emails were also sent.
A total of 237 (49.3%) packets were returned which included 68 (42.5%)
undergraduate female Black respondents, 77 (48.1%) undergraduate female Latina
respondents, and 92 (58.1%) undergraduate female White respondents. All 68 Black
students completed the Relational Health Indices Peer Scale (RHI-P) and the Eating
Attitudes Test-26 (EAT-26), 59 Black students completed the Relational Health Indices
Mentor Scale (RHI-M), and 66 Black students completed the Relational Health Indices
Community Scale (RHI-C). All 77 Latina students completed the RHI-P and the EAT-
70


71
26, 72 Latina students completed the RHI-M, and 74 Latina students completed the RHI-
C. All 92 White students completed the RHI-P and the EAT-26 and 90 White students
completed the RHI-M and RHI-C. Summary statistics are presented in Table 1.
Table 1
Summary Statistics
Variable
N
Mean
Standard Deviation
Black
RHI-P
68
46.12
6.95
RHI-M
59
44.24
7.55
RHI-C
66
44.56
10.93
EAT-26
68
55.24
16.14
Latina
RHI-P
77
49.05
5.66
RHI-M
72
43.75
7.74
RHI-C
74
46.27
10.15
EAT-26
77
63.09
20.09
White
RHI-P
92
49.79
5.59
RHI-M
90
44.88
7.07
RHI-C
90
49.11
10.04
EAT-26
92
63.40
19.15
Data Analyses
Hypothesis
There is a negative relationship between the relational health of White, Black, and
Latina college womens peer, mentor, and community relationships and the attitudes and
behaviors related to disordered eating. One regression equation was used where the
EAT-26 is the dependent measure with the three scales of the RHI (RHI-P, RHI-M,


72
RHI-C) and ethnicity, and the interactions of ethnicity with the RHI-P, RHI-M, and RHI-
C are the independent variables.
The regression equation included 215 observations and resulted in an R-square of
0.1433 and an adjusted R-square of 0.1143. Therefore, ethnicity, RHI-P, RHI-M, RHI-C,
and the interactions of RHI-P, RHI-M, and RHI-C with ethnicity jointly accounted for
11.43% of the variation in the EAT-26 scores. Only RHI-P and RHI-C were significant
predictors, at nominal alpha 0.05, of EAT-26 with p-values of 0.0103 and 0.0308,
respectively. Results are presented in Table 2.
Table 2
Regression Equation: Model 1
Source
DF
F
p-value
Ethnicity
2
1.15
0.3177
RHI-P
1
6.71
0.0103*
RHI-P*Ethnicity
2
0.39
0.6790
RHI-M
1
0.00
0.9545
RHI-M*Ethnicity
2
2.46
0.0880
RHI-C
1
4.73
0.0308*
RHI-C*Ethnicity
2
2.12
0.1232
Note. denotes significance at a=0.05.
Since all 2-way interactions were non-significant, a reduced regression model was
run with the main effects (Ethnicity, RHI-P, RHI-M, RHI-C) separated out. The
regression equation also included 215 observations and resulted in an R-square of 0.1139
and an adjusted R-square of 0.0970. This second regression model accounted for 9.7% of
the variation in the EAT-26 scores. Results are presented in Tables 3.


73
Table 3
Regression Equation with Main Effects: Model 2
Source
B
SEB
Beta
F
p-value
Ethnicity
7.60
0.0007*
RHP
-0.5296
0.2256
-3.2855
5.51
0.0198*
RHM
-0.0684
0.1790
-0.5067
0.15
0.7027
RHC
-0.2755
0.1340
-2.8838
4.23
0.0410*
Intercept
White
105.76
Black
-11.51
13.10
0.0004*
Latino
-0.56
0.04
0.8498
Note. denotes significance at a=0.05.
Multicollinearity was tested with these regression equations: RHI-P = RHI-M +
RHI-C; RHI-M = RHI-C + RHI-P; and RHI-C RHI-P + RHI-M. The R-squares for
these equations are 0.148, 0.125, and 0.187 respectively. Therefore, since each result is
not greater than .9, the regression equation has no serious multicollinearity problem.
Research Questions
1. What is the relationship between peer relationships and disordered eating? A
regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the RHI-P
is the independent variable.
The equation included 237 observations and resulted in a squared correlation of
0.0258. The results indicated RHI-P is a significant predictor of EAT-26, F = 6.23 and p-
value = 0.0132. The regression equation is EAT-26 = 92.562 0.491 (RHI-P) + error.
The results indicated that an increase of one point on the RHI-P scale predicted a
decrease of 0.5 in the EAT-26 score.


74
2.Does the relationship between peer relationships and disordered eating differ
for White, Black, and Latina female college students? A regression equation was used
where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the interaction of ethnicity with the
RHI-P is the independent variable.
The equation included 237 observations. The interaction of ethnicity and RHI-P
is not significant, F = 0.66 and p-value = 0.5202. Interaction results including the main
effects of ethnicity and the RHI-P are presented in Table 4.
Table 4
Interaction of RHI-P and Ethnicity
Source
Degrees of Freedom
F
p-value
Ethnicity
2
0.512
0.5962
RHI-P
1
10.71
0.0012*
RHI-P*Ethnicity
2
0.66
0.5202
Note. denotes significance at a=0.05.
3. What is the relationship between mentor relationships and disordered eating?
A regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the
RHI-M is the independent variable.
RHI-M by itself is not a significant predictor of EAT-26. There were 221
observations included in the equation, F = 2.93 and p-value = 0.0885.
4. Does the relationship between mentor relationships and disordered eating
differ for White, Black, and Latina female college students? A regression equation was


75
used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the interaction of ethnicity with the
RHI-M is the independent variable.
The equation included 221 observations. The interaction of ethnicity and RHI-M
is not significant, F = 1.23 and p-value = 0.2937. Interaction results including the main
effects of ethnicity and the RHI-M are presented in Table 5.
Table 5
Interaction of RHI-M and Ethnicity
Source
Degrees of Freedom
F
p-value
Ethnicity
2
1.28
0.02798
RHI-M
1
3.06
0.0818
RHI-M*Ethnicity
2
1.23
0.2937
5. What is the relationship between community relationships and disordered
eating? A regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and
the RHI-C is the independent variable.
The equation included 230 observations and resulted in a squared correlation of
0.0283. The results indicated RHI-C is a significant predictor of EAT-26, F = 6.64 and
p-value = 0.0106. The regression equation is EAT-26 = 74.933 0.3042(RHI-C) + error.
The results indicated that an increase of one point on the RHI-C scale predicted a
decrease of 0.3 in the EAT-26 score.
6. Does the relationship between community relationships and disordered eating
differ for White, Black, and Latina female college students? A regression equation was


76
used where the EAT-26 is the dependent measure and the interaction of ethnicity with the
RHI-C is the independent variable
The equation included 230 observations. The interaction of ethnicity and RHI-C
is not significant, F = 0.38 and p-value = 0.6870. Interaction results including the main
effects of ethnicity and the RHI-C are presented in Table 6.
Table 6
Interaction of RHI-C and Ethnicity
Source
Degrees of Freedom
F
p-value
Ethnicity
2
1.12
0.3293
RHI-C
1
9.46
0.0024*
RHI-C*Ethnicity
2
0.38
0.6870
Note. denotes significance at a=0.05.
7. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college women's
disordered eating? A regression equation was used where the EAT-26 is the dependent
measure and ethnicity is the independent variable.
This equation included 237 observations and indicated that there are ethnic group
differences in the mean scores of the EAT-26 scale, F = 4.47 and p-value = 0.0124.
Multiple comparison procedures indicated Black scores differed from both White and
Latina scores, but that White and Latina scores did not significantly differ from each
other. Contrasts of the EAT-26 mean scores are presented in Table 7.


77
Table 7
Contrasts of the EAT-26 Mean Scores
Contrast
F
p-value
Black vs. Latina
6.40
0.0121*
Black vs. White
7.43
0.0069*
Latina vs. White
0.01
0.9231
Note. denotes significance at a=0.05.
8. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
peer relationships? An ANOVA was used with the RHI-P as the dependent variable and
ethnicity as the independent variable.
This ANOVA included 237 observations. There were ethnic group differences in
the mean scores of the RHI-P variable, F=7.74, p-value=0.0006. Multiple comparison
procedures indicated Black scores differed from both Latina and White scores, but White
and Latina scores did not significantly differ. Contrasts of RHI-P mean scores are
presented in Table 8.
Table 8
Contrasts of RHI-P Mean Scores
Contrast
F
p-value
Black vs. Latina
8.54
0.0038*
Black vs. White
14.51
0.0002*
Latina vs. White
0.63
0.4270
Note. denotes significance at
=0.05.


78
9. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
mentor relationships? An ANOVA was used with the RHI-M as the dependent variable
and ethnicity as the independent variable.
This ANOVA included 221 observations. There were no ethnic group differences
in the mean scores of the RHI-M variable, F=0.47, p-value=0.6260.
10. What is the relationship among White, Black, and Latina college womens
community relationships? An ANOVA was used with the RHI-C as the dependent
variable and ethnicity as the independent variable.
This ANOVA included 230 observations. There were ethnic group differences in
the mean scores of the RHI-P variable, F-3.89, p-value=0.0219. Multiple comparison
procedures indicated Black scores differed from White scores, but Latina scores did not
significantly differ from either Black or White scores. Contrasts of RHI-C mean scores
are presented in Table 9.
Table 9
Contrasts of RHI-C Mean Scores
Contrast
F
p-value
Black vs. Latina
0.95
0.3297
Black vs. White
7.38
0.0071*
Latina vs. White
3.07
0.0812
Note. denotes significance at a=0.05.
In summary, the overall hypothesis of this research study was partially
substantiated by results indicating that participants who reported higher levels of
relational health, specifically peer and community relational health, also reported lower


79
levels of disordered eating. The first research question indicated that participants in this
study who reported higher levels of peer relational health also reported lower levels of
disordered eating. The second research question was not substantiated, as participants in
the study did not show an ethnic difference in reported peer relational health and
disordered eating. The third research question was not substantiated, as participants in
the study did not report a relationship between mentor relational health and disordered
eating. The fourth research question was not substantiated, as participants in this study
did not show an ethnic difference in reported mentor relational health and disordered
eating. The fifth research question indicated that participants in this study who reported
higher levels of community relational health also reported lower levels of disordered
eating. The sixth research question was not substantiated, as participants in this study did
not show an ethnic difference in reported community relational health and disordered
eating. The seventh research question indicated that Black participants in this study
differed from both Latina and White participants in levels of disordered eating but Latina
and White participants in this study did not differ significantly in levels of disordered
eating. The eighth research question indicated that Black participants in this study
differed from both Latina and White participants in levels of peer relational health but
Latina and White participants in this study did not differ significantly in levels of peer
relational health. The ninth research question was not substantiated, as participants in
this study did not show an ethnic difference in reported mentor relational health. The
tenth research question indicated that Black participants in this study differed from White
participants in levels of community relational health but Latina participants in this study


80
did not differ significantly from either Black or White participants in levels of
community relational health.


CHAPTER 5
DISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between Black, Latina,
and White college females relational health, specifically peer, mentor, and community
relationships, and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. The research findings
related to the hypothesis and individual research questions of this study will be presented
in this chapter followed by a discussion of the limitations of the study and implications of
the findings and recommendations for the future.
Hypothesis Summary and Explanation of Finding
The overall hypothesis of this study was that there is a negative relationship
between the relational health of Black, Latina, and White college females peer, mentor,
and community relationships and the attitudes and behaviors related to disordered eating.
This hypothesis was partially substantiated by results indicating that participants
in this study who reported higher levels of both peer and community relational health also
reported lower levels of disordered eating. Mentor relationships however did not
significantly relate to the measured attitudes and behaviors of disordered eating.
Relational Model theorists conceptualize on-going, growth-fostering
interpersonal connections as critical to womens healthy psychological development
(Jordan, 1997; Surrey, 1985). Growth-fostering peer and community relationships, which
reflect the relational components of mutuality, authenticity, and empowerment or zest,
may act as potential protective factors in Black, Latina, and White college females
81


82
struggles with disordered eating. This finding is consistent with many other research
studies that have found that close, intact relationships predict good health in a wide
variety of population samples.
Mentoring relationships, on the other hand, may not increase resilience to
disordered eating due to the fact that this type of relationship, unlike peer and community
relationships, is inherently defined by a power differential and is usually predicated on
foundational differences in areas such as skill level, age, expertise, and education (Liang
et al., 2000). One of the main theoretical tenets of the Relational Model is that growth-
fostering relationships that are intimate and mutual can facilitate self-disclosure,
emotional resiliency, and coping strategies (Miller & Stiver, 1997). The previously
mentioned foundational differences in mentoring relationships may hinder the
development of intimacy and mutuality and therefore this type of relationship may be
ineffective as a protective factor against disordered eating.
Another potential factor in the lack of correlational relationship between
mentoring relationships and disordered eating may be the specific characteristics of the
mentors described by each participant in the study. Whereas the traditional male-to-male
mentoring models within the business world rely on an acceptance of hierarchy and focus
on task activities, females appear to desire more psychosocial and emotional support in
their mentoring relationships (Kalbfleisch & Keyton, 1995). Worell and Remer (1992)
underscored the therapeutic nature of female-to-female mentoring relationships and
stated that women may receive ancillary benefits beyond those normally accrued through
the mentoring process. Gloria et al. (1999) emphasized the importance of having
ethnically similar mentors especially for minority students on predominantly White


83
college campuses. This research study did not specifically ask gender or ethnicity of
each participants mentor. This unknown variable could have had an effect on the
significance of the relationship between mentoring relationships and disordered eating in
this study.
Supportive mentoring relationships can be an important part of a students
adjustment to college by assisting with academic achievement, confidence, leadership
skills, and/or career direction but may not necessarily embody the growth-fostering
relational components of mutuality, authenticity, and empowerment or zest. It is
therefore possible that mentor relationships, unlike peer and community relationships,
might not significantly relate to the attitudes and behaviors of disordered eating in college
females in this study.
Research Questions and Explanations of Findings
Research Question 1 examined the relationship between peer relationships and
disordered eating. Results from this research indicate that peer relationships were a
significant predictor of disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. As the peer relational
health of college females increased, disordered eating decreased proportionately. An
increase of 1.0 point on the RHI-P scale predicted a decrease of 0.5 on the EAT-26 score.
This finding is consistent with previous research on adolescent peer relationships that has
shown that the positive experiences of friendship contribute significantly to cognitive,
social, and moral development as well as psychological adjustment and socioemotional
health (Brown et al., 1999).
Research Question 2 examined the differences in the relationship between peer
relationships and disordered eating among Black, Latina, and White female college


84
students. Results from this research did not indicate any significant differences among
ethnic groups in their relationship between peer relationships and disordered eating. This
research finding is consistent with previous empirical research that has shown the value
of mutually intimate and nurturing peer support in the physical and psychological health
of young women of varied ethnic backgrounds. Peer relational health may act as a
protective factor for disordered eating for Black, Latina, and White female college
students.
Research Question 3 examined the relationship between mentor relationships and
disordered eating. Results from this research did not indicate any significant relationship
between these two variables. Relational competence as defined by the Relational Model
is the ability to attend to the affect and experience of another individual and then respond
in an appropriate manner that compromises neither that individual self nor another
(Nelson, 1996). Relational competence leads to mutual empowerment, a state in which
each person can receive and then respond to the feelings and thoughts of the other, each
is able to enlarge both her own and another persons feelings and thoughts, and
simultaneously each person enlarges the relationship (Miller & Stiver, 1997). This
principle of mutuality within Relational Theory may not be valid for mentoring
relationships and therefore may contribute to the lack of significance in the relationship
between mentoring and disordered eating in this study.
As discussed previously, the unique interpersonal dynamics of mentoring
relationships can be very helpful to college students success but may not directly affect
the psychosocial well-being of college females and more specifically their struggles with
disordered eating. The gender and ethnicity of the participants selected mentors may


85
have also affected the potential significance of this relationship with disordered eating.
Many eating disordered young women have learned how to successfully
compartmentalize their academic pursuits and in the short run may do well in their
classes and/or academic activities even though their attitudes and behaviors are congruent
with the disordered eating continuum.
Research Question 4 examined whether the relationship between mentor
relationships and disordered eating differed for Black, Latina, or White female college
students. Results from this research did not indicate any significant differences among
ethnic groups and their relationship between mentoring relationships and disordered
eating.
Research Question 5 examined the relationship between community relationships
and disordered eating. Results from this research indicate that community relationships
were a significant predictor of disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. As the
community relational health of college females increased, disordered eating decreased
proportionately. An increase in 1.0 point on the RHI-C scale predicted a decrease of 0.3
in the EAT-26 score. This research finding is consistent with previous research that
shows that resilient adolescents and young adults are sociable and able to seek and garner
social support from a variety of resources (Johnson et al., 1999). This interpersonal
strength is in contrast to females who struggle with disordered eating and also report a
sense of isolation, social anxiety, impoverished relationships, public self-consciousness,
and a failure to seek social support (Szmukler et al., 1995). Community relational health
may act as a protective factor for disordered eating for Black, Latina, and White female
college students.


86
Research Question 6 examined the differences in the relationship between
community relationships and disordered eating among Black, Latina, and White female
college students. Results from this research did not indicate any significant differences
among ethnic groups in their relationship between community relationships and
disordered eating. In other words, female college students who had higher community
relational health also had lower disordered eating regardless of their specific ethnic
background.
Researchers who have examined sense of belonging, a primary construct of
community relational health, for Black and Latina females state that the cultural construct
of interdependence which starts during childhood and involves a familial type of
attachment to community serves as a personal strength which can help to mitigate
feelings of isolation and detachment (Harris, 1992; Hurtado & Carter, 1997).
Community relationships that promote a sense of belonging and are defined by the
growth-producing qualities of the Relational Model have had a beneficial influence on
the physical and psychological health of women from various ethnic backgrounds in
numerous research studies. This benefit may also extend to helping in the prevention of
disordered eating in Black, Latina, and White female college students.
Research Question 7 examined the relationship among Black, Latina, and White
female college students disordered eating. Results from this research indicated that there
were ethnic group differences. Black female mean scores on the EAT-26 were lower
than both Latina and White female mean scores, which did not significantly differ from
each other. Lower scores on the EAT-26 indicate lower levels of disordered eating
attitudes and behaviors.


87
Root (1990) stated that racial/cultural context may afford protection from
disordered eating to an ethnic group, but it does not necessarily protect individuals who
are subject to the standards of the dominant Western culture. This study did not examine
issues related to acculturation and assimilation that may have affected the survey results
of the different ethnic groups in this research question. It also did not include the
variable of actual body weight, which may also have affected the results of this question.
Research has shown that there is a positive association between extent of body
dissatisfaction and actual body weight in samples of Black female college students but
White female college students were likely to adopt disordered eating attitudes and
behaviors regardless of actual weight (Abrams et al., 1993). Similar studies that examine
the dynamics of actual body weight and disordered eating have not been done with Latina
college students. Other research studies have generally shown that Black women
compared to White and Latina women tend to be more satisfied with their bodies, are
more accepting of being overweight, and are less driven to achieve thinness (Abrams et
ah, 1993; Fitzgibbon et ah, 1998). These aforementioned factors may have played a part
in the lower levels of disordered eating in Black female participants in this study.
Research Question 8 examined the relationship among Black, Latina, and White
female college students peer relationships. Results from this research indicated that
there were ethnic group differences. Black female mean scores on the RHI-P were lower
than both Latina and White female mean scores, which did not significantly differ from
each other. Lower scores on the RHI-P indicate lower levels of peer relational health in
accordance with the Stone Centers Relational Model.


88
Sedlaceks (1999) meta-analysis of twenty years of research on Black students on
predominantly White college campuses found that racism remains a major problem for
Black students across the country. This research study was done at a large co-ed
university in the southeastern United States where Black students comprise only 6.5%
(2,900) of the student population and Black female undergraduate students comprise less
than half of that total (University of Florida, 2000). The difficulty offitting in and
finding compatible peers may be difficult for many young Black women in this study.
Various research studies document the difficulty that Black students face in the arena of
social adjustment on predominantly White college campuses. Though Latina students are
also a minority on this research study campus (9.4%; 4,200; University of Florida, 2000),
and probably deal with racism on an individual and institutional level, it is possible that
they may assimilate more easily into the White college campus environment and are
more able to find mutually intimate and nurturing peers. The results of this research
question may also have been affected by the lower response rate of the Black female
participants.
Research Question 9 examined the relationship among Black, Latina, and White
college females mentoring relationships. Results indicated that there were no significant
ethnic group differences in the mean scores of the RHI-M. This research result may be
attributed to the fact that the instructions for this survey scale were flexible and allowed
the participants to select any adult who is often older than you, and is willing to listen,
share her or his experiences, and guide you through some part or area of your life.
Several participants indicated that they chose a parent or close relative as their mentor.
For minority students, this choice flexibility may have contributed to the lack of


89
significance between group differences by giving Black and Latina women the ability to
identify mentors outside of the university setting. This study result may have been
different if mentors had been required to be affiliated with the university research study
site. In addition, the university in this study has an active on-going mentoring program
for minority students, which may have decreased ethnic group differences. It is assumed
that White female students on their own could more easily find a same gender/ethnicity
mentor if that was a priority. Another factor that should be considered is the difference in
response numbers (Black, 59; Latina, 72; White, 90) for the RHI-M. which may have
affected the results of this research question. This was the smallest response sample of
the three RHI scales and this research question result may have been statistically
significant with a larger sample.
Research Question 10 examined the relationship among Black, Latina, and White
college females community relationships. Research results indicated ethnic group
differences in the mean scores of the RHI-C. Black mean scores were lower than White
mean scores, but Latina scores were not significantly different from Black or White mean
scores. Lower mean scores on the RHI-C indicate lower levels of community relational
health. As previously discussed, lower levels of community relational health for Black
college females may be attributed to their struggles with racism and assimilation within a
predominantly White college campus. Latina mean scores, though not statistically
significantly different, were between Black and White mean scores and may also indicate
a difficulty with cultural assimilation but not to the same degree as for Black female
students.


90
In conclusion, the findings of the research questions in this study indicated that
both peer and community relationships significantly predicted disordered eating attitudes
and behaviors and may be protective factors in disordered eating for Black, Latina, and
White female college students. Mentor relationships were not significantly related to
disordered eating in college females as a whole or for any of the specific ethnic groups.
Black female participants had lower levels of disordered eating when compared with
Latina and White female students. Black female participants also had lower levels of
peer and community relational health. Ethnicity and the interactions of ethnicity with
relational health in this study did not prove to be significant variables in the relationship
between disordered eating and relational health.
Limitations of the Study
This study used a stratified randomized sample of sophomore, junior, and senior
undergraduate Black, Latina, and White college females from a large co-ed university in
the southeastern United States. Therefore, generalizability of the findings of the current
study would be limited primarily to undergraduate Black, Latina, and White female
college students. It is also important to recognize that the composition of Black and
Latina ethnic groups vary within the United States and therefore the generalizability of
this study may be limited to the southeastern region of the United States.
This study was limited by the exclusive reliance on self-report measures to assess
peer, mentor, and community relational health and disordered eating. Self-report
instruments are susceptible to respondent bias though they are also considered to be an
efficient method for obtaining data in a relatively nonobtrusive and confidential manner.


91
Respondent bias may have been a problem in this study due to the personal nature of the
questions related to interpersonal relationships and eating attitudes and behaviors.
Another limitation to the study is the self-selection of the participants receiving
the mail surveys. Overall the response rate was 49.3%, but among ethnic groups there
was a variable response rate (Black, 42.5%; Latina, 48.1%; White, 58.1%). Even though
ethnicity did not prove to be a significant variable, the unique ethnic composition of the
entire participant group could potentially be a limitation to generalizability. In addition,
questions arise about the unknown characteristics of the non-participating group and the
unknown reasons for response variability among ethnic groups.
A critical limitation inherent to the correlational nature of this research design
involves the inability to ascertain causal connections. The findings show a correlation
between relational health and disordered eating, but there is no way of knowing
whether poor relational health brings about disordered eating or vice versa, or even if
there were other unidentified factors at work. This study was only a first step in
understanding the role of relationships and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors in
college women.
Implications of the Findings and Recommendations
Findings from this research study have added to an increased understanding of the
relationship between peer, mentor, and community relationships and disordered eating in
Black, Latina, and White female college students. Implications for theory, practice, and
research are presented in the following chapter section.


92
Implications for Theory
The theoretical intent of this research study was to test a model of female
psychological development with disordered eating attitudes and behaviors within a
multicultural female college population. The results of the study offered mixed support
for the elements of the proposed model. Research findings showed that relational health,
specifically peer and community but not mentor relationships, were related to disordered
eating. Ethnicity and the interaction of ethnicity with relational health did not play a
significant role in this relationship.
According to the principles of the Stone Centers Relational Theory, the goal of
healthy psychological development for girls and women is attained via the increasing
ability to build and enlarge mutually enhancing relationships in which each individual
can feel an increased sense of well-being through being in touch with others and finding
ways to act on individual thoughts and feelings (Surrey, 1985). The results of this study
reinforced the tenets of this theory by showing that there is a negative relationship
between peer and community relational health and disordered eating. Disordered eating
being recognized as symptomatic of a decreased sense of well-being. The finding that
ethnicity was not a significant factor in the research model can be interpreted as a
strength of Relational Theory. According to the findings of this study. Black, Latina, and
White female college student participants all showed a negative relationship between
peer and community relational health and disordered eating and therefore, in this study,
the Relational Model is relevant for a multicultural population sample.
The vast majority of empirical research on Relational Theory has been conducted
primarily through qualitative studies. The results of this research study add to the body


93
of quantitative research literature that proposes that the formation and maintenance of
relationships and connections to others is critical to healthy female psychologiocal
development. The results of this study are also consistent with numerous other studies on
the benefits of social support as being health promoting by providing a sense of
belonging and relational intimacy.
Implications for Practice
The immediate and practical implications of this research will be of interest to
university administrators, health educators, and campus mental health providers. It is
important to understand the struggles of college women with disordered eating and the
potential protective factors of peer and community relationships.
Most eating disorder inpatient programs provide a predominantly female
community for patients, with an emphasis on group therapy. These programs emphasize
the importance of the building of intimate connections as a treatment goal in the healing
of women struggling with disordered eating. Colleges can learn from this type of
intervention and make group experiences available for all women on campus as part of
their education, prevention, and eating disorder intervention strategies.
On-going campus groups that focus specifically on issues related to body image,
eating problems, healthy coping strategies, and personal growth should be easily and
routinely available for the female college population. These groups should be facilitated
by someone who is familiar with the Relational Models principles of mutuality,
authenticity, and empowerment or zest and thereby create a beneficial group experience
within the framework of the community relational model. It would be important to target
in-coming freshman and transfer students who are dealing with the uncertainties of life


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