Riley explores positive experiences of Black teen relationships in new research

Assistant Professor Tennisha Riley

Research into adolescent relationships often focuses on negative influences – but Tennisha Riley’s work is looking to change that. Riley, an Assistant Professor in Counseling and Educational Psychology, is working on a project that examines how Black youth talk about their emotional experiences as a result of racial discrimination with their same-race peers. 

Much of Riley’s research pulls from her experiences as a clinician with a focus on marriage and family therapy. She also worked as a multisystemic family therapist for adolescents who were court-ordered through juvenile justice. 

“While working as a therapist I saw a gap between the policies around juvenile justice and the research on adolescent development, particularly for Black youth,” Riley said. “This encouraged my desire to investigate the underlying causes of adolescent behavior, the positive outcomes for youth and the role of systemic racism in Black youth’s lives.”

I think the research will highlight the importance of adolescence as a unique development age-stage in which youth can feel empowered to create change through the use of supports.

Assistant Professor Tennisha Riley

Riley’s research work focuses on the development of Black youth and families, with a specific interest in studying the emotional development of Black adolescents: their experiences of expressing emotion, managing emotional responses and messages they have received about the importance of emotion and behavioral outcomes. Most of her research has a focus on how peers, family and school might shape Black youth’s emotional experiences as well as societal influences of racial discrimination and racial stereotypes. It’s crucial work, so much so that her project, Black Youth's Emotion Regulation Strategies in Response to Racial Discrimination Experiences - An Examination of Peer Support and Civic Engagement, just received funding from IU’s Racial Justice Research Fund

Initially, Riley came to IU as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society, saying she was drawn to the mission of CRRES to support race and ethnicity scholarship and wanted to be a part of the Center’s efforts to develop a strong scholarly community here at IU. She is now in her first semester as a faculty member with the School of Education, a position she accepted because she saw that her commitment to research on Black youth racial identity development and social-emotional well-being was highly valued by her new colleagues and students.

Ultimately, Riley hopes this current project will help researchers understand whether youth and their peers provide support in the form of interpersonal emotion regulation (e.g., providing each other with emotional feedback) and if this support can lead to engagement in civic activities such as protesting and other forms of political engagement. 

“I think the research will highlight the importance of adolescence as a unique development age-stage in which youth can feel empowered to create change through the use of supports,” Riley added. “They are developing in ways to enhance their perspective on the world, as well as their place and space society. This research will inform us of these perspectives among Black youth.”