An investigation of the relationship between resilience, ‘race’ and trauma amongst university students
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South Africans are exposed to many traumatic events and exposure to such events is associated with negative emotional and behavioural outcomes. However, there are those who are still able to remain psychologically well amidst their difficulties. Resilience is the motivation to be strong in the face of unwarranted demands and this study proposes that it could serve as a buffer against the harmful effects of traumatic events. It is assumed that traumatic events present with demanding circumstances and further that resilience plays a role in the relationship between trauma, the challenges these events present and one’s ability to function in these circumstances. Furthermore, ‘race’ may have a particular influence on this relationship as the level and severity of trauma among different ‘racial’ groups may vary. The link between resilience and trauma has been investigated, but little focus has been given to how ‘race’ may influence this relationship among students in the South African context. The aim of the current study was therefore to investigate the interaction between these three variables and add to existing knowledge related to resilience. Constructs related to resilience include sense of coherence, potency, hardiness, learned resourcefulness and fortitude. The two ‘racial’ groups included in the sample include ‘African’ and ‘Coloured’ students (categories created by the past apartheid government). Resilience was measured by the Resilience Scale for Adults (RSA), trauma was measured by the Harvard Trauma Scale (HTS) and violence exposure was measured by the Childhood Exposure to Community Violence Scale (CECV). Participants included 249 students at the University of the Western Cape. Results indicate that ‘Coloured’ students report similar levels of violence exposure and trauma symptoms as ‘African’ students do. ‘Coloured’ students report higher scores on overall resilience and resilience sub-scales (except the structured style sub-scale) than ‘African’ students as measured on the RSA. With regard to the trauma versus no trauma groups, the results indicate that ‘African’ students who form part of the no trauma group score higher on resilience than those who form part of the trauma group and within the trauma group ‘Coloured’ students score higher on resilience than ‘African’ students. In analyses amongst the high and the low trauma groups, the results indicate that those who form part of the low trauma group score higher on resilience than those who are among the high trauma group; ‘African’ students who form part of the low trauma group score higher on resilience than those who form part of the high trauma group; and ‘Coloured’ students who form part of the low trauma group score higher on resilience than those who form part of the high trauma group. The results yielded in the current study are both similar to and differ from findings presented in previous studies and highlight the complexity of the construct of resilience. Limitations of the study are outlined and recommendations for future research are also provided.