Identity Project: An Intervention Targeting Adolescents' Ethnic-Racial Identity Development

IP_ImageDuring adolescence, the question “Who Am I?” is constantly on teens’ minds as they develop their identities and figure out who they are and who they will become. Teens sometimes think about their race, ethnic heritage, or culture when answering this question; more specifically, this is referred to as teens’ ethnic-racial identity. Understanding how their ethnic-racial identity fits into their larger sense of self is important for many teens. In fact, ethniracial identity has implications for many different parts of adolescents’ lives, including psychological well-being, academic performance, and peer relationships. Specifically, research studies have shown that when adolescents have thought about their ethnic-racial identity and have tried to understand more about their background, they fare better in each of these domains. 

The development of ethnic-racial identity is a complex process, as teens explore what their race and ethnicity mean to them, try to understand the role of their race and ethnicity in their everyday lives, and decide how they feel about that aspect of themselves. The Identity Project curriculum was designed to provide adolescents of any ethnic-racial background with tools and strategies that help them explore and understand their constantly evolving identity in relation to their race and ethnicity.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

"I knew in my heart from the beginning the students would benefit from the project and was fortunate to have the opportunity to share this experience with them. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and Sara and supporting your research. It is good to hear that your efforts have continued to develop and show positive results." 

                    – Department Head and Teacher from Arizona partner school

We also asked Massachusetts educators what they believe the Identity Project has to offer their students and the value they feel the Identity Project has for their students. 

Educators shared that the Identity Project offers students opportunities to build self-confidence and explore identity; 

to gain knowledge about race, ethnicity, and identity; 

to connect to family; 

and to build classroom community. 

Implementing the Identity Project

The Identity Project is an evidence-based curriculum that is currently being implemented in the U.S. and in five countries in Europe. In the U.S., it has been implemented in Arizona, Illinois, and Massachusetts high schools. We are currently developing a teacher training program for the Identity Project curriculum.

To support educators in navigating discussions about race, ethnicity, and identity with their students, we offer "You May Be Wondering" sheets as resources to guide their conversations. Please visit the ERI Resources page to review these materials. 

If your school district is interested in partnering with us to bring the Identity Project to your school, please contact: Adriana Umaña-Taylor


Umaña-Taylor, A.J. (2018). Intervening in cultural development: the case of ethnic-racial identity. Development & Psychopathology, 30, 1907-1922. doi:10.1017/S0954579418000974

The literature on developmental psychopathology has been criticized for its limited integration of culture and, particularly, the lack of research addressing cultural development in relation to psychopathology. In this paper, I present how the study of ethnic–racial identity provides a heuristic model for how culture can be examined developmentally and in relation to psychopathology. In addition, I introduce the Identity Project intervention program and discuss how its findings provide empirical support for the notions that cultural development can be modified with intervention, and that such modifications can lead to psychosocial benefits for adolescents. Finally, I discuss existing challenges to advancing this work and important future directions for both basic and translational research in this area.

Umaña-Taylor, A. J., Kornienko, O., Douglass, S., & Updegraff, K. A., (2018). A Universal Intervention Program Increases Ethnic-Racial Identity Exploration and Resolution to Predict Adolescent Psychosocial Functioning One Year Later. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 47, 1-15.

Ethnic-racial identity formation represents a key developmental task that is especially salient during adolescence and has been associated with many indices of positive adjustment. The Identity Project intervention, which targeted ethnic-racial identity exploration and resolution, was designed based on the theory that program-induced changes in ethnic-racial identity would lead to better psychosocial adjustment (e.g., global identity cohesion, self-esteem, mental health, academic achievement). Adolescents (N = 215; Mage = 15.02, SD = .68; 50% female) participated in a small-scale randomized control trial with an attention control group. A cascading mediation model was tested using pre-test and three follow-up assessments (12 weeks, 18 weeks, and 67 weeks after baseline). The program led to increases in exploration, subsequent increases in resolution and, in turn, higher global identity cohesion, higher self-esteem, lower depressive symptoms, and better grades. Results support the notion that increasing adolescents’ ethnic-racial identity can promote positive psychosocial functioning among youth.

Umaña-Taylor, A. J., Douglass, S., Updegraff, K. A., & Marsiglia, F. (2018). Small-scale randomized efficacy trial of the Identity Project: Promoting adolescents’ ethnic-racial identity exploration and resolution. Child Development, 89(3), 862-870. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12755

Adolescents’ ethnic–racial identity (ERI) formation represents an important developmental process that is associated with adjustment. The Identity Project intervention, grounded in developmental theory, was designed to engage adolescents in the ERI processes of exploration and resolution. The current small-scale efficacy trial involved an ethnic–racially diverse sample of adolescents (N = 215; Mage = 15.02, SD = .68) from eight classrooms that were randomly assigned by classroom to the intervention or attention control group. Differences between conditions in ERI exploration at Time 2 were consistent with desired intervention effects; furthermore, higher levels of ERI exploration at Time 2 predicted increases in ERI resolution at Time 3 only for youth in the treatment condition. Findings provide preliminary evidence of program efficacy.

Douglass, S., & Umaña-Taylor, A. J. (2017). Exam ining discrimination, ethnic-racial identity status, and youth public regard among Black, Latino, and White adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 27, 155-172. doi: 10.1111/jora.12262

How positively adolescents believe others feel about their ethnic-racial group (i.e., public regard) is an important part of their ethnic-racial identity (ERI), which is likely informed by contextual and individual factors. Using cluster analyses to generate ERI statuses among Black, Latino, and White adolescents (N = 1,378), we found that associations between peer versus adult discrimination and public regard varied across ERI status and ethnic-racial group. However, among all adolescents, an achieved ERI (i.e., having explored ethnicity-race and having a clear sense about its personal meaning) buffered the negative association between adult discrimination and public regard, but not between peer discrimination and public regard. Implications for understanding the interplay between contextual and individual factors for public regard are discussed.

Umaña-Taylor, A. J., & Douglass, S. (2016). Developing an ethnic-racial identity intervention from a developmental perspective: Process, content, and implementation. In N. J. Cabrera & B. Leyendecker (eds.), Handbook of Positive Development of Minority Children and Youth (pp. 437-453). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

The current chapter describes the process of developing an intervention grounded in developmental theory and focused on increasing adolescents' ethnic-racial identity exploration and resolution. We begin by describing the impetus for the focus on ethnic-racial identity as a target for intervention, which includes a brief overview of existing basic research identifying consistent associations between developmental features of ethnic-racial identity and adolescents' positive adjustment. We then review existing intervention efforts focused on identity, generally, and ethnic or cultural identity, specifically. In the second part of the chapter we present our approach for working with a community partner toward the development of the Identity Project intervention, discuss the mixed method (i.e., quantitative and qualitative) approach we used to develop the curriculum, and describe the curriculum. The chapter ends with a discussion of considerations for implementation, including the universal nature of the program and ideas regarding transportability.

Douglass, S. & Umaña-Taylor, A. J. (2015). A brief form of the Ethnic Identity Scale: Development and empirical validation. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 15(1), 48-65. doi:10.1080/15283488.2014.989442

Theory and research have long indicated that ethnic-racial identity is a complex and multifaceted construct. However, there is a paucity of brief, easily administered measures that adequately capture this multidimensionality. Two studies were conducted to develop an abbreviated version of the Ethnic Identity Scale (EIS) and to explore its psychometric properties in the United States. In Study 1, the use of item-reduction techniques with a sample of adolescent Latinos (n = 323) resulted in a 9-item brief version of the EIS (EIS-B), including subscales of Exploration, Resolution, and Affirmation; furthermore, longitudinal analyses provided initial support for the construct validity of the subscales. In Study 2, the factor structure of the EIS-B was examined among an ethnically diverse sample of college students (n = 9,492), and findings provided support for strong measurement invariance across ethnic groups for the EIS-B. Together, findings from both studies provided preliminary evidence for the validity and reliability of the EIS-B as a brief measure of the multidimensional construct of ethnic-racial identity, and indicated that the EIS-B assessed ethnic-racial identity in a comparable manner to the original version of the scale.


Fuentes, S., Umaña-Taylor, A.J., Douglass, S., & Updegraff, K. (2016, March). Is an American Identity Synonymous with an Ethnic-Racial Identity for Some Youth, but not Others? Poster presented at the Society for Research on Adolescence Biennial Meeting, Baltimore, MD.

Douglass, S. & Umaña-Taylor, A. J. (2014, June). A brief form of the Ethnic Identity Scale: Development and empirical validation. Paper presented at the APA Division 45: Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race 2014 Annual Meeting, Eugene, OR.