Date of Conferral





Public Health


Michael G. Schwab


In 2015, Mississippi had the 3rd highest adolescent birth rate in the United States, high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and enduring racial disparities between African American and White teenagers. Few researchers have described the immediate cultural environment to determine how it may influence the sexual behaviors and attitudes of African American teens. The purpose of this qualitative ethnographic study was to describe the sociocultural environment of African American adolescents in Mississippi that influences their sexual behavior by exploring the knowledge, feelings, experiences and beliefs of African American adults. The social cognitive theory was used as a theoretical framework to address 3 purpose-driven research questions. Criterion-based convenience and snowball sampling was used to select 16 African American male and female participants ages 18-64 who were residents of the study location for at least 10 years. Data were collected using a semi-structured interview protocol designed. Interview transcripts were coded, data was triangulated, and themes were identified based upon participant responses. Findings were identified across 3 thematic categories: knowledge, beliefs and experiences, and community engagement. Participants wanted adolescents to postpone sexual activity until they were more mature and believed adolescents and their parents need education and improved communication about risks and prevention. Recommendations include deeper exploration into public health and community engagement strategies to improve health outcomes in the face of unique community challenges. Social change may also result from this study's initiation of community conversations around adolescent sexuality and healthy development.