Multicultural Efforts Need to Be Increased at White Universities

Students of every race can benefit greatly by attending a top university. Cultural diversity has increased on college campuses nationwide in recent years. Opportunities are available for students of color at most campuses throughout the country, and these opportunities provide students with academic and professional advancement that they might not otherwise obtain. Even though programs that teach tolerance and advocate for diversity have been introduced at many colleges, students of color may still feel different from their White peers. This can lead to emotional stress and social and academic challenges that could impede their ability to benefit from higher education. To get a better idea of how students of color feel when they are on a predominantly White campus, Stacy A. Harwood of the Department of Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently led a study involving focus group feedback.

Harwood analyzed data from a larger study on racial disparity and microaggressions in higher education organizations and found numerous racial microaggressions (RMAs) reported by students of various ethnic backgrounds, including Asian-American, African-American, Native-American and Latino students. The most prevalent RMAs included verbal acts of racism, written racial epithets, unfair treatment, and denial of the existence of racism. The forms of racism experienced by the students in the focus groups were listed as both implicit and explicit.

Examples of the RMAs were racial jokes, racial slurs displayed on living spaces and common areas, and racial bullying. Students of color described feeling as if their residence halls were overly diverse and felt they were viewed as inferior to the more predominantly white residence halls. Other students said that their complaints to university staff were often played down or minimized, making them feel unjustified. This caused many of the students to avoid reporting the RMAs and instead internalize their feelings. The focus group participants that cited RMAs experienced higher levels of stress and less academic achievement than those who felt accepted at their universities. Harwood said that her findings shed a harsh light on how far we have to go in the area of racial equity on college campuses. She added, “It is important for university administrators and educators to implement engaged and purposeful diversity programs to help students develop essential dialogic skills to prepare themselves for a diverse democracy.”

Harwood, S. A., Huntt, M. B., Mendenhall, R., Lewis, J. A. (2012). Racial microaggressions in the residence halls: Experiences of students of color at a predominantly White university. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028956

Related articles:
The Inner Voices of Prejudice and Discrimination
How Schools Could Prevent Depression
A Secret (and FUN!) Guide to Multicultural Competence (Part 2)

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  • Blake

    July 20th, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    Call me an optimist, but I go to a mostly white university and I can honestly say that I have NEVER in my time there witnessed anything that was racially discriminatory in nature directed toward the minority population there.
    Maybe those minority students have a bit of a harder time adapting to the college atmosphere, but they chose to go to school there and obviously have the aptitude to succeed there otherwise they would have never been accepted.
    Let’s try to get over this whole racial divide that so many claim is still around because I have a hard time seeing that it really even exists all that much anymore except in the minds of those who still want this to be their rallying cry.

  • josh m

    July 20th, 2012 at 9:12 PM

    for the perpetrator the racist act may just be a trivial thing and something to laugh about for a minute or two.but for the victim it is much more than just that.

    there is so much that can go on in a person’s mind after being at the receiving end of such an abuse or bullying.worse yet,having your complaint played down will only bring about further negativity in the victim’s mind.

    we need a concerted effort,we need to work on this together,we need you and you need to do something about it.each one of us does.and only then can we truly aim to rid ourselves and the society from racism.

  • Janey

    July 21st, 2012 at 4:47 AM

    I feel that any responsible school, if there is a cry for services on campus, they will make every effort to ensure that their students’ needs are being met. How in the world can they justify the outrageous tuition costs if they are not at least willing to make the efffort to reach out to every single student on their campus? If I was a parent or a student, I would want o be someone where I knew that I was valued and appreciated, and it sounds like there are some universities where they are not quite so welcoming to those who don’t necessarily fit the mold of their traditional student.

  • Arte

    July 21st, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    Have we thought about the fact that maybe these schools don’t offer more programs for a multiculturally based community as a passive aggressive way of discouraging students of color from enrolling in their classes and degree programs “marring” their more homogenous community? I would have hoped that by now this would not be the case in society, but I am aware enough to realize that racism still exists in many different forms, overtly and covertly, and there are a number of ways to make someone feel uncomfortable without having to do anything at all.

  • joey

    July 23rd, 2012 at 4:31 AM

    lots of progress has been made but lots left to do still, not sure that this is an issue that will ever be totally resolved.

  • rhett

    July 23rd, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    Sometimes people make jokes about stuff like this and they don’t think about the harm that it can do. They think that everyone will know they’re just joking, but words have a bite to them that they fail to consider until they are used against them.

  • Rochelle

    July 23rd, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    On my graduate campus there were plenty of programs, lectures, events which encouraged and highlighted PoC participation. I was always glad to see a professor of color — and even more comforted when our Native American president stepped into position. Their presence certainly minimized my stress.

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