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
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