Race and College Campus ( Double Participation)

Please read below, comment on article, and think/reflect/talk/discuss how you connect to this article – connect to your experience individually, what you have seen, etc.

The subtle racist and sexist slights that can make even diverse colleges hostile places

A Muslim student is asked if she has a bomb in her backpack — jokingly, of course. A black man realizes his classmates assume his admission was solely due to affirmative action. A woman is certain her professor is paying more attention to male than female students, but she knows from experience that she’ll be accused of overreacting if she calls the behavior sexist.

It’s the little slights like these — they’re often called microaggressions —that explain why college campuses, while more diverse than ever, can still be tough places for, well, pretty much all groups of students except white men.

Understanding the effect of these microaggressions on students is an essential step to closing the race and gender gaps in achievement and graduation rates. That’s the conclusion of a new study by Harvard University’s Voices of Diversity project. To reach it, researchers analyzed interviews and online surveys of more than 200 students attending Missouri State University, two anonymous public institutions in the South and the Midwest, and a private, elite university in the Northeast.

The sample size is small, but the students’ responses — especially the anecdotal ones — paint a portrait of the new landscape of racism and sexism in higher education.

It’s more subtle, but just as alienating as ever.

Diversity gains aren’t enough

Diversity on college campuses has increased: between 1976 and 2007, black students grew from 10 percent of the total college population to 13 percent , Hispanics students from 4 percent to 12 percent, and Asian/Pacific Islander students from 2 percent to 7 percent. The percentage of female students increased from 48 to 57 — making women the majority at many schools. And there’s likely been more progress made since that data was collected.

But the numerical gains made by students of color and women can’t erase a long history of exclusion.

“[S]imply changing the representation of various groups does not in and of itself ensure that the experiences of racial/ethnic minority and women students are as positive as those of their white and male counterparts,” Diversity Project researchers noted in their write-up of the study. They explained that, “since institutional change tends to be slow, one cannot assume that increases in numbers of students of color have been accompanied by adequate changes in what has been called the ‘chilly climate’ for students of color and women in undergraduate populations at [predominantly white institutions].”

In their interviews with students, the researchers discovered that this “chilly climate” doesn’t always come from outright racism, sexism, or hostility. Sometimes, they found, it’s the result of subtle slights — often based in stereotypes — that can discourage and alienate students, putting a damper on their college experiences.

What are microaggressions?

The majority of the incidents students described in the report are what social scientists call “microaggressions,” the subtle, commonplace, verbal or behavioral indignities — sometimes intentional and sometimes not —that insult and humiliate people who are in the minority.

They’re the kind of things that provided the basis of the 2014 movie Dear White People, a satirical look at the experiences of black students at predominantly white colleges. In the film, characters vent frustration with things like incessant requests to touch their hair.

Here are a few examples from the report:

  • One woman talks about overhearing remarks that remind her of the way male students sexualize their female classmates, saying, “You can be standing in a group of guys, and they can be talking about the girls that are next to them…commenting on people’s clothing or ‘She’s pretty. She’s ugly. She’s fat. She’s a bitch.” Another reports that her male classmates “have more access to professors,” and, unlike women, who “have to be within their own space and kind of really think about what they have to say before they say it,” seem to feel uninhibited in class.
  • An Arab-American student says classmates have teased him about being a terrorist, followed by “you know I’m just joking.”
  • An African-American student tells stories of how black males are questioned by campus police about whether they attend their Ivy League school — even when they’re holding a student ID. Another reports that “there are people staring at me, trying to see how I react” whenever race comes up in the classroom.” In response, the student says, “I kind of scrunch up and try not to be noticed.”

Study authors said this wasn’t surprising: “Experience in the civil rights and women’s movements has shown that even changes in structures and policies do not, in and of themselves, eradicate racism and sexism and in fact often lead to the metamorphosis of expressions of prejudice into subtler forms.”.

Why the findings matter

The students overwhelmingly reported that these microaggresions took a major toll on them — causing apprehension, anguish, and concern about how to react, layered on top of the hurt feelings the comments evoked.

The incidents not only caused immediate emotional distress, but also led students to wonder how much they can trust their own judgment, the authors wrote. The authors of the study said many students of color and women experienced prolonged doubt and stress that left them questioning their place on campus and whether they belonged.

This, of course, can damage self-confidence and serve as a major distraction from academics. Aside from the obvious (nobody wants college to be a terrible time for everyone besides white men), these findings have consequences for educational equality.

If students are preoccupied with navigating microaggressions, it stands to reason that they’d be distracted from academics and possibly even less motivated to complete their education. So this issue is important for people who are concerned about racial and gender gaps in achievement, as well as graduation rates.

“This study is absolutely necessary right now, as we face the continuing challenge of the achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts,” Henry Louis Gates, the principal investigator on the project, said in an interview with the Harvard Gazette. “The information we glean from this study will help us understand better the wide variety of factors that influence student performance.

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9 comments

  1. This article is really interesting because it talks about the diversity that some universities have. In WSU I have noticed that students prefer to be with someone of their own race or someone that has the same cultural background. Even I sometimes found myself only talking to hispanics/latinos in my classes because I feel more comfortable. Students tend to segregate because it is easier to feel conformable with someone that has the same traditions, language, and culture.

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  2. This was a great article that really sparked a new viewpoint. The idea that white men receive more attention from their professors than their counterparts is something that I have seen all my life. Growing up in a predominantly white community the kids from other racial or ethnic groups did seem to be almost ignored by the teachers and left to fall behind at the back of the class. I haven’t had enough experience in college to relate it to my current professors, but the resource gap is very evident.

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  3. I really liked the topic that this article brought up and I hope that everyone that reads it will see it also. I truly believe that the point of this article is to reflect on our college itself. We need to be aware of our school and its racial history. Being of latin decent I’ve noticed that I’m constantly surrounded by whites (because the majority of WSU is white) and I am indeed a minority. Being a minority, I sought out my own race and have befriended them. This is a problem that every race has because we seek comfort and understanding rather then pushing ourself out of the comfort zone. I once saw a documentary on MTV that was called “White People” and it made people who classify themselves at white talk about race. It was extremely uncomfortable for them as well as the audience watching the documentary. They were forced to talk about their privileges and recognized them after the talk which will hopefully end segregation actions. This is what I belief the article wants to target. I think its meant to educate the public on racial tendencies and to get rid of them so that everyone no matter where they are (college, a job interview, ext) feels comfortable.

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  4. I really enjoy reading this aryicle. As a university student, I see minority and diversity groups. Asian students hang out with Asian students a lot.I am an Asian, I like to hang out with people who were raised under the same culture I have or people who respect it. I don’t know, if this count to racism since I prefer to hang out with Asian?

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    1. Zidong Di,
      Your preference to connect with people similar to you is not racism. It could be viewed, however, as exclusive and limiting yourself to the familiar. This is a diverse campus with an abundance of people. Maybe you could attempt to mingle so you could share your culture and experiences as well as learn about others? You could start small and see if you like it. If it does not work out, then at least you know you have the ability to try.

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  5. I thought the article was a good read. I especially took interest in the microagression portion. Sadly, I have seen instances of that all around, mainly in my hometown. One day I was leaving Walmart, and there was a Hispanic man in front of me. The security guard stopped him and asked to see his receipt. When it was my turn, he just smiled at me and told me to have a good day.In the article, it says that microagressions took a major toll on the students. From my experience, it even made me upset, and I was on the other end of the stick. It’s incredibly sad that society has become this way. I could have been just as guilty of stealing something as that man. I also enjoyed the portion about diversity. In the two weeks here at WSU, I’ve observed and noticed a lot about friend groups. I have seen people of the same race hanging out together and have also seen mixed group and pretty much everything in between. Where I grew up there wasn’t much diversity. Being at WSU, and learning about race and reading the articles is definitely opening up my eyes to more diversity, and I am very thankful for that!

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  6. I really enjoyed this article, the perspective it gave and how relatable it was. It is impossible to go a day on a college campus, or at least ours, and not see some type of microagression in some way, intentional or not. In some cases people’s views of other races or nationality stereotypes are how they were raised, though that is no excuse, their comments seem justifiable to themselves. However in our society we have come to know such generic ideas of how each race is or who each race is, that most people don’t second guess their initial impression of how they believe someone of a different race than them will be. I think if this article got passed along to more college campuses, a lot more perspectives could change. I believe people, not everyone but some, are open to change and would be willing to take on the idea that what they say as a joke can truly affect someone and could learn a few things.

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    1. Alyssa,
      This is a good train of thought! Noticing these micro aggressions provides a base for a counter argument against it. Why do you think others overlook understanding that these comments are harmful, even if they are just “jokes”?

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  7. I really like this article,and made me research more of micoagression portion. Sadly truth that i do notice that asian hangs with other asians, Blacks hangs with blacks, and etc. And I can say that for my experience her at WSU.I feel like there more comfortable to hang/talk to person who looks like you, share the same culture/language .

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