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Study: Boosting Diversity On College Campuses Isn’t Enough to Combat Racism’s Negative Effect on Students of Color

racism on college campuses Many college campuses are becoming more diverse, but a recent study from Harvard University revealed that racism is still plaguing these campuses and creating major challenges for students of color.

Conversations about educational equality and boosting graduation rates for Black students usually come back to trying to create a more diverse environment for students of color.

A Harvard study, however, is providing qualitative support for the idea that getting more students of color on college campuses is only half the battle.

The Voice of Diversity project interviewed more than 200 students from Missouri State University, two anonymous public institutions and one private, elite university in the Northeast.

While the study sample is relatively small, the stories and experiences from these students were extremely telling.

Black students revealed that they were often stopped and questioned if they were actually students at elite, Ivy League institutions.

Women shared their frustrations with male students getting more attention from instructors.

Muslim students explained just how hurt they really were by their classmates’ “jokes” about terrorism.

It served as a stark reminder that not all forms of racism are going to come with big bold signs or obvious acts of hate.

Sometimes it is the unintentional and almost subconscious forms of racial bias that impact students the most.

“Simply changing the representation of various groups does not in and of itself ensure that the experiences of racial/ethnic minority women and students are as positive as those of their white and male counterparts,” the researchers noted in the study.

Researchers explained that “institutional change tends to be slow” so “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 many colleges and universities.

Diversity on college campuses The type of subtle racist behaviors that many of the students faced on campus are referred to by social scientists as “microaggressions.”

These include simple acts like repeatedly questioning a Black woman about her hair or directing your attention towards people of color when a professor begins to talk about race in the classroom.

A vast majority of the students in the study admitted that the microaggressions had a significant impact on them and how comfortable they felt on campus.

Unfortunately, there is no telling when students will no longer have to deal with such microaggressions on campus anymore.

As the study said, even policy changes will not be able to put an end to microaggressions that make students feel uncomfortable.

“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,” the authors wrote.

The findings are clearly important for universities who wish to create more inclusive environments for their students but they also have serious implications for closing the achievement gap between “minority students and their white counterparts.”

“The study is absolutely necessary right now, as we face the continuing challenge of the achievement gap between minority students and their white counterparts,” said Henry Louis Gates, the principal investigator on the project, 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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