College Students' Attitudes toward Racial Discrimination

By Biasco, Frank; Goodwin, Elizabeth A. et al. | College Student Journal, December 2001 | Go to article overview

College Students' Attitudes toward Racial Discrimination


Biasco, Frank, Goodwin, Elizabeth A., Vitale, Kevin L., College Student Journal


The study of college students' attitudes toward racial discrimination was conducted among students attending a northwest Florida university. The samples consisted of one-tenth of the student population during the summer term. The subjects were randomly selected after being stratified for gender and race. Black students and other minorities consistently reported different racial attitudes compared to those of White students. The findings are discussed in relation to other studies on racial discrimination.

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Attitudes are often studied in order to determine behaviors associated with them. Biasco (1989,1991,1992,2000) has conducted numerous studies on college students' attitudes to determine whether they reflect those of the general public. Because of the current interest in racial discrimination, both on and off campuses, the study was conducted to determine college students' attitudes toward racial discrimination.

Discrimination refers to behavioral responses that are unfavorable to ethnic members. Therefore, racial discrimination is defined as "unjustified, negative or harmful conduct, verbal or physical, that is directed at an individual because of one's race, color, national origin, or ethnicity" (Arson, Wilson, & Akert, 1999).

There has been a significant increase in the number of ethnically diverse students entering colleges and universities. Landmark court decisions that have challenged discriminatory admission policies to higher educational institutions and recent demographic trends have contributed to the creation of ethnically diverse student bodies (Ancis, Mohr, & Sedlacek 2000).

Research suggests that ethnically diverse students experience campus life differently due to racial discrimination. A study on group relations (McAlister, 1997) found that differences in attitudes existed toward racial discrimination with college education generating more favorable attitudes. Those who had higher levels of education were more racially tolerant and reported the lowest feelings of prejudice and hostility.

A study conducted by a sociologist (Bonilla-Silva 1998), revealed that students at three U.S. colleges, which included the University of Florida, were found to have a "hidden reservoir of racial animosity and suspicion" underneath a "veneer of antiracist attitudes". What the students reported on questionnaires contradicted what they expressed in personal interviews of not being racist with the White college students being less tolerant. For example, on a survey, 90% of Whites found interracial marriages to be acceptable, but only 30% held that view in the personal interviews.

Smith, Roberts, and Smith (1997) studied problems of racial relations on college campuses. They administered three assessments over a 42-month period to investigate subtle racism of white college students. The findings suggested that racial discrimination was increasing on college campuses in the United States and that prejudices have become more complex and covertly expressed.

According to research by Hewitt and Seymour (1991), black students who were enrolled in smaller colleges did not find any racial discrimination on their campuses. However, Blacks who attended large universities spoke of "subtle racism" which they felt was expressed covertly by non-minority students through behaviors of avoidance. Most minority students perceived the "subtle racism" on college campus from both white students and white faculty. In interviews, the researchers found that White students felt "resentment and hostility" toward minority-based financial assistance which was awarded based on race rather than financial need. Minorities felt that the programs that were designed to recruit, assist, and retain minority students placed some stereotyped characteristics on minorities.

According to a University of California, Los Angeles study by Astin (1997), faculty diversification fell short in terms of numbers.

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