Researchers: Racial Attitudes at University of Alabama Are in Mainstream

Article excerpt

Researchers who presented a symposium on student perceptions of race relations at the University of Alabama say campus ideas on race mirror regional and national attitudes.

"What you see here at the University of Alabama, I don't think you should see as elevated," said sociology professor Michael Hughes of Virginia Tech.

Hughes was part of a group of six researchers who surveyed 4,451 UA students between January and March to study racial attitudes on campus. The other primary researchers included UA social work professor Celia Lo, UA political science associate professor Utz McKnight, UA graduate student Gabrielle Smith, UA political science department chair Richard Fording and UA research scientist Debra McCallum.

The survey pool proportionally reflected the demographics of the campus community. About one in five students on campus participated, McCallum said.

Among the questions on the survey, students were asked about their feelings about different races and groups, social interactions with other races, campus race relations and the Greek system, and the reasons for disparity among races.

The results were presented Wednesday at the Gorgas Library. The 2013 survey was the latest in a series of periodic surveys dating back to 1963, when UA professors C. Donald McGlamery and Donal E. Muir sought to measure white students' attitudes toward the pending integration of campus. The surveys of racial attitudes by McGlamery and Muir were repeated in 1966, 1969, 1972, 1982 and 1988.

The 2013 survey replicated the methodology and many of the same questions of the earlier surveys as a way to collect new data on the old questions, said McCallum, director and senior research scientist at the Institute for Social Science Research at UA.

Hughes, a UA alumnus, helped collect data during the 1966 survey as part of a class project. His presentation primarily focused on the responses by white participants, noting that the majority of the surveys -- up until 1988 -- were conducted with only white students.

Student resistance to integration and prejudice was strong on campus in 1963 but not overwhelming. A little less than half of the participants in 1963 disagreed with the principle of integration and basic rights, though perceptions based on stereotypes and desires for personal social distance from blacks remained strong. …

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