Racial Attitudes among Asian and European American College Students: A Cross-Cultural Examination
Smith, Timothy B., Bowman, Raquel, Hsu, Sungti, College Student Journal
College campuses are becoming increasingly racially diverse and may provide an optimal setting for the reduction of racial stereotypes and prejudices perpetuated in society. To better understand racism among college students, this study evaluated the attitudes of Asian and White European Americans toward several racial out-groups. Participants completed a survey containing the Social Distance Scale, and differences between participants' ratings of their own race were contrasted with their ratings of other races. Findings revealed strong preferences for social affiliations with members of their same racial background, with attitudes towards out-groups differing as a function of the race of the participant. Asians were much more likely to feel comfortable socializing with Whites than Whites were with Asians. Continued research regarding cross-cultural differences in inter-group relations on college campuses is encouraged.
Racial diversity on college campuses has increased over the past several decades, with overt racial conflicts giving way to more subtle tensions (e.g., Sydell & Nelson, 2000). Although overt racism is no longer commonplace, contemporary colleges and universities tend to have institutional cultures that deny or minimize racial inequities, pressure students of color to assimilate to White culture, maintain racial hierarchies, superficially address racial issues, and resist addressing genuine diversity (Corcoran & Thompson, 2004). This kind of climate benefits students who comply with the racial status quo but negatively impacts the academic success of racial minority students (van Laar, Sidanius, Rabinowitz, & Sinclair, 1999). Even though institutions of higher learning are becoming more demographically diverse, racial tensions and inequities may continue to affect some college students.
College students' experiences of racial issues differ substantially across race (e.g., Buttny, 1997). For White students from racially homogeneous backgrounds, enrollment in a demographically diverse university may represent their first meaningful exposure to multiculturalism. This encounter with racial diversity can either diminish or solidify racial stereotypes that White students have regarding other racial groups (e.g., Helms, 1990; Pettigrew, 1998). Oppositely, for college students from historically oppressed racial groups, colleges and universities may represent the institutionalization of White culture, not necessarily reflecting their values nor rewarding their contributions. Students of color often feel alienated and mistreated on predominantly White college campuses (Foster, 2005).
Given these dynamics among students from different racial backgrounds, it is not surprising that students may experience racial tension in some large public universities (Coopwood, 2000). However, what is surprising is that these tensions may be increasing over time (McCormack, 1995) in a possible reversal of the trend for diminished racial tensions in previous decades. Research into racial attitudes of college students can improve understanding regarding contemporary racial dynamics and therefore inform interventions designed to improve interracial relations on campus.
For many reasons, research regarding racism has focused on the power and privileges of White European Americans (e.g., Smith, 2004). Although much of this research has been in contrast to Blacks/African Americans (Hall, 2002), few research studies have examined the racial attitudes of other racial groups such as Asians and Latinos (Kohatsu et al., 2000). Characterizing racism in terms of Black/White relations avoids some harmful misconceptions (i.e., blaming historically oppressed racial groups for racial biases actually perpetuated and reinforced by White sociopolitical systems), but it does not provide an accurate picture of interracial relations, particularly on multicultural college campuses. Specifically, portraying racism as a Black/White dichotomy reifies "the rhetoric of hierarchy within a single species and in fact provides a conduit for the continued social, economic, and political oppression of all" (Hall, 2002, p. …