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Title:A qualitative study on White students’ understanding of racism at a predominantly White university
Author(s):Teitelbaum, Emily R
Director of Research:Hood, Denice W
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hood, Denice W
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Pak, Yoon; Trent, William T; Zamani-Gallaher, Eboni
Department / Program:Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Discipline:Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):higher education
racial microaggressions
White students
White privilege
Abstract:Racism and racial microaggressions on college campuses are daily occurrences for students of color, with White students usually being the perpetrators (Bonilla-Silva, 2018; Sue et al, 2007). Most studies on racism and perceptions of racism are done from the points of view of students of color (e.g., Harper, 2013; Hurtado & Carter, 1997; Smith, Mustaffa, Jones, Curry, & Allen, 2016; Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Tawa, Suyemoto, & Roemer, 2012). At a flagship, Midwestern PWI and selective Research 1 university, this study aimed to understand the process through which White students understand and perceive racism, including how they make meaning of the motivations and behaviors associated with the subtle and overt actions of racial microaggressions. An exploratory qualitative design was employed in order to learn about White students’ perceptions of racism and racial microaggressions. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten White American students, three times each, to hear their points of view regarding racism and racial microaggressions. Using a thematic analysis, five overarching themes were identified: Privilege, Racism, Working Towards Understanding, Affirmative Action, and Politics. When presented with four scenarios containing racial microaggressions, all of the participants demonstrated knowledge of what microaggressions were. However, the findings revealed that each participant (at least once) either found nothing wrong or defended the perpetrator for not having malintent. It appears that recognition of microaggressions is separate from denunciation. Each participant also had a different definition of racism from one another. While they shared their own definitions, most of the participants’ definitions did not explain racism further than blatant, explicit acts. Each student acknowledged racism exists today, yet the majority believe it has drastically declined, dovetailing with Bonilla-Silva’s (2018) findings. This study suggests that most of the White participants are not understanding of the experiences of students of color and that most think racism is only overt, hateful acts against people of color, complementing previous studies (Bonilla-Silva, 2018; Cabrera, 2014; Harper, 2012). Most of these White college students did not understand nuances of racism nor how deeply engrained it is in our society, as colorblind ideology (Bonilla-Silva, 2018), aversive racism (Dovidio, 1996), and the racial microaggressions framework (Sue et al., 2007) propose. However, a few of the students were indeed more aware and understanding, perhaps being further along with their White racial identity development. In order for White students to begin to understand the intricacies of racism and work to dismantle it, we must start teaching about racism as it is: a spectrum, not a good person/bad person binary. These findings do not imply, however, that diversity workshops/trainings and courses do not work; such learning opportunities, when done well, are worthwhile, and diversity among higher education students, faculty and staff is valuable.
Issue Date:2020-04-27
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Emily Teitelbaum
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-26
Date Deposited:2020-05

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