Illinois University Survey Reveals Some Ugly Truths About On-Campus Racism

By Miriam Zoila Pu00e9rez May 21, 2015

A research team at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign has released a new report today which analyzed the findings of a survey filled out by 4,800 domestic students of color at the university.

It’s the second report from an interdisciplinary research project called "Microaggressions." The first report, released in 2010, focused on experiences of students of color in university housing. This most recent report focused on the experiences of students of color in the classroom. From the report:

Over half of participants (51 percent) reported experiences of stereotyping in the classroom. About a third (27 percent) of the students of color reported feeling that their contributions in different learning contexts were minimized and that they were made to feel inferior because of the way they spoke. Additionally, a quarter (25 percent) of students of color reported feeling that they were not taken seriously in class because of their race.

The report, which is based on the survey responses of 45 percent of domestic students on color on campus, paints a pretty depressing picture of the everyday microaggressions faced by students at the university—from the lecture hall, to their advisor’s office, to small group work and informal conversations with other students.

The survey questions were mostly quantitative, but there were a few open-ended questions that solicited many first-hand accounts of microagressions:

"I didn’t understand one of the concepts [the instructor] was talking about and asked him to slow down. He made fun of me and said, ‘Hey everyone, I guess I have to slow down for the Chinese girl.’ The entire class did not react very well with it; no one thought it was funny. (Asian, Female)"

"My Native perspectives are often not granted validity or even a chance for discussion because they assume my ideas stem from my heritage and not scientific insights… when the value of life or the environment is discussed my Native beliefs are often viewed as primitive. (Native American, Male)"

"…when it’s time to separate into groups it seems the Black student is always the last person to find a group. It makes me feel invisible as if I don’t, or shouldn’t, exist here. (African American, Male)"

The survey also revealed race and gender differences in the experiences of microagressions: "For all the questions, Black students reported the highest percentages of racial microaggressions among the racial and ethnic groups. Men of color reported experiencing slightly more racial microaggressions in the classroom than women of color."

The report includes recommendations for how to improve experiences for students of color by addressing these microaggressions through initiatives like training for faculty, staff and students, better record keeping, and encouraging campus dialogue.