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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Recent Racial Incidents in Higher Education: A Contemporary Perspective


In recent years,there has been a resurgence of racial/ethnic conflict at predominantly White institutions of higher education. Incidents of harassment and violence at the University of Michigan, the University of Massachusetts and other campuses have highlighted the continuing racial/ethnic divisions among majority and minority students (Wilkerson 1988; Farrell 1988a and 1988b; Simpson 1987; Williams 1987). These incidents have emerged during a period when the society, in general, has expressed concern about the declining enrollment of racial minorities -- particularly Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans -- and, to a lesser extent, Asians, in higher education. Therefore, it is ironic that those minority students already enrolled in predominantly White institutions of higher education are experiencing increasing levels of racial/ethnic discrimination and feelings of isolation.

To that end, this paper is a preliminary attempt to develop a perspective on this apparently worsening situation. In order to establish a contemporary understanding of this problem, a general content analytical technique was employed to delineate the most significant contemporary issues/factors surrounding racial/ethnic incidents on the campuses of predominantly White institutions of higher education (Borg and Gall 1979; Babbie 1983). Content analysis has been determined to be an effective tool for monitoring social change. During the past year, there has been an emergence of reportorial interest in racial/ethnic conflict on White university campuses, thus the employment of this technique. The basic approach was to examine the patterns of focus in selected newspapers and related publications and to summarize emergent themes and trends.

For the purpose of this qualitative analysis, a national newspaper, The New York Times, a local newspaper and selected black-oriented newspapers were reviewed for the calendar years 1987 through June, 1988. In addition, related books, articles and periodicals on higher education issues also were assessed. The specific objectives of this investigation were to:

- to provide an overview of minority students on White college campuses,

- to examine the general perceptions of racism in contemporary society,

- to determine the scope of racial/ethnic incidents on campus of predominantly White institutions of higher education, and

- to assess prospects for change.

The main results of this analysis indicate that Blacks were the primary minority group impacted by these "reported" racial incidents, but Hispanics and Asians also have been found to be experiencing increased levels of 'actual" and "perceived"racial discrimination. Native Americans have not emerged in this content analysis as being victims of "reported" racial incidents in contemporary higher education.

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