Intolerance, threats and verbal insults pervaded the campuses of three predominately White institutions, the University of California, Berkeley, Michigan State University, and Columbia College, according to a student survey in the recently released report, “If I’d Only Known.”
The report reveals that more than 60 percent of students at MSU reported witnessing or personally experiencing such incidents of violence based on intolerance, followed by 49 percent of students at UC Berkeley and 43 percent of students at Columbia.
Detecting low levels of social tolerance in the climate of some institutions for minorities, women and students with religious differences or alternative lifestyles is often difficult. To assist parents and students in evaluating the degree of inclusivity at a university the Campus Tolerance Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to combat racial intolerance, surveyed more than 1,000 undergraduate students at the three universities to measure the current level of inclusivity at those institutions.
The study is not intended to be representative of all campuses, but represents a starting point in gauging campuses for an often overlooked factor that is important to many students.
Research shows that comfortable environments play a major role in minority persistence. Scholars agree that isolation and racial violence contribute to the high minority drop-out rates at some institutions.
“This research did document reports of bias toward members of minority groups,” says Marcella Rosen, founder of the Campus Tolerance Foundation. Since 2002, Rosen and her staff have been working to establish a tolerance rating for universities, as a service to parents and students.
“Are universities doing enough to understand how truly welcome minority groups feel on campus?” asks Rosen. “That’s for each university to answer. But what is clear to me is that universities are not surveying students in a systematic way and allowing families access to that information as they make their decisions about what school their children should attend.”
Because students do not report the vast majority of these incidents, college administrators may not be aware, the survey reports. Nearly 9 in 10 respondents at each campus said they did not report the incidents, bias or harassment that took place.
Choosing the right college can be a difficult task for parents and students as they consider a variety of significant criteria: the cost of attending, the institution’s academic prowess and overall reputation. The racial makeup of the institution, in terms of students and faculty, is oftentimes overlooked, as it was for Krystal Mincey, a May 2007 graduate of UC Berkeley.
“When I was looking into colleges, I was more focused on going to a ‘good school.’ In high school I thought that I should go to the best school I was accepted into. Had I known [about the underrepresentation of Blacks], that would have been taken into consideration,” says Mincey, who is biracial.
Minority students say that when choosing a college, it is important that the college is diverse, or has students from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, according to a poll conducted by Widmeyer Communications, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
The poll also surveyed about 600 current minority college students from across the country and found that 68 percent of minority students agree that diversity was important when they chose what college to attend, including 12 percent who say that it was one of the most important factors in their decision.
In the “If I’d Only Known” study, the lack of intellectual diversity in the classroom was also a problem for some respondents. College classrooms are typically venues where conversations on race, religion and politics take place. However, 42 percent of students at MSU, 32 percent of UC Berkeley students and 17 percent of Columbia students said that professors either teach lessons that are mostly one-sided and miss key perspectives or that some classmates stop themselves from speaking to avoid disagreeing with their professor and other classmates.
In Mincey’s experience the level of intellectual diversity was contingent upon the class. “In my African-American studies classes, where there were more people of color, a diverse array of ideas and opinions emerged from the conversation. Outside of these classes, lectures tended to be one-sided,” she says.
During one of Mincey’s African-American studies classes, one student denounced historically Black colleges and universities as viable institutions for higher learning. That student was confronted by a melee of opposition from the rest of the class including the professor.
“Had that student made those remarks about historically Black colleges in another class, I doubt that he would have been checked the way that he was. Luckily, the professor was knowledgeable on the subject,” Mincey says.
Socially segregated campuses continue to be a problem for many universities. At the three college campuses surveyed, students belonging to different racial or ethnic groups often end up having limited and segregated social relations, the survey reports. Two in three students MSU reported that “where students gather — at parties, in the cafeteria, in dormitories — generally speaking … students tend to form and segregate based on race and ethnicity.”
At UC Berkeley and Columbia 56 and 46 percent of those surveyed, respectively, agreed with that statement.
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