Report reveals racism on campus

By Maggie Sullivan

Tanisha King, director of the University Tenant Unionmp, said an undergraduate professor at the University once told her as a student that, “Black people don’t go backpacking because they are poor.”

In response to the comment, King said she complained to the department, but was told by administrators she was only complaining because she was upset by her grade.

“That’s micro-invalidation,” King said. “You’re invalidating the experience I had by telling me it’s not true.”

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    Stacy Harwoodmp, associate professor of Urban and Regional Planning, and her research team released “Racial Microaggressions in the Classroom” in March. The report included the researchers’ findings from a 2011-2012 online survey racial microaggressions students of color face at the Universitymp.

    The report defines microaggressions as behaviors or verbal remarks that convey rudeness, insensitivity and demean an individual’s racial heritage or identity.

    “Going into the classroom is a little bit like a battleground,” Harwood said. “And we need to change that.”

    Of the Urbana campus’ 10,800 students color who were eligible for the survey, over 4,800 participated.

    Fifty-one percent of students who took the survey reported experiences of stereotyping in the classroommp. Twenty-seven percent reported they felt their contributions to class discussions were minimized because of race, and they were made to feel inferior when they spoke. Thirty-nine percent of students reported feeling uncomfortable on campus because of their race, and the place most cited for discomfort was “fraternity or sorority certified housing.”mp

    “You’re not alone, and you’re not the only one experiencing these things,” King said.

    Harwood and her panel of student research assistants held a discussion on their findings in the report at the Spurlock Museum in Aprilmp.

    “It’s easier to deal with situations of inequality when it’s overt,” said Chancellor Phyllis Wise at the presentation. “It’s much more difficult to deal with topics of microaggression, where if you’re not careful, you might not even realize it’s happening.”

    The report was issued while the University received criticism for its low enrollment of students of color, especially African-American students. According to the University’s Division of Management Information reports, African-American students comprised less than five percent of the total student population 2014-2015 academic yearmp.

    According to Harwood’s report, actions such as developing critical thinking, increasing intellectual engagement and broadening cultural awareness can enrich higher education. However, the report stated minority students who add diversity to the University’s campus often feel unwelcome.

    It also stressed the importance of students, faculty and staff working together to end racial microaggressions and make students feel more welcomed at the University.

    “Part of it is trying to get people to talk, think more proactively and not be passive,” Harwood said. “Learn to talk about it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”

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