Tag Archives: Higher Education

When the n-word appears on the forum wall

How Christians Might Talk About Race

Tattered Rose

(Published in Wheaton College‘s school newspaper, The Record, during the Spring 2012 semester)

forum wall ntalk

This Fall, the Forum Wall served as a venue for incredibly varied attitudes about the issue of race. Posters, letters, drawings, and a vast array of comments responded to student-led initiatives which attempted to promote racial harmony and reconciliation. The culmination of this discussion was the phrase: “This is Nigger talk.” Those four words were explicitly, and anonymously, scribbled on a letter posted on Wheaton College’s own forum wall. While most members of our community do not espouse the overt racism embodied in this phrase, we still tend to avoid engaging in thoughtful, constructive conversations about racism and prejudice. This aversion to race conversations may be a result of the way the conversation is initially presented. I would like to challenge us to go further and examine the way the race conversation is…

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The Prevalence of Racial Microaggressions at Wheaton College: A Sociological Study

My research partner, Laura Becker, and I sought to answer the question: “To what extent does race affect students of color at Wheaton College (Illinois)?” As the former Executive Vice President of Community Diversity on Wheaton’s Student Government, I was constantly fighting an uphill battle with students who denied there was a “race problem” at Wheaton. The goal of our study was to demonstrate with empirical data if a problem did in fact exist—because Wheaton will never adequately address this problem if most students believe that it does not exist.

As such, we conducted a survey-based study of the daily race-related experiences of students at Wheaton. Specifically, we sought to measure the prevalence of racial microaggressions and their effects on students at Wheaton. Similar studies have been conducted at various types of institutions, but none, to our knowledge, have been conducted in an exclusively evangelical institution of higher learning. Below is a summary of the larger paper entitled: The Prevalence of Racial Microaggressions at Wheaton College and Implications for Broader Society (Aguilar and Becker 2013).

Our research hypothesis was that race has a negative effect on the experiences of students of color at Wheaton College. That is, given prior research on microaggressions, students of color will be more likely than white students to be “stressed, upset, or bothered,” by the prevalence of racial microaggressions at Wheaton College. The null hypothesis is that students of color are not any more or less affected by racial microaggressions than white students at Wheaton.

WHAT ARE RACIAL MICROAGGRESSIONS?

While the elements of racism are almost impossible to enumerate, a growing body of literature suggests that racial microaggressions can have substantial adverse effects on the experiences of students and faculty of color in higher education (Solorzano, Ceja, and Yosso 2000; Sue, Capudilupo, and Holder 2008; Pittman 2012).

Racial microaggressions have been defined as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue, Capodilupo, et al. 2007:331). Additionally, “Racial microaggressions refer to the racial indignities, slights, mistreatment, or offenses that people of color may face on a recurrent or consistent basis. Racial microaggression may represent a significant source of stress endured by people of color [emphasis added]” (Torres-Harding et al. 2012:153). These definitions of racial microaggressions were used to study the extent and effect of such interactions at Wheaton College.

While they may seem trivial, researchers have found that microagressions can, “assail the mental health of recipients” (Sue, Capudilupo, and Holder 2008), “create a hostile and invalidating campus environment” (Solorzano, Ceja, and Yosso 2000), “perpetuate stereotype threat” (Steele, Spencer, and Aronson 2002), “create physical health problems” (Clark, Anderson, Clark, and Williams 1999), and “lower work productivity and problem-solving abilities” (Dovidio 2001; Salvatore and Shelton 2007).  The negative consequences of microaggressions may not manifest immediately, but numerous microaggressions over a period of time can have the above consequences for recipients.

DATA AND METHODS

Data was collected through a Student Government-sponsored web-based survey, which was emailed to all undergraduate students at the college. The survey was created on Survey Monkey and available for one week for students to complete online. The response rate was approximately 41% or 992 out of 2,400 undergraduate students. Total students of color equaled: 226 (≈22.8%); Total white students equaled: 766 (≈77.2%). It is significant that our response rate for students of color was over 50% of the students of color at the college. This will allow us to be more confident in generalizing the experiences of respondents to other students of color at Wheaton College. The demographics of the respondents (N=992) are representational of races, genders, majors, and backgrounds at institutions similar to Wheaton College, specifically, to other colleges in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Thus, these findings will have implications for the experiences of students of color at other CCCU schools as well.

The survey included a 30-item scale adapted from existing microaggression scales in the relevant scholarly literature. Items were reworded to make them specific to Wheaton College, and some items were added to address the faith aspect of Wheaton.  For each item presented, respondents were asked to indicate how often they encountered it on a four-point Likert-type scale (1- never, 2 – a little/rarely, 3 – sometimes/a moderate amount, 4 –often/frequently). Samples of statements on the survey include:

  • People at Wheaton College say that there are bigger things to worry about than issues related to race.
  • People at Wheaton College question the legitimacy of a worship or prayer style that is familiar to my racial/ethnic background.
  • At Wheaton College, people of a race/ethnicity other than my own are impressed by “how articulate” I am.
  • People at Wheaton College tell me I should focus on the Gospel instead of focusing on race.
  • People at Wheaton College say or imply that people of my racial/ethnic background are admitted to the college because of affirmative action.
  • At Wheaton College, I see few people of my racial/ethnic background.

To measure if the item was perceived as a racial microaggression, we needed to measure the degree to which the experience was “stressful, upsetting, or bothersome.” Thus, if a respondent indicated the positive occurrence of an item (1 or greater on the occurrence scale), he or she was asked to indicate how stressful, upsetting, or bothersome the experience had been (1 – not at all, 2 – a little, 3 – moderate level, 4 – high level).

The survey responses (N=992) were analyzed statistically using PASW/SPSS, looking for themes and relationships in the data. Two subscales were created to measure the average levels of occurrence (MCROCCUR) and the degree to which students are affected by microggressions (MCRFX) at Wheaton. That is, two subscales were created that measured each student’s average score for the occurrence and effects of all 30 items on the survey. For example, if I answered 2 (a little/rarely) for 10 items, 3 (sometimes/a moderate amount) for 10 items,  1 (never) for 5 items, and 4 (often) for 5 items, then my average score for MCROCCUR would be [(2×10)+(3×10)+(1×5)+(4×5)]/30 = 2.5, which is greater than “a little/rarely” but not quite “sometimes/a moderate amount.” We would interpret this number by saying that my average score for the 30 racial microaggressions on the survey was more than “a little/rarely.” Similarly, the MCRFX subscale measures a student’s average score for the degree to which the items were “stressful, upsetting, or bothersome.” If a student indicated that they did not experience an item on the survey, then the MCRFX score for that particular item would be “0” since not experiencing an item would mean that they had no negative effects related to that item.

DATA ANALYSIS

Statistical analysis of the data showed a higher prevalence of both racial microaggressions and negative effects among students of color at Wheaton compared to white students. A three-model linear regression analysis confirmed our hypothesis that race has a negative effect on the experiences of students of color at Wheaton compared to white students. The coefficients in Model 3 of Table 1 allow us to predict that, holding gender and number of years completed as a student at Wheaton constant, Black or African American students experience a .727 increase, compared to whites, in the mean scores for the occurrence of all 30 microaggressions presented in the survey. This regression coefficient (B) is statistically significant at the .001 level. For Latina/o and Asian students, we can predict that, holding gender and years constant, there are increases of .472 and .497, respectively, in MCROCCUR subscale means compared to whites. These coefficients are statistically significant at the .001 level. Students of two or more races and nonresident or resident aliens had lower regression coefficients than black and Latina/o students, but still showed an increase of experiencing racial microaggressions, and they were statistically significant at the .001 level. The coefficient for female students was not statistically significant. However, the coefficient for “years completed” tells us that that for every year completed at Wheaton, there is an increase of .045 in the MCROCCUR subscale for students of color. The models presented are statistically significant and confirm that being a nonwhite student will increase the number of microaggressions that a student experiences while at Wheaton College. Each race/ethnicity listed in the models is compared to white students.

Table 1 MCROccur

MCRFX measured the average degree to which the microaggressions were “stressful, upsetting, or bothersome,” for each student. In Model 3 of Table 2, we could predict that, holding gender and number of years completed constant, Black or African American students, compared to whites, experience a 1.042 increase in levels of being “stressed, upset, or bothered” by the occurrence of the 30 microaggressions presented in the survey. This regression coefficient (B) was statistically significant at the .001 level. According to this data, African American students experience significantly higher levels of being stressed, upset or bothered due to racial microaggressions more than any other race or ethnicity at Wheaton College. For Latina/o and Asian students, we can predict that, holding gender and years constant, there will be increases of .673 and .644, respectively, in MCRFX subscale means compared to whites. These coefficients are statistically significant at the .001 level. This means that both Latina/o and Asian students are more likely to experience the negative effects of racial microaggressions than white students at Wheaton. Students of two or more races and nonresident or resident aliens had lower regression coefficients than black and Latina/o students, but still showed an increase in experiencing the negative effects of racial microaggressions compared to white students, and they were statistically significant at the .001 and .05 levels, respectively. Female students experienced a slight increase in MCRFX means compared to males when race and years completed are held constant. We also see that with each increase in number of years completed at Wheaton, there is an increase of .088 in the MCRFX subscale – and this is significant.

Table 2 mcrfx

A comparison of MCROCCUR subscale means found that 65% of Black or African American students, 43.75% of Hispanic or Latina/o students, 40% of Asian students, 28.99% of mixed race students, and 14.29% of nonresident or resident alien students at Wheaton college had an average score for experiencing the racial microaggressions on the survey that was more than “A little/rarely.” Only 4.90% of white or Caucasian students had an average MCROCCUR score greater than “A little/rarely.”

iPhoto Library

Likewise, a comparison of MCRFX subscale means found that 35% of Black or African American students, 25% of Hispanic or Latina/o students, 17.72% of Asian students, and 7.25% of mixed race students at Wheaton college had an average score for the effects of the racial microaggressions on the survey that was more than just “A little… stressful, upsetting or bothersome.” Less than 1% of white or Caucasian students had an average MCRFX score greater than “A little.”

MCRFX pic

An additional question attempted to evaluate the level of “environmental/institutional” racism, which yielded the following results. Students of color (29.41%) were significantly more likely than white students (11.23%) to “Somewhat or Strongly Disagree” with the statement: “College Union activities are generally inclusive of racial and ethnic minorities on campus.” Similarly, students of color (42.35%) were significantly less likely than white students (63.10%) to “Somewhat or Strongly Agree” with the same statement. This data shows that white students are less likely to perceive the negative experiences of students of color related to the lack of an inclusive and welcoming campus environment.

CU Inclusivity chart

 DISCUSSION

This study shows that while many students of color at Wheaton College are unaffected by racial microaggressions, a significant percentage not only experience racial microaggressions but are negatively affected by them as well. These students of color must not be ignored, as their experiences are symptomatic of the difficulty of attending a majority white college as a racial minority. With so few students of color at Wheaton already, it is significant that the majority of African-American students (65%) and 43.75% of Hispanic or Latina/o students, 40% of Asian students, 28.99% of mixed race students, and 14.29% of nonresident or resident alien students experience microaggressions more than just “a little/rarely,” compared to only 4.90% of white students. It is even more significant that sizable numbers of racial and ethnic minorities (35% of Black or African American students, 25% of Hispanic or Latina/o students, 17.72% of Asian students) are, on average, more than just “a little” stressed, upset, or bothered by the occurrences of these microaggressions. As stated earlier, microaggressions can have significant negative effects not only on one’s experience, but on one’s physical and mental wellbeing as well. Thus, the data validates our research hypothesis that, race has a negative effect on the experiences of students of color at Wheaton College. In other words, it is undeniable that racial and ethnic minorities at Wheaton are still more likely than white students to have negative college experiences due to their race.

The unique contribution of this study is the particular application of a racial microaggression scale to an evangelical Christian institution. Because of significant similarities between the social demographics of respondents in the study and students at Wheaton College and other CCCU schools, these findings suggest that evangelical colleges have a significant amount of work to do to become welcoming institutions for their nonwhite students.

One may ask why statements such as “we should focus on the Gospel instead of focusing on race,” are upsetting to students of color. As a student of color, I have heard this sentiment from white students many times, and what it tells me is that white students do not see the connection between the experiences of their nonwhite sisters and brothers in Christ and the Gospel. The statement above invalidates the belief that racial reconciliation and equality are part of focusing on the Gospel. In other words, presumably well-meaning white students invalidate my struggles as a student of color by relegating the need to address them as unimportant and unrelated to being a follower of Christ. This, of course, is extremely frustrating when it happens over and over and over.

Similarly, statements such as “people of color are admitted to the college because of affirmative action,” or “we should not lower academic standards to increase diversity,” imply that people of color are less intelligent and/or less qualified than white students. I hope it is obvious why this would be stressful, upsetting, or bothersome to students of color who have to hear this on a regular basis.

WHAT TO DO?

If Wheaton College and presumably other CCCU schools do not address the prevalence of racial microaggressions and their negative effects on students of color, then racial diversity will continue to increase at an excruciatingly slow rate. Students of color who feel alienated and unwelcome while at Wheaton will be less likely to recommend their alma mater to future students of color, thereby decreasing the potential for diversifying Wheaton in the future. The findings of this study also imply the need for structural reform at the top levels of CCCU colleges and universities.  Specifically, four characteristics are commonly thought to be necessary for nurturing a positive campus racial climate:

  1. The inclusion of students, faculty, and administrators of color;
  2. A curriculum that reflects the historical and contemporary experiences of people of color;
  3. Programs to support the recruitment, retention, and graduation of students of color; and
  4. A college/university mission that reinforces the institution’s commitment to multiculturalism (Solorzano et al. 2000:62)

Addressing college campuses about racial microaggressions should not be solely the duty of the faculty members of color, but should be institutionalized components of college orientations, handbooks, and training for staff such as counselors and student leaders such as resident assistants. Because even seemingly trivial microaggressions have significant consequences for their recipients, members of the majority race at CCCU schools should be introduced to the concepts of racial microaggressions to broaden their understanding of the detrimental effects of these actions and words on students of color.

An infrastructure must be created on college campuses to address racism and racial microaggressions as common practice. Regular classes and forums on race and racism, some optional and some mandatory, would be part of this infrastructure, along with required, in-depth training for faculty and staff members to increase their awareness and sensitivity in areas of racial diversity and inclusion. Additional training would allow faculty members and even staff such as resident assistants to regularly and successfully facilitate conversations about race, both inside and outside the classroom (Minikel-Lacocque 2012).

Campus infrastructure addressing race relations must be focused not only on blatant acts of racism but on the seemingly innocuous forms of microaggressions as well. The idea of hidden or subtle racism should be introduced in classes, student orientations, support groups, and social settings so that racial microaggressions can become part of the common conception of racism.

According to Minikel-Lacocque (2012), White students, faculty, and staff in particular must become well versed in the concept of common, often overlooked racial microaggressions. By valuing the voices of people of color and implementing the concept of racial microaggressions into our common discourse on race relations, we can widen the dialogue and move toward a more harmonious racial campus climate at CCCU institutions such as Wheaton College.

APPENDIX 30 Racial Microaggression Items

  • At Wheaton College, I feel ignored in the classroom because of my race/ethnicity.
  • People at Wheaton College say that there are bigger things to worry about than issues related to race.
  • People at Wheaton College question the legitimacy of a worship or prayer style that is familiar to my racial/ethnic background.
  • People at Wheaton College assume I listen to a particular kind of music because of my race/ethnicity.
  • I feel like people at Wheaton College see me as “exotic” in a sexual way because of my race/ethnicity.
  • At Wheaton College, people of a race/ethnicity other than my own are impressed by “how articulate” I am.
  • I notice that my Wheaton College class worship band does not include worship styles familiar to my cultural background.
  • At Wheaton College, sometimes I feel like my contributions are dismissed or devalued because of my racial/ethnic background.
  • People at Wheaton College tell me I should focus on the Gospel instead of focusing on race.
  • I am made to feel as if the cultural values of another race/ethnic group at Wheaton College are appreciated more than my own.
  • People at Wheaton College imply or state that I am not like other people of my racial/ethnic background.
  • Other people at Wheaton College view me in an overly sexual way because of my race/ethnicity.
  • Sometimes, people at Wheaton College assume that I am a foreigner because of my race/ethnicity.
  • At Wheaton College, I see few people of my racial/ethnic background.
  • At Wheaton College, sometimes I feel as if people look past me or act like they don’t see me because of my race/ethnicity.
  • People at Wheaton College tell me that they are not racist or prejudiced because they have friends from different racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  • People at Wheaton College react negatively to the way I dress because of my racial/ethnic background.
  • People at Wheaton College assume I am good at Math because of my race/ethnicity.
  • Other people hold sexual stereotypes about me because of my race/ethnicity.
  • Sometimes I feel like people at Wheaton College ask me where I am from, expecting to hear a location outside of the United States because of my race/ethnicity.
  • I notice that there are few people of my racial/ethnic background who attend churches that are accessible to me at Wheaton College.
  • At Wheaton College, I feel like my perspective on racial issues is dismissed or devalued because of my racial/ethnic background.
  • People at Wheaton College tell me that they are not racist or prejudiced even though they, intentionally or unintentionally, exhibit example(s) of racist or prejudiced behavior.
  • People at Wheaton College say that the college should not lower standards just to increase racial/ethnic diversity.
  • I feel like people assume I would not be interested in a particular activity at Wheaton College because of my race/ethnicity.
  • When I interact with authority figures at Wheaton College, they are usually of a different racial/ethnic background.
  • When I describe a difficulty related to people in my racial/ethnic background, people at Wheaton College tell me that everyone can get ahead if they work hard.
  • People at Wheaton College say or imply that people of my racial/ethnic background are admitted to the college because of affirmative action.
  • It is hard to relate to a professor at Wheaton College because of our racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  • If someone makes a racially insensitive comment in class, I struggle with whether or not I should say something about it in class.

REFERENCES (Cited in paper)

Clark, Rodney, Norman B. Anderson, Vernessa R. Clark, and David R. Williams.  1999.  “Racism as a Stressor for African Americans: A Biopsychosocial Model.”  American Psychologist 54(10):805-816.

Christerson, Brad, Korie L. Edwards, and Michael O. Emerson. 2005. Against all odds : the struggle for racial integration in religious organizations. New York: New York University Press.

Dovidio, John F.  2001.  “On the Nature of Contemporary Prejudice: The Third Wave.”  Journal of Social Issues 57(4):829-849.

Duncan, Garrett Albert. 2005. “Critical race ethnography in education: narrative, inequality and the problem of epistemology.” Race, Ethnicity & Education 8(1).

Emerson, Michael O., and Christian Smith. 2000. Divided by faith: evangelical religion and the problem of race in America. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Emerson, Michael O., and Rodney M. Woo. 2006. People of the dream: multiracial congregations in the United States. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Hatuqa, Dalia. 2006. “Evangelical Colleges Gaining Popularity.” The Times of Northwest Indiana, April 9. Retrieved (http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/article_7ecda610-5f17-5805-8411-d9917172fddc.html).

Howell, Brian. 2012. “Racism without Racists.” The Soapbox. Retrieved (http://brianhowell.blogspot.com/2012/02/racism-without-racists.html).

Joeckel, Samuel, and Thomas Chesnes. 2012. The Christian college phenomenon: inside America’s fastest growing institutions of higher learning. Abilene, Tex.: Abilene Christian University Press.

Kaiser, Cheryl. 2001. “Stop Complaining! The Social Costs of Making Attributions to Discrimination.” Personality social psychology bulletin 27(2):254–63.

Lee, D. John, Alvaro L. Nieves, and Henry Lee Allen. 1991. Ethnic-minorities and evangelical Christian colleges. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America.

McCabe, J. 2009. “Racial and Gender Microaggressions on a Predominantly-White Campus: Experiences of Black, Latina o and White Undergraduates.” Race, gender class 16(1/2):133–51.

Minikel-Lacocque, Julie.  2012.  “Racism, College, and the Power of Words: Racial Microaggressions Reconsidered.”  American Educational Research Journal 56(3):1-30.

Nadal, Kevin L. 2011. “The Racial and Ethnic Microaggressions Scale (REMS): Construction, reliability, and validity.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 58(4):470–80.

Passel, Jeffrey, and D’Vera Cohn. 2008. U.S. Population Projections: 2005–2050. Pew Research Center. Retrieved (http://www.pewhispanic.org/files/reports/85.pdf).

Pierce, C. M. 1977. “An Experiment in Racism: TV Commercials.” Education and urban society 10(1):61–87.

Pittman, Chavella T. 2012. “Racial Microaggressions: The Narratives of African American Faculty at a Predominantly White University.” Journal of Negro Education 81(1):82–92.

Princeton Review, The. 2013. Wheaton College Review. Retrieved (http://www.princetonreview.com/WheatonCollegeIL.aspx).

Reisberg, Leo. 1999. “Enrollments Surge at Christian Colleges.” Chronicle of Higher Education 45(26):A42–A44.

Ryken, Phillip. 2012. “Strategic Priorities.” Wheaton College, May 19. Retrieved (http://www.wheaton.edu/About-Wheaton/Leadership/Strategic-Priorities/~/media/Files/About-Wheaton/Strategic-Priorities-051812.pdf).

Salvatore, Jessica, and J. Nicole Shelton.  2007.  “Cognitive Costs of Exposure to Racial Prejudice.”  Psychological Science 16(5):810-815.

Smith, William A., Walter R. Allen, and Lynette L. Danley. 2007. “‘Assume the Position . . . You Fit the Description’.” American Behavioral Scientist 51(4):551–78.

Solorzano, Daniel, Miguel Ceja, and Tara Yosso. 2000. “Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus Racial Climate: The Experiences of African American College Students.” The Journal of Negro Education 69(1/2, Knocking at Freedom’s Door: Race, Equity, and Affirmative Action in U.S. Higher Education):60–73.

Steele, Claude M., Steven J. Spencer, and Joshua Aronson.  2002.  “Contending with Group Image: The Psychology of Stereotype and Social Identity Threat.”  Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 34:389-402.

Sue, Derald Wing, Christina M. Capodilupo, et al.  2007.  “Microaggressions in Everyday LIfe: Implications for Clinical Practice.”  American Psychologist 62(4):271-286.

Sue, Derald Wing, Christina M. Capodilupo, and A.M.B. Holder.  2008.  “Racial Microaggressions in the Life Experience of Black Americans.”  Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 39(3):229-336.

Sue, Derald Wing, Annie I. Lin, et al.  2009.  “Racial Microaggressions and Difficult Dialogues on Race in the Classroom.”  Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 15(2):183-190.

Sue, Derald Wing. 2010. Microaggressions in Everyday life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

Sue, Derald Wing, David P. Rivera, et al. 2011. “Racial Dialogues: Challenges Faculty of Color Face in the Classroom.” Cultural diversity & ethnic minority psychology 17(3):331–40.

Swim, Janet. 2003. “African American College Students’ Experiences with Everyday Racism: Characteristics of and Responses to These Incidents.” Journal of Black Psychology 29(1):38–67.

Torres-Harding, Susan, Alejandro L. Jr Andrade, and Crist E. Romero Diaz. 2012. “The Racial Microaggressions Scale (RMAS): A new scale to measure experiences of racial microaggressions in people of color.” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 18(2):153–64.

Yancey, George A. 2010. Neither Jew nor gentile: exploring issues of racial diversity on Protestant college campuses. New York: Oxford University Press.

For Christ and His White Kingdom – An open letter to the Wheaton College Community on White Supremacy

In February 2012, Wheaton College was jolted by a racial incident infamously known as: #chapeltweets. Participants in the Rhythm & Praise chapel service at this small evangelical liberal arts college (with the motto: “For Christ and His Kingdom”) were publicly mocked and insulted on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook.  The chapel service, which presented forms of music, dancing, and painting largely from the African American tradition, was derided as an unworthy expression of worship. Tweets and memes ranged from being naïve and racially insensitive to malicious and borderline overtly racist. Examples include (more at the end of the post):

chapeltweetblackkids

black father meme chapel breakdancing meme chapeltweetsblackface chapeltweetsentertainment chapeltweetblackjoker terrorist meme

In the aftermath of these and other tweets, many students responded by downplaying the importance of race, claiming that the tweets were not offensive and that students of color who were upset were being overly sensitive. While the initial furor of the Chapel Tweets incident has died down, students of color continue to be underrepresented at Wheaton College. Moreover, the elephant in the room has not been addressed—that is, Wheaton College and other white evangelical institutions in the U.S. continue to operate to varying degrees under the framework of white supremacy.

Yes, white supremacy is the ethos of my alma mater, but here is what I am not saying: I do not believe that the people running the school or even most of the student body are white supremacists, if by the term, you mean they embody racial hatred and believe that the white race is superior to others. No, it is much more subtle (and systemic) than that—but this is the ethos of Wheaton, nonetheless.

I graduated from Wheaton in May 2013 and could very easily rid myself of anything concerning it, but two main things have urged me to write about my experience with white supremacy at Wheaton College. First, white supremacy is evil and when left unchecked has spawned the suffering of countless innocent people all over the globe. Second, I actually do care about the future of Wheaton, because I believe there are good people there who could transform it into an institution that cultivates students and leaders for improving our world.

Today, the inertia of white supremacy continues to drive racial inequalities in the U.S.—Wheaton College is no exception to this phenomena. I want to briefly outline some racial inequalities in the U.S. then talk about how racial inequalities at Wheaton are embedded in this system of white supremacy as well. When referring to Wheaton College, I am working primarily with an understanding of white supremacy as a system. See Tim Wise’s definition below:

As a system, racism is an institutional arrangement, maintained by policies, practices and procedures — both formal and informal — in which some persons typically have more or less opportunity than others, and in which such persons receive better or worse treatment than others, because of their respective racial identities. Additionally, institutional racism involves denying persons opportunities, rewards, or various benefits on the basis of race [whether intentionally or unintentionally], to which those individuals are otherwise entitled. In short, racism is a system of inequality, based on race.

White supremacy is the operationalized form of racism in the United States and throughout the Western world. Racism is like the generic product name, while white supremacy is the leading brand, with far and away the greatest market share.

WHITE SUPREMACY IN THE U.S.

This blog is insufficient to provide an adequate lesson in the history and development of white supremacy, such as: European conquest and colonization, Native American genocide, Black-African slavery, the Jim Crow Era, programmatic racial segregation, New Jim Crow, etc. Still, let’s examine, briefly, some current racial inequalities that people could explain by saying that either, “people of all races have equal opportunities, thus disparities are a result of flaws in certain groups’ cultures” or current disparities are a function of white supremacy.

According to a 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, wealth gaps between white, Hispanic, and black households have risen to record highs in the United States.

median net worth by race

In 2009, the median net worth (MNW)[1] of white households was “20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households” (Kochhar, Fry, and Taylor 2011:1). The U.S. poverty rate for African-Americans and Hispanics is 25.8% and 23.2%, respectively; whereas poverty rate for whites is 11.6% (Macartney, Bishaw, and Fontenot 2013).

A study of all 3,141 counties in the United States, published by the University of California Press, provided “a place-based portrait of spatial inequality and concentrated poverty over the past two decades” (Lichter, Parisi, and Taquino 2012:370). The study finds there are disproportionately high levels of poverty concentration among black and Latina/o populations compared to non-Hispanic whites. Based on the latest data from 2009, 36.3% of the total black population lives in high-poverty places, while 49.2% of poor blacks are concentrated in high-poverty places.[2] For all Hispanics, 23.9% live in high-poverty places, while 33.3% of poor Hispanics live in these communities as well. In sharp contrast, only 11.1% of non-Hispanic whites live in poor communities (Lichter et al. 2012). Additionally, research indicates that over 60% of black and Hispanic students attend public schools where the majority of students are below the poverty line; compared to only “18 percent of white students” who attend high-poverty schools (Logan, Minca, and Adar 2012:288).

I hope it is obvious that I do not believe that these stark racial disparities are a result of morally devoid cultures in black and brown communities. Social scientists have presented ample evidence for the origins of racial segregation in past discriminatory housing practices such as “redlining,” restrictive covenants, and steering (Massey and Denton 1993; Sernau 2006). Racial residential segregation of people of color is one of the most damning tools of white supremacy, which perpetuates race disparities in areas of wealth, incarceration rates, employment discrimination, and more. Another leading cause of racial disparities in the U.S. is related to the underrepresentation of students of color in higher education. It is evident that a degree in higher education can be a ticket out of poverty.

RACIAL INEQUALITIES AT MY ALMA MATER

When we examine the racial demographics of Wheaton College, through data from the US Census Bureau and Wheaton College’s Office of Institutional Research (only accessible while on-campus through Wheaton’s intranet), we see that Wheaton falls unacceptably below average in providing equal access to education for black and Latina/o students. Data for 2010, indicates that the enrollment percentage at Wheaton College was a paltry 2.90% for black or African-Americans and 3.90% for Hispanic or Latina/o students. In comparison, enrollment at peer institutions during the same time period was 9.20% for black or African-Americans and 6.20% for Hispanic or Latina/o students. Enrollment for all 4-year, private nonprofit colleges/universities in the U.S., during the same time, was 12.92% for black or African-Americans and 8.06% for Hispanic or Latina/o students.

In other words minority enrollment averages at peer institutions are double what they are at Wheaton; minority enrollment averages in all 4-year, private nonprofit colleges/universities are three times greater than they are at Wheaton. Moreover, in 1976, the total minority undergraduate population in the U.S. was 16.6%. By 2004, the total minority undergraduate population in the U.S. had nearly doubled to 32.5%, while Wheaton College, in 2012, had remained thirty years behind the national trends at a disgustingly low 17.5% total minority undergraduate population—or as the Wheaton website describes it “just shy of 20% of the campus.”

Source: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2011, Enrollment component. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-psi-1.asp

Source: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2011, Enrollment component. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-psi-1.asp

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2005 (NCES 2006-030), table 205, data from the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities" surveys, 1976 and 1980, and 1990 through 2004 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Fall Enrollment" survey, 1990, and Spring 2001 through Spring 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/minoritytrends/tables/table_a23_1.asp Source 2: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2005 (NCES 2006-030), table 205, data from the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), “Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities” surveys, 1976 and 1980, and 1990 through 2004 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), “Fall Enrollment” survey, 1990, and Spring 2001 through Spring 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/minoritytrends/tables/table_a23_1.asp
Source 2: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf

So what is Wheaton’s excuse for denying equal access to higher education for black and Latina/o students, thereby participating in the larger framework of white supremacy? Certainly, it is not the lack of black and Latina/o students in higher education as evinced by the significantly higher averages at other schools. (Cue  attempts to justify low enrollment rates for students of color at Wheaton by attributing it to “personal choice” or something like that. Also, this is where many people will say, in so many words, “Yeah, but Wheaton isn’t all that bad when you compare it to other similar colleges that are doing a horrible job at enrolling students of color!”)

WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CHAPELTWEETS?

Wheaton College does not have to have an active policy of denying people of color access to their institution in order to perpetuate white supremacy, but the fact remains that African-American and Latina/o students are egregiously underrepresented at Wheaton. Of course, this reality is complex, but based on my three years as a student and two years as the Executive Vice President of Community Diversity on Student Government, I want to offer what I think contributes to Wheaton’s complicity in white supremacy.

After the #chapeltweets incident, a few dozen students rallied together to respond to the insensitivity and racism of their fellow students. We met through the late hours of the night trying to figure out how to respond. #Chapeltweets was unique, because it was so public and galvanized our emotions and desire for change. Students of color (and a few white students) had had enough with racial insensitivity, ignorant jokes, and lack of institutional support for race-related equity on campus. So, we drafted a petition called, The Diversity Initiatives: A petition for institutional change. In it, we described the reality of white supremacy at Wheaton College as such:

The pain, frustration, and anger of many students at Wheaton College stems from a much deeper place than #chapeltweets. Many unique challenges for students of minority cultures, races, or ethnicities exist. These unique challenges do not affect ALL [students of color] or ONLY [students of color], but those students who do not fit into the dominant American, white, middle to upper- middle class, culture. While overt racism is not rampant, issues of racial prejudice, cultural supremacy, ethnocentrism, and insensitivity afflict these students in profound ways. For many, it is not an acute, shooting pain that can be described in one incident. Rather, it is the dull, subtle, and constant reminder that students of minority cultures are merely invited guests in someone else’s home. Furthermore, the College has unintentionally affirmed and reinforced the elevated status of dominant white culture among our community, as a result of inadequate intervention in institutional practices that affect the campus climate.

The emphasis on quantity over quality, regarding the approach to increasing diversity, has neglected the experiences of minority culture students once they arrive on campus.

Whether it is the lack of professors and staff members with whom we can identify culturally (88.3% all-white faculty and 87.7% all-white staff), the lack of College Union events that are inclusive of people of color (91% of all artists/bands hosted by College Union between 2000 and 2012 were white), the lack of academic material that educates our peers about white supremacy, the lack of affirmation of our own cultures on a less-than-superficial basis, or the lack of significant support for student-led initiatives that attempt to promote racial understanding on campus, students of color eventually realize that Wheaton College is an institution primarily for its white American students.

A list of concert artists/bands was provided by the Assistant Director of Student Activities at Wheaton College. Members of the community diversity committee searched artist/band webpages, billboard charts and Wikipedia to ascertain background information on the artists above

A list of concert artists/bands was provided by the Assistant Director of Student Activities at Wheaton College. Members of the community diversity committee searched artist/band webpages, billboard charts and Wikipedia to ascertain background information on the artists above

My former Professor of Anthropology wrote that, “Racism does not require racists. All it needs to thrive is people who deny the wider historical and cultural context in which their words and thoughts live.” I’m here to tell you that the denial of white supremacy is the pervasive attitude among Wheaton students. Year after year, a loud contingent of Wheaton College students vehemently deride “student-led initiatives which [attempt] to promote racial harmony and reconciliation” on campus.

Most white students at Wheaton, however, will tell you that racism is not a problem on campus. They are partly right. Most white students at Wheaton are willfully oblivious to the effects of white supremacy on campus, because it literally only affects a pittance of the campus population. So it’s understandable that white students would say that something that they do not see is not a problem. Let me take this brief moment to acknowledge the voices of white students who feel marginalized by my words. First, I have found that white people who acknowledge the reality of white supremacy tend not to get offended when people of color merely state that it exists or when we point out that most white people deny its existence. If you are white and you are aware that white supremacy is a problem, not only in the U.S., but also systemically at Wheaton, then I am probably not describing you in this post. If you feel offended by my description of white apathy toward racial realities at Wheaton, then I can think of no other reason for you being offended other than you do not agree that white supremacy is a problem on campus, and thus, you would fall into the category of students that I am describing. To deny white supremacy is to deny the experiences of students of color who are affected by it. To deny the experiences of anyone is to deny their existence, which is why students affected by white supremacy are further marginalized on campus.

I can tell you what all of this means to me. It means that as a result of Wheaton’s failure to educate its students on the reality of white supremacy in the country and abroad, and as a result of the racially apathetic student culture that derives from the institutional failure to affirm minority cultures, that I will not be recommending Wheaton College to any students of color without any serious caveats for how they will feel alienated merely because they won’t fit in with the dominant and celebrated white culture on campus. I know for a fact that I am not the only alumnus of color who feels this way. So if Wheaton wants to increase its enrollment averages for African-American and Latina/o students, I suggest (for now):

  • Make radical changes to how the most-supported campus organizations promote and exalt white culture
  • Drastically increase funding for students of color from low-income communities to attend Wheaton
  • Implement a serious academic curriculum that lightens the burden of small student groups like Solidarity Cabinet to educate the campus community about race and puts it on the faculty through a required “gen-ed” on race relations in the U.S.
  • Be sincere about claims related to hiring more faculty of color (and all claims related to diversity for that matter)

At this point, I am not interested in talking about small changes to the structure (and infrastructure) of Wheaton College. If it were even 20 years ago, then maybe we could still give Wheaton a pat on the back for trying to resist white supremacy through one or two added scholarships for Latina/o students, a half-funded scholarship for African-American students, a small change here, a small change there…but it’s almost 2014 and what we need is results! Real results are past due. We will celebrate Wheaton’s achievements on race relations when they are worth celebrating for our time.

I’m speaking to everyone in the Wheaton Community whether you are a student, faculty, administrator, staff, or alumni. Let’s urge the institution to put its money where its mouth is and to provide equal access to higher education for African-American and Latina/o students, immediately—because diversity is more than just “colorful” photos on pamphlets, brochures and websites, and thirty years behind national trends is unacceptable.

Works Cited

Kochhar, Rakesh, Richard Fry, and Paul Taylor. 2011. Weatlh Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center. Retrieved (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2011/07/SDT-Wealth-Report_7-26-11_FINAL.pdf).

Lichter, Daniel T., Domenico Parisi, and Michael C. Taquino. 2012. “The Geography of Exclusion: Race, Segregation, and Concentrated Poverty.” Social Problems 59(3):364–88.

Logan, John R., Elisabeta Minca, and Sinem Adar. 2012. “The Geography of Inequality: Why Separate Means Unequal in American Public Schools.” Sociology of Education 85(3):287–301.

Macartney, Suzanne, Alemayehu Bishaw, and Kayla Fontenot. 2013. Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race and Hispanic Groups by State and Place: 2007-2011. Washington, D.C.: United States Census Bureau. Retrieved (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-17.pdf).

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. “American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass.” in The inequality reader : contemporary and foundational readings in race, class, and gender, edited by David B. Grusky and Szonja Szelényi. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Sernau, Scott. 2006. Worlds Apart : Social Inequalities in a Global Economy. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press.

Related Images of Wheaton College Racism:

forum wall ntalkpendulum danny aguilarSTARSForumWall chapeltweetEJchapeltweetCrazinesschapeltweetsairplaneflaggerchapeltweetsblacksinforum wall postsolidarity meme 3The_Diversity_Initiative_(update) image 2The_Diversity_Initiative_(update) page 2


[1] MNW “is the accumulated sum of assets (houses, cars, savings and checking accounts, stocks and mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc.) minus the sum of debt (mortgages, auto loans, credit card debt, etc.)” (Kochhar, Fry, and Taylor 2011:4).

[2] Individuals were considered poor if they lived in families with incomes below the official U.S. government poverty threshold for their family size.

Addendum:

I am adding this addendum because I do care about Wheaton College, very much so. Do not take my strong language as hateful, but please read it as passionate (and frustrated with failed efforts to work within the system for two difficult years). I tried to make it clear that I do not believe that people are actually operating as conscious white supremacists, but evidently that is not as clear to some people.

Either way, PLEASE READ: An Open Letter to Students and Alumni of Color at Wheaton College by Brian Howell.
http://brianhowell.blogspot.com/2013/12/an-open-letter-to-students-and-alumni.html

Thank you, Brian, for this follow up to my blogpost. There is nothing in this post with which I disagree. You certainly emphasized some of the progress more than I did, and that is fine. My intention was not to imply that nothing has been done at all, or that there weren’t any people at Wheaton who have been sincerely trying to work hard to change the institution for a very long time.
Indeed, there are many people striving for change who I have worked with personally…and there are many who resisted me and continue to resist change as well.

I still affirm my claims that the institution has not supported these individuals enough to make the changes that are necessary for the college to be where it should be in 2014.

By the institution, then, I’m referring to people who for whatever reason haven’t made the decisions that would radically change the policies that continue to support white supremacy. My one fear with your blogpost is that some people might say, “see Wheaton has been making some progress! Therefore, we do not need to keep putting pressure on them to do more.”…To do what is necessary.

Finally, my post was indeed a call to action, a call to stay engaged or to get even more engaged, NOT a call to withdraw from all things Wheaton.

Thanks again for joining the conversation (as you have been for so long. Indeed, I learned a lot of what I know, from you.)

When the n-word appears on the forum wall

(Published in Wheaton College‘s school newspaper, The Record, during the Spring 2012 semester)

forum wall ntalk

This Fall, the Forum Wall served as a venue for incredibly varied attitudes about the issue of race. Posters, letters, drawings, and a vast array of comments responded to student-led initiatives which attempted to promote racial harmony and reconciliation. The culmination of this discussion was the phrase: “This is Nigger talk.” Those four words were explicitly, and anonymously, scribbled on a letter posted on Wheaton College’s own forum wall. While most members of our community do not espouse the overt racism embodied in this phrase, we still tend to avoid engaging in thoughtful, constructive conversations about racism and prejudice. This aversion to race conversations may be a result of the way the conversation is initially presented. I would like to challenge us to go further and examine the way the race conversation is being received and interpreted.

Conversations which attempt to foster a process of racial reconciliation can become deeply personal. Most initiatives that highlight race are intended to raise awareness of and concern for race-based norms and hierarchies in the world, but are often interpreted as personal accusations of racism and attempts to elicit guilt. In other words, we tend to hear a “Racism exists in the world” message, and interpret it as a “You are Racist” message.

Conversations that examine race in the world can encourage us to consider the way our own prejudices have been formed. This can be difficult because it is generally a hard thing to admit our flaws. Yet, in most instances when we are informed of a personal shortcoming, we admit we are not perfect and attempt to correct our flaws. In contrast, Jay Smooth, a popular radio host, argues that when talking about racism and prejudice we create an “all or nothing, good person/bad person, binary” in which we either are or are not racist.

Smooth says this binary causes us to look at racism and prejudice as if they are akin to tonsils. We either have them or we don’t. So, if we have had our prejudice “removed,” we never need to consider our actions regarding race. Smooth states that this mindset presses us to refute allegations of subconscious prejudice by saying: “But no, my prejudice was removed in 2005, I went to see that movie Crash, so it’s all good.”

Unfortunately, prejudices do not work in that “once removed, always removed” way. We are “daily bombarded by mass media and social stimuli, as well as subconscious mental processes, that cause us to build up traces of prejudice everyday,” which Smooth describes as “plaque building up on our teeth.” According to the binary, any suggestion that we have been less than perfect implies that we are racist; this is a false dichotomy. Consequently, we become resistant to any suggestion that we are flawed in our view of race, in fear of receiving that dreaded label. This belief that we must be perfect in order to be good, becomes an obstacle to being as good as we can be.

Smooth argues that we must shift from the mindset that being a good person is a fixed immutable characteristic, such as “not racist,” and shift towards the premise that being good is something we practice by addressing our imperfections. Followers of Christ refer to this as the process of sanctification, in which cleansing from sin is a process, not a moment. Analogously, we improve society by addressing its imperfections.

Think of being good in the same way that you think of being a clean person. We do not assume that because we are clean people then we do not need to brush our teeth. Smooth relates becoming indignant to race conversations with responding to the statement that you have something stuck in your teeth by saying: “What do you mean, I have something stuck in my teeth!? I am a clean person!” Instead of taking it as an indictment of our goodness, we must shift towards taking it as an act of kindness and Love when someone tells us we, or the world, have something “racist” stuck in our teeth.

I was still hurt, disturbed, and discouraged by some of the words I read on the Forum Wall. Transforming the way we think and talk about race with one another is essential to moving forward in addressing broader systemic racial disparities in areas of income, median net worth, educational attainment, infant mortality rate, incarceration, capital punishment, and more.  At Wheaton College these disparities are apparent in the makeup of the student body, faculty, and staff, which are not representative of the general population, let alone the racial and ethnic diversity of the Body of Christ.

As members of this community, we chose to uphold a mission to “help build the church and improve society worldwide.” We know that racist attitudes, whether tacit, overt, or subconscious, exist in the world, even at Wheaton College. It is incumbent upon us to address these imperfections in order to fulfill the mission to improve society worldwide. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Will you be silent, or will you join the conversation?