Students’ sense of belonging and discrimination vary based on race

In light of the recent Flat Hat article about insensitive party themes on campus which generated so much discussion, we decided to look at some hard numbers in the hopes of clearing up some of the confusion shrouding a real problem on our campus, and perhaps starting a more productive conversation.

Our data was taken from campus-wide surveys administered by the Multi-institutional Study of Leadership in the spring of 2012. It asked students to describe their sense of belonging on campus, and if they felt that the College of William and Mary has a non-discriminatory climate. The survey used a scale of one to five; student responses of one represented “strongly disagree” while five represented “strongly agree.” Threes are not included on our graphs, which is why the response rates do not always add up to 100 percent. The averages provide a school-wide sense of belonging and non-discriminatory climate.

The survey looked not only at discrepancies in opinion among students of different ethnicities, but also among those of differing sexual orientations, genders and social classes. Interestingly, students who identify as LGBTQ rated their sense of belonging as one of the highest on campus, which suggests that our school is very accepting of LGBTQ students. However, those who would rather not disclose their sexual orientation reported feeling far more disconnected than others. That sense of belonging notably decreases steadily after freshman year of college. This could be due to the increasing rigor of academics cutting into time with friends, leaving the nuclear freshman hall experience, or the more future-oriented mindset of many juniors and seniors concerned with finding jobs or placement at graduate schools.

However, the most relevant charts are those showing the opinions of minority students. The graphs show that among racial minorities —  particularly black students and those who identified as “Other” —  there is a lower sense of belonging than for white students. However, those who identify as Other showed a higher probability of labeling the College’s climate as a non-discriminatory, suggesting that their sense of disconnection is less affected by discrimination than it is by other factors. Notably, the majority of minority students agree that the College does have a non-discriminatory climate; it’s just that their averages are far lower than that for white students. It’s this discrepancy that is concerning.

Data like this cannot accurately locate the specific causes or sources of underlying tension; it can only identify problems. Whatever the reason, minority students — particularly black students —  feel less welcome here, and some even feel discriminated against. It is clear that there is a lack of understanding and awareness about the role race plays in our community at the College. The next step is engaging in a greater conversation about racial issues in our community and on our campus.



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