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The persistence of racial discomfort on campus: Ethnographic perspectives from under-represented student researchers

Priscilla Fortier

Keywords: CAMPUS RACIAL CLIMATE; COMFORT LEVEL; DIVERSITY; RACIALISATION; SPACE; UNDER-REPRESENTED MINORITIES; WHITENESS

Abstract

This article describes the findings of an undergraduate Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI) course in which students examined the university's efforts to improve the racial climate of the campus. These institutional efforts are intended to create a more comfortable environment for under-represented minority students who often comprise a significantly smaller group on campus than in their home neighbourhoods and high schools. Many minority group students experience isolation and discomfort connected to a lack of 'ownership' of campus spaces and traditions, which tend to be monopolised by white students. In my EUI class, which was sponsored by the Office of Minority Student Affairs (OMSA) at the University of Illinois (U of I), under-represented minority students focused their ethnographic projects specifically on campus-sponsored programmes intended to facilitate interaction across racial and ethnic groups. Of particular interest to students were programmes related to residence halls and campus social spaces. The findings presented here indicate that campus-sponsored programmes to increase race awareness that depend upon students' voluntary participation may be less effective in bringing students together than required classroom-based programmes and informal interaction through shared extra-curricular passions.

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