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Racism in Higher Education

Madeline Levy Cruz

HE525 Student Issues in Higher Learning
Dr. Tanya Saddler

The film Higher Learning (1995) depicts many of the issues that the modern day student faces in higher education. From lack of customer service from administrative entities to sexual identity confusion, a college student must meet many challenges and obstacles in and out of the classroom to successfully navigate through these formative years. In this analysis we will look at one specific issue in higher education, the issue of racism. Further, we will look at a racial identity development models to determine what the needs of students are and in what ways the institution, through its faculty and administration, can meet those needs.

“Without struggle, there is no progress” quotes Professor Phipps in the film Higher Learning (Singleton, 1995). This famous Fredrick Douglass quote is the epitome of racial identity development theory. Malik, the African American student in the film, is faced with several issues as he enters higher education. In the opening scenes we see him walking through a sea of predominantly white students, as he enters the elevator to get to his dormitory, a white female student in the elevator holds her purse closer to her body, a tell-tale sign of micro-aggression. Further, he is singled out for non-payment of his tuition during class, and must maintain his sports scholarship and his grades to get the ‘higher education’ that will allow him to be successful. Each of these incidences are issues that many racial and ethnic minorities must deal with in higher education, add to these the vectors described by Chickering, such as competence, managing emotions and autonomy, (Evans, 1998) and our student is faced with what can appear to be an insurmountable task, one that may lead him to believe that higher education is not worth the work.

Chickering’s revised theory suggests that students must move through seven vectors in order to develop psychosocially. These vectors are: Developing Competence, Managing Emotions, Moving through Autonomy toward Interdependence, Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships, Establishing Identity, Developing Purpose and Developing Integrity (Evans, 1998). Like all students, ethnic/racial minority students must successfully navigate these vectors to meet the challenges of transitioning to college, but of special interest for this segment of the population is their ability to Establish Identity. The questions of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where do I fit in?’ take on special meaning, as minority students learn to deal with the preconceived notions of others, notions that in many ways can erode their self-concept, especially without a support system in place to counter them. (Kadison, 2004)

Racial identity theory developed from the presupposition that in the United States, racial groups experience either domination or oppression (Evans, 1998). Thus, a racial minority entering higher education is entering a microcosm of the society at large, with expectation as to how he/she is perceived and presumptions about who they are. For this reason, it is important for a minority student to establish their identity and use that identity as a shield against the barriers that can be placed before them as they traverse the world of higher education.

Phinney’s Model of Ethnic Identity Development suggests three stages of ethnic identity development: Stage 1: Diffusion-Foreclosure. At this stage individuals have not explored their feeling and attitudes regarding their race or ethnicity. This stage manifests itself in a disinterest in ethnicity. Stage 2: Moratorium. Awareness is crucial during this second stage. The individual may be highly emotional, feelings of guilt for lack of interest and anger toward the dominant race are characteristic of this stage. Stage 3: Identity Achievement. At this stage a secure sense of who they are is established. If an individual... Show More

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