Study into Racism in College Campuses

Many Universities aim to create an inclusive and conflict-free environment on college campuses. As you settle into a campus or online program routine, you will most likely be tasked with adjusting to being separated from your family, forming new friendships, and coping with a more rigorous academic curriculum. At times, you may find it difficult to juggle the demands of your social and academic life. Unfortunately, among students of color and different ethnicities, the common stressors of the college experience are often compounded by the burden of race-related stress. Racism continues to be a fact of life for many students of color and different ethnicities on college campuses. Racism is overt, such as the use of racial slurs, graffiti, and even violence. It can ever arise in more subtle forms, such as stereotyping, assumptions, or exclusion.

While many studies have reported a racial gap on college campuses (Strayhorn 2013) or in the ways in which interracial or substantial contact with peers and faculty influences campus climate perception (Nelson Laird and Niskode-Dosset 2010; Kim and Sax 2009), thus far no study has compared these different measures of contact in terms of their contribution to reduce the racial gap in campus climate perception.

Racism is racial prejudice that has been incorporated into the functions in major institutions, corporations, and social systems such as universities, healthcare organizations, housing, and government policies. Racism leads to discriminating against a minority racial/ethnic group while maintaining the benefits and privileges of a majority racial/ethnic group which holds most of the power within the major institutions, corporations, and social systems. So, should law enforcement be added into this group as contributing to racism? Focusing on the perceptions and experiences of non-White graduate students, I ask: Does racism exist among college students? Have you ever been a victim of racism? If so, how? If you observed racism, would you intervene and stop it? Lastly, I asked if law enforcement contributed to racism? If so, how? To answer these questions, I performed an online focus group of three individuals to analyze their thoughts and receive honest feedback. Results show that racism does exist in different forms and law enforcement contributes to some degree. The uncertainty that can accompany perceptions of racism is often due to a misunderstanding of the behaviors that constitute racism.


Participants included three graduate student volunteers (two males, one female). All of them will be compensated with a free drink of their choice from Starbucks. All three graduate students are enrolled in a Communications Management Graduate Program at the University of Southern California. Each student volunteer belongs to a program group by the name of “Traveler.”

The first student volunteer is a 32-year-old bi-racial (Indian and Caucasian) female who is employed as an Immigration Case Writer. She comes from an upper middle-class family. The second volunteer is a 31 year old Hispanic male that comes from an upper middle class family. He works as a security guard while enrolled in a graduate program. The third volunteer is a 32 year old Indian Healthcare Economist that also comes from an upper middle class family.

Each student volunteer was given specific instructions to meet at a scheduled date and time online, and advised prior to the meet time which meeting program (Zoom) that was going to be used to conduct the focus group. All student volunteers were on time and logged on at the correct online meeting site. The student volunteers were given specific verbal instructions and guidelines which were read out loud. Each student volunteer freely answered three main questions surrounding the topic of racism and if it existed amongst college students and if law enforcement played a part in it. An example question was “Does racism exist amongst college students? If so, how? The second example question was “If you observed racism, would you intervene to stop it?” The final example question was “Does law enforcement play a part in racism? If so, how? Each student volunteer provided insightful feedback supporting the topic. The duration of the focus group lasted just over 10 minutes.


Racism in some form is still an issue both structurally and interpersonally amongst college students. In line with liberal beliefs, a common belief in American society is that younger generations will be more liberal than those preceding, a phenomenon referred to as the cohort replacement hypothesis (Forman and Lewis 2015). Structural and interpersonal racism are obviously still felt by minority college students. The inclusion of minority students has long been a topic of discussion in relation to higher education.

Research has found that racial/ethnic background influences student perception of the college experience. The student volunteers all stated that racism does exist amongst college students in different forms. When prompted for examples, words like segregation, not feeling part of a group because of their race, and specific college guest speakers were mentioned. Forms of graffiti, everyday language, social media posts, and specific student chants were also mentioned. One student volunteer stated that he could feel the racial tension on a college campus and did not feel like he was one of the students because of his race (It should be mentioned that the campus was not at the University of Southern California). Although this student volunteer felt racism to some degree, the other two student volunteers have never had a direct act of racism against them on a college campus. This highlights that while overt racism is not common, racism in other forms remains a powerful factor in students’ experiences in college.

So, would one of the student volunteers intervene if they observed a racial related act occurring to another student. It was learned that two of three student volunteers would intervene. Surprisingly, one student volunteer stated that he would intervene because he is on campus for school only and his sole goal is to keep his mind on his own business. Of the two student volunteers that would intervene they stated they would say something to stop the action or immediately report the action to the Security Department, Student Support Services, or the head of the college.

We often hear the word racism associated with law enforcement but many questions still arise on whether or not one word goes with the other. The question was asked to the student volunteers if they believe law enforcement plays a part in racism in America. All three student volunteers believe to some degree they do. One student said, “One bad apple can ruin them all”. This was in reference to that just one officer can make the entire organization looks bad. He followed up by saying that all organizations have some form of racism still present within the rank structure. One student volunteer stated this is a human problem and since the police have authority, it stands out more.


All three of the student volunteers were very forthcoming and honest with their answers surrounding this sensitive topic. These genuine answers were necessary to obtain research and complete the findings and discussion of this paper. The findings of this study were consistent that racism, in some degree, exists amongst college students. This aligned with the thoughts of the moderator.

Racism is indeed a human problem and exists in so many different ways. Many forms are direct and indirect but affect so many people. Whether it is in a school atmosphere or not, racism needs to be reduced dramatically. Will racism will always be a problem in American society? Racism is what holds ineffective groups from being able to reach their potential. From education to the justice system, environmental injustice, equal pay and access to resources.

Institutional racism is defined as racial discrimination that has become established as normal behavior within a society or organization. Today’s generation is doing a better job at stopping Institutional racism. With consistent education and being liberal enough to be accepting of all people, racism amongst students can be eliminated. Two of the three student volunteers felt comfortable enough to stop an act of racism towards another student. This was a positive part of the study and showed that students are willing to do something about it.

As expected, all three student volunteers felt that law enforcement played a part in racism at some level. Law Enforcement in America needs to do more to eliminate the connection with racism. Education on the topic is the key to success and bi-annual courses should be given at all law enforcement agencies across the country. Of course, different parts of the country will have a higher percentage of working with citizens of color and different ethnicities.

This study could have easily had the topic of racism in law enforcement on its own as well as racism amongst college students. Both topics should have their focus groups and subsequent research. Both topics are sensitive in nature and would require more than 10 minutes to fully discuss the topic with the selected group of individuals.


  • Kim, Young K. and Linda j. Sax. 2009. “Student-Faculty Interaction in Research Universities: Differences by Student Gender, Race, Social Class, and First-Generation Status.” Research in Higher Education 50: 437-459.
  • Nelson Laird, Thomas F. and Amanda S. Nisokde-Dossett. 2010. “How Gender and Race Moderate the Effects of Interactions across Difference on Student Perceptions of the Campus Environment.” The Review of Higher Education 33(3):333-356.
  • Strayhorn, Terrell L. 2013. “Measuring Race and Gender Differences in Undergraduate Students’ Perceptions of Campus Climate and Intentions to Leave College: An Analysis in Black and White.” Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice 50(2):115-132.


Moderator guide

  • Research objective: To find out if racism existed among college students. Additionally, I wanted to find out if law enforcement played a part in racism in America.
  • Profile: Three USC graduate students of different ethnicities ranging in age from 23-33 (Two males and one female).
  • Logistics: Online focus group interviews – Date/time was set along with online meeting program (Zoom).
  • Introduction
  • Topics/questions:

Question #1:   Does racism exist amongst college students?

Specific:  If so, how?

Question #2:   Would you intervene if you saw racism against another student?

Specific: Have you ever had racism against you personally?

Question #3:   Do the police play a part of racism in America.

Specific: If so, how? 

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