Survey: Some groups more accepted

Campus Climate Study finds white males to be the most accepted demographic at MU
Tuesday, April 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:07 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 28, 2008

The first thing Khandicia Randolph does on the first day of class at MU each semester is look around to see how many black people are in the room. She’s usually the only one.

“To have to be that one voice against the rest of the class gets annoying, but you get used to it,” said Randolph, president of the MU chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, who intends to get her master’s degree at MU. “I sometimes feel marginalized. It hasn’t been a negative experience per se, but a lot more positives could have taken place.”

The experience of Randolph, a senior, reflects the findings from the ongoing MU Campus Climate Study, a survey of diversity on the MU campus. The survey indicates that there is a common understanding of how well some groups are accepted on campus.”

“There was a general consensus about what the climate is,” said Roger Worthington, the primary investigator for the study and an associate professor at MU. “Generally people agreed upon who was more accepted and who was the least accepted.”

Regardless of which group the students surveyed identify with, most consider whites and males to be the most accepted. Racial or ethnic minorities, non-native English speakers and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were perceived to be the least accepted on campus.

The e-mail survey of 2,490 students, faculty and staff rated the acceptance of different groups on campus and how accepted they felt personally as a member of one of those groups.

“The data seem to converge — people feel it, as well as rate the campus in the same hierarchy,” Worthington said.

The exception to the collective perception is that people with disabilities tend to believe their group is less accepted than other groups believe they are, Worthington said.

The study also looked at harassment on campus. Of those surveyed, 16.5 percent reported being victimized by sexual harassment and 2.4 percent reported being victims of hate crimes. Seven percent reported witnessing hate crimes that most frequently involved threats of violence, threatening phone calls and vandalism.

Hate incidents on campus — offensive jokes in person or in the print media and public displays of symbols or objects — were reported by 10.5 percent of those surveyed, and witnessed by one-quarter of those who responded.

The sample is not representative of the campus as a whole because the study targeted underrepresented groups: racial and ethnic minorities, non-Christians, lesbians and gays, people with disabilities, older students and women.

Worthington, a psychologist, was also interested in examining the relationship between the campus climate and the psychological well-being of students.

“Experiences of harassment are associated with or correlate with depressive symptoms and a fear of personal safety,” he said.

Most hate incidents were reported to have come from students, usually in the form of an offensive joke.

Randolph said she had witnessed hate incidents, especially directed at Arab-American students after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She has also heard jokes based on stereotypes of certain groups.

“It’s funny, but it’s not right. Then again, everyone makes fun of somebody,” she said. “Yes, I have witnessed offensive humor, and I have probably engaged in some of those behaviors myself. Does that make it right? No. Does that make it justifiable? No.”

Pablo Mendoza, the director of the MU Office of Multicultural Affairs, said the study provides a foundation for some of the office’s programs. Mendoza said he would like to hire more staff members representing various ethnic groups and sponsor youth diversity conferences for each ethnic group.

Worthington presented the findings to top campus officials on March 30, only two weeks after a racially charged column in a campus publication, the MU Student News, prompted a sit-in on the steps of Jesse Hall in support of diversity.

Offensive content in the print media was a highly identified source of hate in the survey. In his recent presentation, Worthington cited the column as example of an incident in print that involves hate but does not meet the criteria for a crime.

Worthington said although he was against censorship in that kind of situation, he supported some form of public censure from a high-ranking university officials. He said it is the responsibility of researchers to inform — not make policy recommendations.

This is the second volume of the five-part study, which researchers began working on in 2001. In the final phase, researchers will present findings to focus groups, which will make recommendations.

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