Minority Students Face More Discrimination on Low-Diversity Campuses, Report Says

August 10, 2012

Students from minority racial and ethnic groups at colleges where minorities are underrepresented experience more stereotyping, harassment, and other forms of discrimination than those on campuses that are more diverse, according to a recent report from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The report, a research brief titled "The Climate for Underrepresented Groups and Diversity on Campus," notes that many students now believe that racial discrimination is no longer a major problem, but it warns that a number of recent highly publicized race-related incidents on campuses demonstrate that challenges still exist.

"If one of the key purposes of higher education is to prepare students for engagement in a diverse democracy," it says, "educators and policy makers must understand the conditions under which students' academic and civic learning can be facilitated or hindered. Low representation creates a detrimental effect on campus climate."

The report is based primarily on the responses of just over 4,000 members of underrepresented minorities who have participated in the UCLA institute's Diverse Learning Environments survey. Those respondents include 59 Native American students, 490 African Americans, and 3,488 Latinos, out of more than 27,800 respondents over all. Institutions in the sample include a variety of public and private colleges with varying degrees of minority representation in their enrollments.

The most prevalent form of discrimination felt by the minority respondents was in the form of verbal comments, the report says.

On low-diversity campuses, or those with minority enrollments of 20 percent or less, 60.4 percent of minority students reported having experienced such comments. At "moderately diverse campuses," with minority enrollments of 21 to 35 percent, the figure was slightly lower, at 57.2 percent. At the most diverse institutions, those with minority enrollments of at least 36 percent, it fell to 45.8 percent.

Other forms of discrimination, such as experiencing offensive visual images or feeling excluded from campus events, followed a similar pattern.

"It's important that colleges are aware of their campus racial climate and the specific challenges that their underrepresented students face," Sylvia Hurtado, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, said in a written statement. "Improving the diversity of a campus is a first step, followed by working to improve interracial relations to build students' skills for citizenship in a multicultural society."

Ms. Hurtado is one of the report's authors, along with Adriana Ruiz, a graduate student researcher with the institute.

The report's release comes months before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case challenging the race-conscious undergraduate admission policy used at the University of Texas at Austin. The outcome of that case could determine the fate of affirmative-action admission policies at colleges across the country. The report was cited in an amicus brief filed on behalf of the Texas flagship in the case, said John Pryor, director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA.