Subtle and overt racism and bias is pervasive on the San Jose State campus, according to students quoted in a 2011 study by a campus sociology professor.
Black, white, Vietnamese, Hispanic and gay students in focus groups openly talked about their experiences, revealing feelings of isolation on the campus.
Associate professor Susan B. Murray led the study, begun in 2009 for the Campus Climate Committee, a presidential advisory group -- since disbanded -- composed of faculty, students, administrators and staff.
The report, which maintains the anonymity of all participants, leads with a quote from a black student:
"As soon as you start bringing up race, people don't want to talk about it. Everyone's overly concerned about being p.c. [politically correct], let's not say anything wrong to offend anyone, but really, it's like, well maybe we need to start offending some people so we can work through these — these issues that we're having, 'cause they're not going away, they're getting swept underneath the rug, basically."
The report's opening section explores the experiences and feelings of black students. Murray puts their remarks in the larger context of the academic understanding of the dynamics of racism.
An African-American male tutor told the researchers how he feels when working with students of other races.
"But what I have noticed is that sometimes when I'm the only African-American male [tutor] working in there. Sometimes when — when they pair me up with certain people to read, like, say, look over a paper, or do something, I see some people kind of question like, will he be able to really help me or looking for someone else to help them with their paper before they get paired up with me. It doesn't offend me, because I'm also aware, I'm aware of the stereotypes of African-American's intelligence. ..."
MURRAY COMMENTS: "The Black students in our study were all acutely aware of the negative stereotypes about Black people and perceived these stereotypes as shaping others' expectations of them."
Another black student comments: "So, a lot of the professors will be like, are you sure you're in the right class, kind of thing, and he tells me this almost daily. Like, are you — like, when school started, like, are you sure you're in the right class, or be like, can you answer that question, or can you do this, can you do that kind of thing. So, it was like, trying to see if he's actually able to keep up with the material."
MURRAY COMMENTS: " ... Here the student's intellectual abilities are called into question 'almost daily' by a seemingly innocuous question, "Are you sure you are in the right class?" In this example, the racism is "subtle" in that it is hidden behind a presumption of helpfulness, she says.
A student commented on the challenge of overcoming the perception of inequality: "Black people are trying to make a change in the world, like, we're trying to come out and be equal to either the whites or Asians, and stuff like that, so in that sense, it's good to represent. I feel the need to represent my culture in and out of the classroom. I feel the need to represent because we're always looked down upon. And people are always stereotyping us, and looking down on us for whatever reason. So, to go out of that element and be different, it makes you feel good inside, ... makes you feel like there is going be a change one day."
MURRAY COMMENTS: '"So to go out of that element,' to defy stereotypes imposed upon Black people, inspires these students to, 'feel like there is going to be a change one day.' Which implies that the 'change' is not here yet, and that the campus climate for these Black students is one that is rife with racial stereotypes."
But some black students feel they are expected to speak for their race in a way that would not be expected of whites.
As one student reported: "Like, I have no problem answering questions that are related to the curriculum. But when it comes to me being a voice for the whole African-American community, that's when it's like, 'Are you serious, like, can you be the voice for your whole entire,' it just gets really frustrating to me."
MURRAY COMMENTS: (Because of the low proportion of African-Americans in the student body, they often are the only members of their race in a classroom, and) " ... the African-American students in our study were actually called upon to 'represent their race.'"
A student told of not being recognized in class: "And I had a question, I raised my hand, and my hand was clearly up, the only hand clearly up for a good five minutes, 'cause I was kind of being stubborn, like 'you see my hand, you're gonna call on me' kind of thing. And I would not get called on. But then somebody else raised their hand up a different, like a white person, and they got called on, like, instantly."
MURRAY COMMENTS: Here and elsewhere in these data the Black students perceive at least some of the faculty to be racist.
A Black sports team member commented on criticism of teammates' attire: "It was the way he [staff] looked upon us [Black players] and it was like — like, we were literally sitting right next to the same [white players] who dress like this and everything else, but it was kind of like — they told a couple of my teammates, 'Oh, you pull your pants up, you do this, do that.' But the [white players] were doing the same thing. You know what I'm saying, so it's like, is it because we're Black? He was looking down at us, and it was like, 'Oh, take off your hats,' and all this kind of stuff, but the same [white] player had a hat on as well, so that's when I kind of took it as a more of like, a racial type situation. 'Cause like, it was the same thing from both sides, but one's white and one's black."
MURRAY COMMENTS: "Here, and elsewhere in these data, the students see their racial location as a guiding factor in the way they are treated at the university. The treatment they receive, in turn, shapes the ways they choose to conduct their own relationships on campus."
Being black and gay compounds stereotypes and leads to harassment inside the black student community. A ¿lesbian student told of her campus experience:
"I know a lot of like, homosexual white people, and it's like they don't even get it nearly as bad. I think it's because we're already discriminated on. Going back to the [white women athletes], it's okay for them to walk around with their girlfriend. Or like Asians, I see a lot of Asians walking around with their girlfriends. And it's like, they're just normal people walking by. But don't let me come walking through a crowd of Black men. It's like all hell breaks loose."
MURRAY COMMENTS: " ... the students suspect that the discrimination experienced by Black gay men and lesbians on campus is compounded by the racism experienced by the Black community."
The full report covering the focus group comments made by a students of different races, genders and ethnicities is at www.mercurynews.com/education.