The social construction of race and perceptions of privilege for white college students at a predominantly white institution

Taylor, Betty Jeanne Wolfe
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This study explored white students’ perceptions of their race and privilege at a predominantly white institution of higher education. Qualitative inquiry served as the foundation for the methodology to capture students’ perspectives in their own voices. Individual interviews were conducted with eight student members of registered spirit organizations. Interviews were audio-tape recorded, transcribed and then coded. The data were peer-reviewed and member-checked for validity. The following themes developed through analysis of the data: 1) Normalizing Whiteness, 2) Jeopardizing Entitlement, 3) Perpetuating Racism, 4) Highlighting Privilege, and 5) Contributing Campus Elements. The themes were derived based on responses from the participants, which were coded and placed in categories and subcategories. The categories were aspects of the data that were central to the broader themes that developed. Within each category, subcategories emerged which were more specific, detailed examples of the themes. This study contributes to the field of student affairs by expressing the importance of racial identity awareness and racial privilege awareness for white students at predominantly white institutions of higher education. While many previous studies on white racial identity for college students have been quantitative in nature, this study provided qualitative data using student voices to discuss white students’ experiences. Since racism is connected to lack of racial awareness for white students, it is imperative to enhance the level of awareness for white students regarding their race and privilege in an effort to eliminate racism at predominantly white institutions of higher education.