Diversity Distress: The Experiences of Students of Color in Higher Education



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In this study, I specify the reasons why racial minority undergraduate students choose to pursue higher education studies at historically White colleges/universities, despite the schools' potential for diversity controversies. Rather than looking at why students do not attend historically White institutions, I investigate what characteristics of both the educational institutions and the students contribute to students' decisions to stay at historically White institutions despite perceived hostile environments. I also examine students' experiences at historically White institutions, including attitudes toward diversity and any discrimination that they may experience. In doing so, this study adds a fresh yet central perspective to the complex issue of diversity: the opinions of students of color themselves. Doing so may lead to more positive answers and propositions for what administrations can do to increase the percentage of racial minority students. The study is a mixed-methods approach, including 17 semi-structured interviews with Latina/o students and a sample of 287 students who self-identify as racial minorities, including Latina/os, African Americans, and Asian Americans, at a historically White southern university. From these mixed-method results, the following themes were found: 1) The size of a hometown has a statistically significant effect on how often discrimination is experienced, 2) Self-identifying as Black has a statistically significant effect on how often discrimination is experienced, 3) Latina/o students choose to attend SCU because of university affordability, proximity to their home towns, and the university's academic reputation, 4) Latina/o students experience racial oppression at SCU because of the lack of campus diversity, direct racist acts toward themselves and friends, and they consider transferring to more diverse educational institutions, and 5) Latina/o students remain at SCU because they want to make a difference at the university for themselves and others, certain characteristics of the university are appealing, and because of professorial mentors.