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Running head: HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 1

How White College Students Negotiate

Their Racial Identity in Historically White Environments

Tess Nunn Eves

University of San Diego


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 2

Acknowledgements

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.

-Sir Isaac Newton

Because of your sacrifice, I find myself here. All thanks to the tenacity you cultivate, the

curiosity you encourage, and the awareness you instill. How lucky am I to have you three, who

continually reassure me that no dream is too big.

I finally ate the elephant.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 3

Table of Contents

Approval Sheet..................................................................................................................... i
Acknowledgements..............................................................................................................2
Table of Contents.................................................................................................................3
Abstract ................................................................................................................................5
Definition of Terms..............................................................................................................6
Introduction..........................................................................................................................8
Literature Review ............................................................................................................12
White Racial Identity Development and Racial Attitudes .........................................13
White Racial Identity Development (WRID) ..................................................13
White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS)...............................................13
Contact ..................................................................................................15
Disintegration ........................................................................................15
Reintegration .........................................................................................15
Pseudo-Independence............................................................................15
Autonomy..............................................................................................16
Complexity of Using and Interpreting Racial Identity Measures...............................16
Navigation of Whiteness on College Campuses ........................................................17
Insignificance of Being White....................................................................................17
Colorblindness and the Discourse of Difference........................................................18
Liberal Racism............................................................................................................20
Abstract Liberalism..........................................................................................22
Naturalization...................................................................................................22
Cultural Racism ...............................................................................................22
Minimization of Racism ..................................................................................22
Methodology .....................................................................................................................25
Researcher Background and Bias...............................................................................26
Participant Selection Procedure..................................................................................28
Focus Group Participant Selection Procedure............................................................28
Data Analysis Procedure ...........................................................................................30
Part One ...........................................................................................................30
Part Two...........................................................................................................33
Part Three.........................................................................................................36
Findings.............................................................................................................................38
Response to Study ......................................................................................................38
Demographic Participant Profiles ..............................................................................41
Focus Group Participant Profiles ...............................................................................44
Focus Group One .............................................................................................44
Focus Group Two ............................................................................................45
Focus Group Three ..........................................................................................46
Participants by WRID Stage.......................................................................................49
Discomfort in Racial Conversations...........................................................................52
White Guilt .................................................................................................................55
Colorblindness............................................................................................................59
Liberal Racism ...........................................................................................................65
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 4

Distancing from Overt Racism ........................................................................65


Abstract Liberalism..........................................................................................69
Cultural Racism and Minimizing the Importance of Race ..............................70
Shifts in Enacted Whiteness .......................................................................................72
Discussion, Recommendations and Implications ..........................................................77
Limitations..................................................................................................................78
Recommendations for Further Study .........................................................................79
Implications for Practice ............................................................................................80
References.........................................................................................................................84
Appendices........................................................................................................................88
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 5

Abstract

This study explores how white college students negotiate their racial identity in historically white

spaces and how institutions should activate majority groups in order to create and sustain

inclusive spaces for students of color. Because whites occupy a racially dominant position at

most colleges and universities, white attitudes about whiteness are of critical importance in the

effort to support students of color. Whiteness, for the purpose of this study, is defined as the

racial identity, racial bias, and racial privilege that is ascribed to white people. Whiteness is

complex and contextually dependent; therefore it is of importance to note that this sequential

mixed method phenomenological case study will be conducted with second-semester freshman

and sophomore white college students, between the ages of 18-21 at a small, private,

predominantly white, and religiously affiliated university in southern California. This study

examines how white students negotiate their racial identity individually, in intra-racial peer

groups, and with figures of authority.

Keywords: whiteness, racial identity development, liberal racism, pseudo-independence


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Definition of Terms

Colorblindness. Not seeing color or race; the belief that everyone is the same and should be

treated equally.

Diversity. The coexistence of different groups within one social context (i.e. university or

college campus); in the context of race, white people often use diversity as a synonym for

racial/ethnic difference.

Discourse of difference. Whites articulating other racial/ethnic groups as the other;

establishing a we-they dichotomy; implies that those racial differences deviate from the white

norm.

Dysconscious racism. Unconscious perceptions, attitudes, assumptions and beliefs that justify

inequity by accepting the racial status quo.

Ethnocentrism. The evaluation of other cultures/races (often preconceived ideas, beliefs, etc.)

by comparing the other to ones own culture/race.

Inclusion/Inclusive. Including, or being included, in the larger group (i.e. university or college

campus).

Liberal racism. Ideology that allows white people to deny their own racism while maintaining

underlying beliefs that people of color are inferior. Can be done through distancing from overt

racists, having socially progressive political views, etc.

Micro-aggression. Everyday verbal/nonverbal slights/digs/insults that communicates a negative

message based on an individuals membership in a marginalized group. Can be intentional or

unintentional (e.g. Can I touch your hair? Are you on the basketball team?).
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Multicultural(ism). The co-existence of diverse cultures in a singular space (i.e. United States

or university campus); promotes maintaining distinctiveness of cultures rather than assimilation

to dominant culture (e.g. salad bowl over melting pot).

Otherness. The quality of being different; Can be used in white ethnocentrism/liberal racism to

qualify white as normal and difference as deviant or threatening (i.e. white normative center).

Racetalk. The ways (diction, tone, etc.) that people use language to express racial ideologies.

Racial identity development. Recognizing ones own race, understanding ones role in a

racialized society, and working toward the development of a non-racist white identity by

abandoning both racism and white privilege

White normative center. Qualifying white as the neutral center; the normal or regular, to which

everyone and everything else is compared.

Whiteness. The racial identity, racial bias, and racial privilege that is ascribed to white people.
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Due to the fact that whites occupy a racially dominant position in American society and

most U.S. colleges or universities are historically white spaces, it becomes critically important to

assess white racial attitudes and encourage healthy white racial identity development in the

attempt to create inclusive college environments for students of color. University campuses

nationwide engage in Diverse Learning Environment (DLE) surveys to better understand, and

give agency to, the experiences of underrepresented student groups. However, rarely do

institutions focus on activating, or spurring into action, majority groups, especially the white

racial majority. In recent decades, colleges and universities have constructed resource centers,

carving out a physical and psychological safe space for students of color to explore and celebrate

their racial and ethnic identities. Additionally, students of color are frequently members of clubs

and organizations that champion issues of social justice and racial awareness (e.g. Black Student

Union, campus protests, teach-ins, dialogue circles, etc.). While this has been a tremendously

impactful and successful approach to engaging students of color, it has neglected to stimulate

white students, as it perpetrates the idea that race is an issue for people of color, i.e. not white

(Bush, 2004; Smith, 2014). Diversity strategies have been focused on supporting students of

color, however, this traditional form of multiculturalism [has] not offered a space for whites to

rethink their identity around a new progressive, assertive, counter-hegemonic, antiracist notion of

Whiteness (Maher and Tetreault, 1998, p. 29). Whiteness, for the purpose of this study, is

defined as the racial identity, racial bias, and racial privilege that is ascribed to white people. If

historically white spaces, like most American colleges and universities, are not encouraging

white students to participate in racial conversations, or understand racial dynamics and the white

students personal and systemic role and responsibility in shaping those campus dynamics, the

institution cannot adequately create or sustain diverse and inclusive environments.


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There are currently two prominent veins of research in relation to white college students:

(1) research addressing racial identity development and white students racial attitudes (Carter,

1996; Helms, 1984; Helms, 1990) or (2) research investigating white students experiences with

diversity at the university and its affect on racial awareness (Bonilla-Silva and Forman, 2000;

Hikido and Murray, 2015; Smith, 2014). Qualitative studies have attempted to detail a casual

relationship between white students exposure to difference and a heightened sense of awareness

(Spanierman et al., 2009). One study, however, found that increased diversity on campus

increased levels of intergroup anxiety for whites and that white students were more guarded in

exchanges with students of color in more diverse settings (Engberg and Hurtado, 2011). Studies

in both veins employ racial attitude surveys as an attempt to gather a baseline on the Whiteness.

Whiteness is contextual, dependent, multiplicitous, resilient, and unstable, and the need

for researchers to see how Whiteness is locally situated, reconfigured, and reaffirmed becomes

paramount (Hikido an Murry, 2015, p. 392; Twine and Gallagher, 2008). Initial attitude surveys

provide a framework through which researchers can more thoroughly understand the situational

context of white students perception of Whiteness and racial diversity. In other words, the white

racial identity, bias, and privilege that create the lens through which a white college student

experiences the world is inextricably dependent on social and geographic location. It is therefore

pertinent for researchers to employ an attitude survey as a baseline to better understand the

intricacies of white racial identity in their current research environment.

Racial identity development amongst college students is heavily researched, but findings

of how white students make meaning of their race and subsequently act out their beliefs in the

context of a historically white space is limited. Substantial research on the discrimination,

experiences, and sense of belonging for racial/ethnic minorities on college campuses provide
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benchmarks for work around inclusion, diversity, and social justice (Hikido & Murray, 2016;

Powell, 1998). However, what remains to be explored is how white students feel about

Whiteness, their race in relation to current campus climate, and how they perceive their identity

in relation to positive or negative impacts on campus culture. For this reason, Whiteness and its

influence on college climate is of tremendous importance in order to better understand the

increased strain on race relations on American college and university campuses.

One such example of how white students do not see their role in improving race relations

on campus is evidenced in Smiths 2014 study, which will be further explored in the literature

review. White students in this study saw racism as individual acts or beliefs, and did not tend to

see systemic or institutional forms of racism. Additionally, they did not see themselves as raced.

By viewing whites of the past as the responsible parties for racism, and not identifying

themselves as white, Smiths participants did not see themselves as individuals who could impact

any current effect of racism. By devaluing the role Whiteness played in their current

environment, they were able to deny their role in race relations (2014). This phenomenon must

be further researched, as white students must recognize their role and responsibility in creating

an inclusive campus climate.

A study of white students negotiation of race and participation in race-based discussions

is important for several reasons. First, colleges play an important role in creating behavioral

norms; the coming-of-age and identity development that happens in college may dictate how that

individual engages with difference in the future. Second, while white students have been a

decreasing percentage of college students since the 1970s, the idealized model of racial/ethnic

diversity improving inter-racial spaces on college campuses may have reached a plateau (Powell,

1998). With college and university campuses becoming increasingly diverse, phenotypic
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characteristics, like race, may have heightened meaning for students as they make their way

through confrontations and situations around diversity (Mercer and Cunningham, 2003). While

it is possible that greater racial diversity could make phenotypic characteristics more invisible,

Engberg and Hurtados 2011 study identified that with an increase in racial diversity on campus,

levels of intergroup anxiety for whites increased. This may mean that white students have a

heightened censorship and protection of privilege on more diverse campuses. In either context, it

is clear that without engaging white students in this dialogue on race, white supremacy however

covert or subliminal will continue despite increased diversity.

For example, whites often claim colorblindness, or the idea that there are no differences

between race and that everyone deserves to be treated equally (Bonilla-Silva, 2003). White

students in Smiths study believed that recognizing race could equate to being racist, so they

learned to avoid any discussion of race (2014). However after claiming colorblindness,

participant diction in the study indicated they did in fact see difference, using words such as us

and they, in reference to white and black students (Smith, 2014). Another such example of

white supremacy is equating white and American, further contributing to the belief that

white is the norm, and non-white is abnormal (Smith, 2014). This referral to people of color in

terms of difference works to subtly reinforce white ethnocentrism.

More research is needed to uncover how white students negotiate their racial identity in

historically white spaces and how institutions can activate majority groups in order to create and

sustain inclusive spaces for students of color. The intent of this sequential mixed methods

phenomenological case study will be to understand the negotiation of Whiteness on a

predominantly white campus, amongst individuals, intra-racial peer groups, and with figures of

authority.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 12

Literature Review

A review of the literature revealed a number of studies related to the racial identity

development of white college students. I focused efforts on two veins of white identity: (1) racial

identity development and white students racial attitudes and (2) the navigation of Whiteness and

experiences with diversity.

I sought to further understand the quantitative scales and measures that accompany many

discussions around racial identity and racial attitudes, and in so doing uncovered the following

themes: (1a) the theory of White Racial Identity Development (WRID) (1b) the White Racial

Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS) assessment instrument, and (1c) the complexity of using and

interpreting racial identity instruments.

In this era of increasingly diverse but still historically white space, I sought to further

understand how universities could use Whiteness as a tool for inclusivity. While investigating

studies that focused on white student racial awareness and development, and their impact on

campus climate, the following themes emerged: (2a) The insignificance of being white, (2b)

colorblindness and the discourse of difference, and (2c) liberal racism.

The literature indicates that racial identity measures, when employed properly, give

university educators a practical and reliable baseline in which to better design intervention

efforts. In exploring how white students feel about their Whiteness, the purpose of this study is to

better understand how to create healthy anti-racist white identities that will sustain inclusive

campus climates for students of color. Accordingly, this section summarizes some key findings

from the literature exploring identity and attitude measures and how white college students

negotiate their racial identities.


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White Racial Identity Development and Racial Attitudes

White Racial Identity Development (WRID). Much has been written about how to

measure racial identity and/or racial attitudes, including the introduction of the white racial

identity theory in the 1980s (Helms, 1984). White Racial Identity Development (WRID), for the

purpose of this study, is defined as recognizing ones own race, understanding ones role in a

racialized society, and working toward the development of a non-racist white identity by

abandoning both racism and white privilege (Mercer and Cunningham, 2003; Smith, 2014). In

early iterations, Helms white racial identity development was primarily a linear stage model, but

years later, recognizing that racial identity [is] as an aspect of an individuals psychological

makeup in a race-based society, Helms re-conceptualized the stage model to a status model,

identifying racial identity as a dynamic and non-sequential process (Carter, 1996, p. 193; Helms,

1990; Mercer and Cunningham, 2003; Smith, 2014). Helms measures look to evaluate a

participants attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards both her/himself and others; and

because these aforementioned qualities are contextually dependent, Helms officially modified

her theory in 1990 to signify that one can move through these statuses in a non-linear progression

(Carter, 1996; Helms, 1990).

White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS). Helms WRID model gave rise to an

assessment instrument, the White Racial identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS) to measure WRID

(Carter, 1996; Helms, 1990). It is important to note that while Helms updated the WRID model

from five-stages to six-statuses (an addition of the Immersion/Emersion stage), the WRIAS

questionnaire has not been revised to reflect all six-statuses. As Helms original WRIAS

questionnaire was the most widely circulated and implemented instrument to indicate white
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 14

racial identity, I have chosen to refer to Helms original five-stage WRIAS model throughout

this study. I will refer to the original model simply as WRIAS throughout the study.

WRIAS consists of five statuses separated into two meta-phases of white racial identity:

Abandonment of Racism (Contact, Disintegration, Reintegration), and Defining a Non-Racist

Identity (Pseudo-Independence and Autonomy). Scoring for these stages is accomplished by

averaging Likert items for each subscale; High scores reflect stronger ties to the particular

subscale/identity status. According to Helms, she informs researchers to use all subscales as a

profile for a participant, rather than using a single score on a subscale as an indicator (Carter,

1996). As mentioned, statuses are not necessarily sequential. An individual progresses through

these stages, but could transition both forward and backward (i.e. non-linear progression) into a

different stage due to an impactful experience (Figure 1).

Contact

Autonomy Disintegration

Pseudo-
Reintegration
Independence

Figure 1. The five White Racial Identity Development stages originally designed by Helms.
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Contact. Contact, the first status and step toward abandoning racism, occurs when a

white person encounters the idea or fact of black people. Individuals in contact have very

limited interactions with people of color, and most interactions with racial/ethnic diversity

emanate from a place of colorblindness. The individual lacks awareness about Whiteness and is

not at all aware of their own acts of individual racism. They do not recognize the benefits of

Whiteness on an institutional or structural level (Carter; 1996; Helms, 1990; Smith, 2014).

Disintegration. Awareness of racial differences leads a white person into the second

status. The individual now has a conscious awareness of his/her Whiteness and has conflicting

feelings regarding that awareness, frequently experiencing moral dilemmas. Intense feelings of

guilt, helplessness, shame and anxiety accompany this emotional and cognitive confusion. To

reduce internal upheaval, a white person can (a) avoid black people; (b) convince white people

that blacks are not inferior; or (c) conclude that racism is a relic of the past, and white people

today have very little to do with it (Carter; 1996; Helms, 1990; Smith, 2014).

Reintegration. The individual acknowledges their white identity, but adopts the belief in

white racial superiority; these beliefs may be held explicitly, but more commonly, these beliefs

are implicit. An individual in reintegration thinks that race-related negative conditions are a

result of black peoples inferior social, moral, or intellectual qualities, and that white people have

earned their privilege or preference (Carter; 1996; Helms, 1990; Smith, 2014).

Pseudo-Independence. The process of beginning to define a positive white identity

begins with pseudo-independence. The individual re-examines what they think/know about race

and begins to understand that whites have responsibility for racism. Subsequently, the individual

becomes uncomfortable with being white, but is not openly accepted by blacks. This space of
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 16

marginality prompts this individual to join with other like-minded whites (Carter; 1996; Helms,

1990; Smith, 2014).

Autonomy. The individual internalizes, nurtures, and applies the new meaning of

Whiteness and does not oppress or idealize other people based on racial group membership.

Because race is no longer a psychological threat, individuals in autonomy status tend to have a

much more adaptable worldview, seeking out new opportunities to have inter-racial experiences

(Carter; 1996; Helms, 1990; Smith, 2014).

Complexity of Using and Interpreting Racial Identity Instruments

Although there have been numerous empirical studies validating the reliability of the

racial identity constructs and measures, few researchers have spent explored the underlying

complexity of racial identity measures and instruments (Carter, 1996). This concern is furthered

by Helms (1989) who suggested that quantitative measures underestimate the influence of local

racial environments on an individual, which may negatively impact the measures reliability.

Furthermore, Carter contends that the interpretation of findings when racial identity instruments

are used may simply reflect the levels of complexity of the person(s) interpreting the results

(1996, p. 219). Additionally, there is criticism of Helms model for the use of exclusively black-

white terms to define race (Mercer and Cunningham, 2003). Mercer and Cunningham contest

that it is best to characterize Helms model as a theoretical model of white identity rather than a

developmental model of white identity (2003). In other words, there is very little research that

explicitly studies how white identity develops, and Helms model does not offer any clarity on the

correlation of variables in developing a positive or negative white identity.

It is important to reiterate the complexity of white racial identity development, as these

quantitative measures are open to subjective interpretation based on the researchers personal
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 17

experiences and identities (Carter, 1996; Hikido and Murray, 2015; Mercer and Cunningham,

2003, Spanierman et al., 2009). For this reason, I disclose my own racial background as a white

woman and my WRID stage. As my stage placement is dependent on the contextual

environment, I took the WRIAS both pre and post investigation, and placed into autonomy both

times.

While race is a complex idea that cannot be totally understood quantitatively, I believe

these identity statuses prove useful if educators tailor intervention efforts to each WRID stage to

enhance institutional programmatic efforts, making racial curricula more effective by aptly

aiding students movement toward a healthier racial identity. In locating white students and

racial realities in this way, we can shift the discourse away from white avoidance and non-raced

whites toward developing healthy white anti-racist identities (Hikido and Murray, 2015).

Navigation of Whiteness on College Campuses

Numerous scholars have explored the experiences of students of color in historically

white spaces but relatively unexplored are the experiences and attitudes of white students as

they observe students of color entering traditionally white territories (Hikido and Murray, 2015,

p. 389). Ladson-Billings and Tate (1995) contend that racial theory remains one the most

understudied fields of sociological inquiry. There is limited material on how white students

navigate multicultural ideals, and with words like inclusion, diversity, and multicultural,

becoming increasingly popular tenants of higher education, I find it pertinent to contribute to the

literature around majority students racial attitudes and understandings.

Insignificance of Being White

In Barbara Smiths dissertation, a qualitative study with fifteen participants, aged 18 to

19 years old, enrolled at a predominantly white university, in a predominantly white state


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 18

indicated that being white was insignificant (2014). Participants seemed to lack understanding of

racial identity and structure, and minimized the impact of Whiteness on their lived experiences.

In fact, very few could articulate a time when being white had affected their lives (2014). They

did not see themselves as raced, and saw whites of the past as the responsible parties for racism;

by not identifying themselves as white, Smiths participants did not see themselves as individuals

who could impact any current effect of racism (2014). By not being raced, they did not recognize

any privileges or benefits of being white; by refusing to see their own Whiteness, whites are able

to deny privilege (Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Smith, 2014). Participants often preferred the identifier

Caucasian, instead of white, as it was viewed as technical and impersonal and could

subsequently be used without negative implications. Additionally, white participants saw very

little distinction between the terms: race, culture, ethnicity, ancestry, nationality and/or

background (2014). The uncertainty and discomfort with which white students approach racial

conversations indicates the lack of understanding of themselves as raced, and the need for white

students to have language and experience with which to engage in both intra and inter racial

communication. Diction is a powerful indicator of a white persons progression through WRID.

Colorblindness and the Discourse of Difference

Colorblindness is a way in which white students avoid confronting their Whiteness while

simultaneously protecting it (Hikido and Murray, 2015). Bonilla-Silva goes as far as to say that

colorblind racism is the dominant racial ideology in this post-civil rights era, as it permits whites

justification to defend the racial status quo (2000). The discourse of a colorblind society is

furthered by the belief that racism is a thing of the past, something obliterated with policies of

integration, affirmative action, and other antidiscrimination legislation (Zamudio and Rios,

2006). This belief endorses an individuals held assumption that racism exists exclusively in
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 19

explicitly racist acts, perpetuated by individuals against other individuals. This break from

blatant racism allows white students to disconnect themselves from societys racial history,

restoring meritocracy, where individuals rise and fall on their own, independent of the past.

The colorblind discourse reiterates how students can appear morally committed to

diversity, while not actively advocating for their peers of color on the experiential level. For

example, Hikido and Murray interviewed students who reiterated their investment in

colorblindness, but then subtly flipped the narrative to say their school environment was really

diverse (2015, p.396). White students frequently use the word diversity as a synonym for race

or ethnicity, reiterating that diversity in the context of the university refers to students of color

(Hikido and Murray, 2015; Smith 2014). This association presumes a white normative center,

something frequently cited in the literature of white college student racial exploration. White is

seen as the neutral center; the normal or regular, to which everyone and everything else is

compared (Hikido and Murray, 2015). The idea of Whiteness as something that only white

people can attain is powerfully and succinctly stated:

Possession the act necessary to lay the basis for rights in property was defined to

include only the cultural practices of whites. This definition laid the foundation for the

idea that Whiteness that which whites alone possess- is valuable and is property.

(Ladson-Billings and Tate, 1995, p. 59).

When otherness is defined as not white, the invisibility and normality of Whiteness is

reinforced (Hikido and Murray, 2015). Most oppression does not seem like oppression to the

perpetrator (as quoted in Ladson-Billings and Tate, 1995, p. 57).

In Bonilla-Silva and Formans 2000 study, many of the interviews underscored the idea

of discourse of difference, or how whites present themselves as we and refer to the other as
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 20

being somehow different or threatening. This we-they construction was in direct opposition to

the narrative of colorblindness espoused by the same participants, indicating the hypocrisy of the

students narratives. If the USA had truly achieved the color blind dream of Martin Luther

King, whites would not see Blackness as otherness, as difference that entails inferiority (2000,

p. 70). Another such example of white supremacy is equating white and American, further

contributing to the belief that white is the norm, and non-white is abnormal (Smith, 2014). This

referral to people of color in terms of difference works to reinforce white ethnocentrism. It is

what has been coined the new racetalk, or the sanitized, subliminal, and seemingly safe ways

whites express their racial views in todays American society (Bonilla-Silva and Forman, 2000).

This shift from overt to hidden racism allows whites to distance themselves from bad, i.e.

overtly racist whites, while still participating in what has been coined liberal racism.

Liberal Racism

As race is a complex topic that often cannot be fully understood quantitatively, Hikido

and Murray chose to conduct focus groups with white college students to better understand the

contextually dependent intricacies of racial identity (2015). The qualitative study took place in

Northern California, at a large public university in an urban environment. Participants were

voluntary, and yielded a small sample of three women and two men, aged 18 to 21. Hikido and

Murray employed racial matching between the interviewer and participants in attempts to

decrease the participants need to state politically correct answers. Their study indicated that

while white students may formally deny any racial discriminatory beliefs or attitudes, that

through casual conversation, white students utilize racism and racial hierarchies (p. 394). While

white students may be generally supportive of diversity initiatives on campus, frequently they do

not see their role in this construction. Espousing a model of multiculturalism in which a white
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 21

student can embrace surface-level diversity without having to critically examine their own

Whiteness and power structures is indicative of white students desires to avoid feelings of guilt

and confusion around their racial identity (Hikido and Murray, 2015).

Bonilla-Silva and Forman conducted their in-depth interviews with a random sample of

white college students at three universities in the West, Midwest, and South United States

(2000). All students were enrolled in a social science course, and a 451 white students

completed a pre-survey, with 10% of them voluntarily continuing into the qualitative research

prong. They, like Hikido and Murray, had white graduate students conduct the interviews to

minimize the race of interviewer effects, and whenever possible, also matched gender (Bonilla-

Silva and Forman, 2000). According to their research, whites have a formal and abstract view of

equality and fairness, which allows them to defend various unequal and unfair situations. This

was indicated in the interview by asking participants the following question: If a company that is

97% white has two qualified candidates for an open position, one white, one black, in order to

increase diversity, should the company give the position to the black candidate? Most

respondents said it was not fair to hire on account of skin color, a position that allowed them to

simultaneously dismiss white privilege and preserve it (Bonilla-Silva and Forman, 2000). By

invoking abstract elements of liberalism, making pragmatic claims (e.g. these are the facts), and

transforming the notion of equality into meritocracy, respondents in Bonilla-Silva and

Formans study displayed moral indignation toward the idea of the undeserving minority

(2000, p. 78). In Smiths study, students self-positioned as non-racist by comparing themselves

to other whites whom are racist, including grandparents and acquaintances (Smith, 2014).

Additionally, this idea of liberal racism gave white students the freedom to make racist remarks,

but excuse it because of a friendship with a person of color (Smith, 2014). Liberal racism can
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 22

take different frames: Abstract liberalism, naturalization, cultural racism, and minimization of

racism. These liberal racism ideologies allow white people to deny their own racism while

maintaining underlying beliefs that people of color are inferior.

Abstract liberalism. This frame allows whites to value individualism. Likewise, using

this frame, whites may argue that they do not believe that force should be used to achieve social

policy and economic equity. Whites using this frame would be opposed to a program like

affirmative action, because it seemingly treats people unequally (Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Smith

2014).

Naturalization. This frame allows whites to excuse racial phenomena by suggesting

they are natural occurrences. Whites using this frame would explain segregation as expected,

because individuals are drawn to people like themselves (Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Smith 2014).

Cultural racism. Whites in this frame see culture as race, and explain cultural

differences as set features of a racial group. Subsequently, those different features can be used to

justify differential treatment (Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Smith 2014). Whites using this frame may

argue that loose family organization or misplaced values of certain racial groups lock them in a

feedback loop of poverty and/or lack of achievement (Garam and Brooks, 2010, p. 67). A

statement like Blacks do not place as high a value on education is used to justify social

structure.

Minimization of racism. This frame allows whites to minimize the impact of racism, by

acknowledging discrimination but reiterating that people of color are the ones who make things

racial when they are not (Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Smith 2014). Whites in this frame emphasize that

discrimination is no longer a key, or causal factor in affecting black lives (Garam and Brooks,

2010).
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 23

These aforementioned studies indicate that white students are not prepared to

successfully engage in, or contribute to, a diverse college or university setting. Many white

students are increasingly aware of race in ever more diverse environments, but lack the language

to make sense of it or to engage in racial conversations (Smith, 2014).

It is through personal interaction and storytelling with a person of color that can spur the

necessary cognitive conflict in order to jolt dysconscious racism among white students (Ladson-

Billings and Tate, 1995). However, this places the responsibility of dismantling racism on people

of color. In my research, I investigated if there are equally powerful ways to awaken white

students to their role in racial systems, without putting faculty, administrators, or students of

color in harms way. I wanted to explore if universities can address white student discomfort by

creating intentional white-only spaces for difficult racial discussions. Can white higher

education professionals help white students develop the skills and language necessary to shift

from a non-racist to an anti-racist identity?

Reframing the conversation for white students to not remain in the unproductive stage of

ignorance and guilt, but providing examples of historical white protests against racism, can help

them realize their white identities can also come with positive historical associations which may

help students progress into healthy white identities (Tatum, 1994). It is crucially important to

note that the role of a white ally is not to help victims of racial oppression, bur rather to use

their privilege and agency to fight systems that perpetuate racism, and encourage other white

students to do the same (Tatum, 1994). Efforts must be concentrated on fighting the liberal

racists, the nice whites who tell us I am not racist but still participate in coded racism and

micro-aggressions that occur on college campuses, contributing to the feelings of exclusion for

students of color (Bonilla-Silva and Forman, 2000).


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 24

While racial identity models and racial attitude surveys serve as a productive baseline for

educators to create more targeted and effective interventions to create healthy white identities, it

has become clear in the review of literature that it cannot be used as a sole measure. Further

qualitative research must be conducted to truly understand the daily-lived experiences of white

students on college campuses, as race is inconsistently developed on a variety of factors (e.g.

background, exposure to difference, current racial environment, interracial friendships).

While liberal racism and the White Racial Identity Development (WRID) stage are well

studied and are critical components to understanding Whiteness, there has been little research on

the frames of liberal racism and how they correspond or relate to the WRID stages. There is a

need for additional research in how the observation of often acted-out frames of liberal racism

could identify stages that contain said individuals without having to employ the time-intensive

White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS). I posit that most college-aged students are in the

pseudo-independence stages and enact many frames of liberal racism, as they tend to surround

themselves with politically progressive, like-minded white people and distance themselves from

individuals and ideologies perceived as overtly racist. I hypothesize that it is in this stage

individuals develop a passive non-racist identity. Surrounding oneself with like-minded white

people who have similar political and social beliefs is a much easier alternative than engaging in

challenging dialogues with overtly racist white individuals or challenging oneself through

uncomfortable assertions of dysconscious racism. However, it is through these encounters with

others and self that a white person can truly move from a passive non-racism to an active anti-

racism. I posit that by informally observing actions and correlating acts of liberal racism to the

pseudo-independence WRID stage, colleges and universities could have more impactful racial

conversations with white students by meeting them where they are, or diagnosing their values,
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 25

their emotions and their needs, and work more effectively to move white students to a healthy,

active, anti-racist white identity. By cultivating anti-racists, colleges and universities have an

opportunity to better engage white students in racial conversations, help them understand racial

dynamics, and recognize their personal and systemic role and responsibility in shaping a diverse

and inclusive environment.

Methodology

This sequential mixed method phenomenological case study was conducted with a group

of second-semester freshman and sophomore white college students, between the ages of 18-21

at a small, private, predominantly white, and religiously affiliated university (Creswell, 2009;

Hancock and Algozzine, 2011). Mixed methods is a research approach that involves collecting

both qualitative and quantitative data, but also using both inquiries as approaches to the research

(Creswell, 2009). Racial identity is an incredibly complex and multifaceted topic; it therefore

requires as robust an approach as possible to accurately capture its complexities. This case study

is employed to gain an in-depth understanding of both the phenomenon and the participants; my

interest is in process rather than outcomes, in context rather than a specific variable, in

discovery rather than confirmation (Merriam, 1998, p. 19). This focus on the how and why

being asked about contemporary events or phenomena make the case study an appropriate and

advantageous method (Yin, 2009). As race is contextually dependent, this study does not have

external validity, as results could be impacted by numerous factors (i.e. geographic location,

political climate, news cycle, campus events, etc.). This case study was only an attempt to

understand how white students negotiate their racial identity individually, in intra-racial peer

groups, and with figures of authority at a small, private, predominantly white, and religiously
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 26

affiliated university in southern California; the use of quantitative data is in descriptive form, and

therefore generalizability was not a goal of this mixed methods case study.

Researcher Background and Bias

The daughter of a Swedish immigrant mother and American father, my political views

have very much been shaped by my socially progressive and liberal-leaning parents. Growing up

in a predominantly Asian community, my understanding of Whiteness began when I noticed how

much more quickly my white immigrant family had been able to successfully integrate into

American society, whereas my Asian peers with immigrant parents were very clearly seen as

outsiders.

As white people in the United States, we are not often required to think or talk about race,

and when we are pushed into these challenging conversations, it can trigger racial stress. This

defensiveness has been called white fragility, and because of this, messages of race and racism

are better received from a white person than from a person of color, because it is perceived as

less threatening. This responsibility to work within my white community has been paramount in

my life, and this racial matching was particularly useful in my role as a researcher.

For most of my life, I have valued liberal and socially progressive white identities; in

beginning this study, it was clear I preferred white students in the autonomy stage, as they

worked toward inclusivity and social justice, over those in the reintegration stage, who thought

race and racism was a thing of the past. For the last nine years, as an administrator in higher

education, Ive been impassioned and often frustrated, with students in early white racial identity

stages. I received numerous irate e-mails from students during this study (discussed in the

findings section), which were in initially quite triggering. However, as a researcher, it was easier

for me to distance myself from the emotional facets of racial conversations with students in early
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 27

phases of white identity development than it has been for me as an educator. Working as both a

Student Affairs and Academic Affairs administrator, I am responsible for the student learning

that happens outside the traditional four walls of a classroom; I aim to synthesize student

knowledge between the curricular and co-curricular. As such, I have taken on these types of e-

mails as challenges. As a researcher however, I was able to see these e-mails as data points.

While my passion around developing anti-racist white identities remains strongly in tact, I, in

response to this study, have become more pragmatic and imperturbable in racial conversations.

I am fully aware that my understanding of Whiteness is very much dependent on the

other identities I hold and is placed in context of the experiences that I have had. As I asked

participants to share additional demographic information that may impact their experience with

Whiteness, I find it pertinent to share details of my identities as well. As a heterosexual white

woman, from an upper-middle class family in California, with parents who served as a firefighter

and a nurse, I have a few black friends in my broad social group, a few close black friends, and

no black family members.

My goal as a researcher is to be impartial and unbiased, however it is important to

recognize that all information obtained from an informant has been selected, either consciously

or unconsciously, from all that he or she knows (Merriam, 1998, p. 91). Just as participants had

to make sense of the questions and encounters they faced during this study, I too was challenged

by my conscious or unconscious selection of information and data. I have been as diligent as

possible to be objective in my conducting of research, analysis of data, and presentation of

findings, but recognize that my identities, experiences, and past knowledge may have

unconsciously impacted the way in which I approached this case study.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 28

Participant Selection

Purposive sampling was conducted based on age and race; freshman and sophomore

participants were identified through this universitys Office of Institutional Research and

Planning. Racial identities were self-selected by students on their application to this university.

This homogenous sampling highlighting 1,684 students who self-identified as white according

to their application, and subsequently became the sample group of the study. It is important to

note that some students who the university classified as white identified as Middle-Eastern, but

due to the structure of the demographic question on the college application, did not have a place

for which to appropriately indicate their racial identity on paper. Students of mixed race were not

included in this study; only students who exclusively identified as white. Students were recruited

via e-mail. Of the 1,684 students in the sample group, 608 students began the questionnaire and

506 completed the full questionnaire (30% response rate).

Focus Group Participant Selection

Of the 506 students, 356 were identified in the pseudo-independence stage (70.3%) based

on their answers to the White Racial Identity Attitudes Scale (WRIAS). Each statement in the

WRIAS corresponds to a White Racial Identity Development (WRID) identity stage; a statement

with which a participant strongly agreed were given the highest point value of four, and indicated

the participant strongly identified with sentiments/ideas that are tightly aligned to that identity

stage. Points were then calculated and averaged by each of Helms five WRID stages. The stage

with the highest averaged score was identified as the WRID stage with which the participant

most strongly identified.

Of those with high averaged scores in the pseudo-independence stage, 117 (32.8% of

students surveyed) were invited to participate in the focus groups, given their strong associations
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 29

to the stage, noted by an averaged score of 3.0-4.0. Of the 117 invited, 20 signed-up for a focus

group (17% of students invited); when it came time for the focus groups however, only nine

attended (7% of students invited). Of the participants who signed-up but did not show-up, a

majority of them were white men.

Whether it was the time commitment of the focus group or the hesitation to discuss a

difficult topic with peers, there was a 98% decrease in participation, from 506 in the relatively

anonymous online questionnaire to nine in the non-confidential focus groups.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 30

Data Analysis Procedure

There were three parts to the research, as indicated in the Figure 2 below. This figure

outlines the research method, details, and purpose of each.

Quantiative survey that was completed by 506 white students between March 24 -
March 31, 2017
Included a modified version of the White Racial Identity Attitudes Scale and
Demographic Questionnaire
PART Aimed to understand how students made meaning of /acted out Whiteness as
individuals
ONE

Qualitative Focus Groups that were conducted with 9 white students between April
13 - April 19, 2017
Included an unmoderated group activity around the full version of the White Racial
Identity Attitudes Scale
PART Aimed to understand how students made meaning of/acted out Whiteness in intra-
TWO racial peer groups

Qualitative interviews were conducted immediately following focus groups


Aimed to understand how students made meaning of/acted out Whiteness with a
figure of authority (Primary Investigator)
PART
THREE

Figure 2. The three-parts of this mixed methods, sequential transformative study.

Part one. In the first quantitative research prong, employment of a modified White

Racial Identity Attitude Scale (WRIAS) quantified racial self-awareness amongst individual

white students. The questionnaire was distributed to all 1,684 students in the sample group on

March 24, 2017 via e-mail. The survey was an online Qualtrics survey and was open for 10 days,

closing on March 31, 2017. 680 students began the questionnaire and 506 completed.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 31

It was critical to re-name the White Racial Identity Attitudes Scale to Social Attitudes

Scales to avoid respondent reactivity. This quantitative assessment provided a baseline for

understanding where white students were in their racial identity development, and how students

made sense of and acted out their racial identities as individuals. I was intrigued to see how white

students negotiated their racial identity independently, therefore it was important to have these

students take the survey from the privacy of their own homes on their private computers, rather

than employing the survey in class or other public spaces on campus.

I decided to slightly modify the WRIAS questionnaire by intentionally selecting four of

ten questions from each WRID identity stage, abbreviating the thirty-minute inventory to a five-

minute online survey, as I did not want the duration of the survey to dissuade students from

participating. The questions selected for the initial questionnaire were those with which I felt

students might strongly agree/disagree, as this would help more clearly identify the racial

identity stage. This abridged questionnaire can be found in Appendix A.

I used a forced choice, four-point Likert scale (Strongly Disagree, Somewhat Disagree,

Somewhat Agree, Strongly Agree), as I found it of critical importance to remove the possibility

of a neutral or undecided option. As race is an uncomfortable and often challenging topic, I

foresaw many participants taking the easy out and selecting a neutral/undecided option, if

given the opportunity. Additionally, the online questionnaire was set-up so participants could

not skip statements, and were required to answer all 20 statements in sequential order. While this

may have contributed to the lower completion rate of surveys started, I thought it important to

have a full inventory in order to adequately assess the WRID stage.

Each statement corresponded to a WRID identity stage; a statement with which a

participant strongly agreed were given the highest point value of four, and indicated the
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 32

participant strongly identified with sentiments/ideas that are tightly aligned to that identity stage.

Statements with which a participant strongly disagreed were given the lowest point value of one.

These points were then calculated and averaged by each of Helms five WRID stages. Details of

the five stages that are assessed in the questionnaire are indicated in Figure 3, which includes the

qualities, characteristics, experiences, and possible frames of mind for an individual in any

particular stage.

White Racial Identity Description


Development (WRID) Stages
as tested by White Racial
Identity Attitudes Scale
(WRIAS)
Contact Limited interactions with black people
Operate from a place of colorblindness
Unaware of whiteness in self or societal
structures
Disintegration Conscious of his/her Whiteness
Conflicting feelings/Moral Dilemmas
Intense feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety
Reintegration Adopts implicit belief in white racial superiority
Believes race-related negative conditions are
result of inferiority
Pseudo-Independence Begins to understand whites have responsibility
for racism
Uncomfortable being white, not fully accepted
by blacks, so joins like-minded whites
Autonomy Burgeoning positive white identity, as race is no
longer psychological threat
Adaptable worldview; seeks out inter-racial
experiences
Figure 3. The five statuses of White Racial Identity, measured in the White Racial Identity

Attitudes Scale (WRIAS).

The stage with the highest averaged score was identified as the WRID stage with which

the participant most strongly identified. This statistical analysis allowed me to identify students

with moderately developed white racial identity, assessed to be in the reintegration or pseudo-

independence stages of Helms six stages. I was interested in participants who had an averaged
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 33

score of 3.00-4.00 in reintegration or pseudo-independence, as this demonstrated a strong

association with those racial identity development stages.

Additionally, a demographic questionnaire accompanied the WRIAS assessment to

explore correlation of variables, attempting to look at the intersectionality of privilege, and

whether other dominant social identities affect students understanding of Whiteness. I was

interested to see if other facets of their experience (i.e. gender, sexual orientation, socio-

economic class, interracial friendships) enhanced or hindered a white students ability to think

critically about their privileged racial identity. The demographic questionnaire asked participants

the following:

Number of Black/African American friends in broad social group

Number of closest friends that identify as Black/African American (Closest

friends were defined as those with whom a student socialized on a regular basis)

Number of family members that identify as Black/African American (Family was

defined as immediate or extended relatives via marriage or blood)

Sexual Orientation

Family Income

Single-parent/guardian household

Professions of parent(s)/guardian(s)

Part two. Qualitative research consistently reports higher levels of prejudice among

whites than quantitative research (Bonilla-Silva and Forman, 2000), so it was important to

follow-up the quantitative prong with qualitative focus groups and facilitated debriefs to get a

more holistic understanding of participant views on Whiteness; it was also important to employ

qualitative research to investigate each participants reality and interpretation of the truth.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 34

Particularly interesting was how their truth shifted and morphed dependent on context,

comparing how they negotiated racial identity individually, with how they navigated race with

their white peer group and with a figure of authority.

In the second part, purposeful sampling of aforementioned students in reintegration or

pseudo-independence identity stages included invitations to participate in a focus group. The

qualitative data collected via focus groups provided a more nuanced understanding of how white

students felt about race, and how their enacted Whiteness changed when in an intra-racial peer

group. Group sessions were arranged to ensure the broadest cross-section of participants, given

scheduling constraints (i.e. freshman and sophomores, reintegration and pseudo-independence,

diversity of sexual orientation, gender). The method for the group session was observation, an

un-moderated video-recorded activity in which participants were asked to retake the full WRIAS

questionnaire, an expanded fifty-item inventory from the initial twenty-item online survey taken

in part one. This full questionnaire can be found in Appendix A. Again, each statement in the

WRIAS was accompanied by a forced choice, four-point Likert scale. Removing the possibility

of a neutral or undecided option became paramount as students negotiated uncomfortable racial

statements as a peer group, answering each question only when the group had reached consensus.

I instructed the groups that they could not skip statements; all 50-statements had to be answered

in the order they were presented.

The results of this expanded questionnaire were not the primary datum of interest; rather,

the research was focused on the negotiation that took place unmediated amongst white peers. I

was interested: would a participant who strongly disagreed with a statement when individually

surveyed change their opinion when they found themselves in a peer group with individuals who

had a further/less developed racial identity? In other words, to what extent was Whiteness
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 35

dependant on context? If so, could universities capitalize on white students with more advanced

racial identities to mentor their peers to slowly but organically move from non-racist identities to

anti-racist identities?

Of the 345 students who were identified as having the pseudo-independence stage as their

top/tied stage (68% of participants), 117 were invited to participate in focus groups, given their

strong associations with a score of 3.00-4.00. Of the 117 invited, 20 signed-up for one of three

focus groups (17% of students invited), with 6-7 participants per focus group. When it came time

for the focus groups however, only nine attended (7% of students invited). Of the participants

who signed-up but did not show-up, a majority of them were white men. Three focus groups

were conducted on campus between April 13 April 19, 2017, approximately two weeks after

the close of the online questionnaire. Each focus group was one hour in duration, and had two to

four participants present. It is important to disclose that three participants who attended focus

groups knew me from my administrative responsibilities on the campus; this may have positively

influenced their willingness to show up to the focus group, but may have hindered their

willingness to speak openly and honestly about their racial experience. The use of the video

recorder was an attempt to mitigate this censorship, as I hoped that not being present in the room

at the time of the activity allowed them to speak more freely.

Rather than conduct focus groups by other salient aspects of identity (age, gender or

class), I decided to conduct heterogeneous focus groups, as I felt this would get students to speak

authentically. The focus group was a real stage with real peers in real time, simulating their daily

experience on campus and within their friend groups. The multiple and complex variables in this

study and the desire to anchor in real-life situations made a case study the appropriate research

design, as it provides a rich and holistic account of a phenomenon (Merriam, 1998).


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 36

Confidentiality was not promised, nor maintained, because the community to which the

participants belonged is small enough in size: students participating in this study lived in the

same residence halls on campus and/or could have been in the same courses. Subsequently,

confidentiality of names was not a reasonable expectation for this group session.

Merriam states that qualitative researchers must be good communicators, which more

often than not, requires hearing (1998, p. 23). Hearing what is not explicitly stated but

implied, noting silences and body language, is important for not only qualitative research, but for

discussions on identity as well. Therefore, video recordings were obtained during the focus

groups because non-verbal communication, facial expressions, demeanor, gender presentations

and tone of voice were all important aspects of my analysis.

Part three. Finally, additional qualitative data was collected in part three, when I, as the

investigator asked participants to reflect on the activity. This group reflection lasted

approximately 15-20 minutes, and immediately followed the groups completion of part two. I

was particularly interested if there was a change in confidence, language, and/or body posturing

with a figure of authority. I moderated a reflection on the challenges of the group activity with

the participants. This interview attempted to further investigate the diction of Whiteness when

confronted with a figure of authority (i.e. principal investigator/administrator). I was curious to

see where the most productive conversations around Whiteness took place; between the intra-

racial peer group or between principal investigator and participants? With this information,

colleges and universities could prepare either students or administrators/faculty to lead the

charge of creating an inclusive environment for students of color.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 37

Data Collection Tool Target Construct Rationale for Use


WRIAS Racial identity Understand students placement in
development WRID stages
Demographic Understanding Explore any possible intersectionality
Questionnaire privilege between other privileged identities the
student holds and development of racial
identity
Videotaping Acting out race in Understand how students navigate
peer group white racial identity in intra-racial peer
groups
Interview Acting out race Understand how students language
with figures of around racial identity changes in
authority discussion with peers versus
administrator/authority figure

Figure 4. Data collection tools and rationale for use.

This figure demonstrates the logic for this sequential transformative mixed method

design, including the data collection tools, the target construct to be understood, and rationale for

use.

Prior to transcribing, I deducted that because of the pseudo-independence phase of

participants, liberal racism frames would be existent. These initial codes included abstract

liberalism, naturalization, cultural racism, and minimizing importance of race. I then began my

review of the footage, once to purely observe, looking for any other themes that might have

emerged. Next, I listened intently to the spoken words and transcribed that data. Finally, I read

through the transcript while simultaneously watching the video recordings two times per focus

group, highlighting the transcript in different colors, each color corresponding to a code.

Throughout the transcription process, certain additional codes emerged. These deductive codes

that appeared were discomfort in racial conversations, distancing from overt racism, white guilt,

white normative center, stereotyping and microinvalidations, valuing whiteness, reference to

current political climate, and colorblindness. These codes can be found below in Figure 5.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 38

Code Manifestation of Example of Behavior/Language


WRID Stage(s)
Discomfort with racial Contact Long pauses, ending statements with a
conversation question, vocalized uncertainty, blaming
ambiguity of questions/statements
Colorblindness Contact Re-iterating it is not about color, not thinking
about race
White normative center Contact Referring to other races as diversity,
Interchanging American and White
White Guilt Disintegration Degrading and devaluing whiteness;
responding with diminishing importance of
whiteness in lived experience
Stereotyping / Reintegration Generalizing comments about black people,
Microinvalidation unintentional nullification of
realities/experiences of Black people
Abstract Liberalism Reintegration Believing force should not be used to achieve
social and economic equity
Valuing whiteness Reintegration Giving credence and placing importance on the
experience of white people as opposed to
people of color
Referencing current Pseudo- Blaming current political climate as causation
political climate Independence of poor race relations
Distancing from overt Pseudo- Not wanting to be taken out of context, quickly
racism Independence replying to blatantly racist remarks,
exasperated body language, surrounding
oneself with likeminded whites
Cultural Racism / Pseudo- Interchanging the word race for
Minimizing importance Independence culture/background, minimizing the
of race importance of the racial experience
Naturalization Pseudo- Suggesting that black people segregate
Independence themselves/need their own space because
individuals are drawn to people like themselves
Figure 5. The codes that emerged during focus groups, their associated WRID stage, and

observable behavior and language that informed the codes.

Findings

Response to Study

Within hours of the survey launch, I received a far greater number of submissions than

anticipated. I was aiming for a five percent response rate (100 survey submissions), and within

one hour of launch, had already exceeded my target number. Additionally, I received an
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 39

outpouring of e-mails from solicited participants upon launch of the study. In a generation of

students that value immediacy, often accompanied by short attention spans, I found it

particularly interesting that participants took time out of their day to share their thoughts,

feelings, and attitudes. Rather than simply delete the e-mail, 34 participants took the time to

write out concerns, questions, excitement and indignation. The number breakdown, themes, and

sample quotes of received e-mails are listed below in Figure 6. I believe these e-mails provide

insightful data for my research question on how college students navigate various stages

Whiteness.

Number of E- Reason for E- Sample Quote(s) from E-mail


mails mail
Received
4 Worried no I was a little put off at there not being a neutral
neutral answer option.
I trust this wasnt [sic] done on purpose to
manipulate the survey or to corner the participants
into only answering certain ways.
10 Not willing to This is so racist. No.
participate I am not interested in filling out your survey nor
potentially being in a focus group.
I feel uncomfortable answering these survey
questions.
My experience is none of your business and
assuming that I would be willing to express it to you
is invasive and all together rude.
I dont [sic] go to school everyday reminding
myself that Im white. No I will not take this survey
because I dont [sic] like to label people by a color.
5 Excited to I would love to participate but am on a leave of
participate absence
I can truly appreciate all of the hard work that is
going into this and Im really interested to see what
you find, particularly with the way [this school] is.
I will admit that I was intrigued by the fact that
there are people looking into what it means to be
Caucasian.. I am more than happy to talk about this
idea with you, and would be happy to help in any
capacity.
7* Survey was Im [sic] sure your intentions are noble, but the
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 40

racist survey questions that youve written are racist and


misguided.
Its [sic] ridiculous to think people who are alive
today who have never seen true oppression like in
the 1800s through 1900s can be so offended by
ancestors who are assumed to be mine I found it
hilarious how biased against white people this
campus culture is.
I am concerned about the integrity of this
investigation and question its existence at the
university.
This surveywas perhaps the most racist thing I
have ever been exposed to. Thanks to you, I see
racism is alive and well, propagated by people like
you. Dr. MLK preached colorblindness this
survey outlined the extreme misunderstanding of the
civil rights movement, that is, singling out a person
for their skin color.
Why dont [sic] you do a survey on all the kids who
get free handouts and free rides to college because of
the color of their skin, or the people who are hired
over other people with more qualifications simply
because of their color.
Instead of focusing on the positive parts of being
different races and from different cultures, you have
pinned this so called generalized white group
against African Americans asking questions if I feel
uncomfortable because of differences that I have
never even considered and if I feel guilt for slavery,
something my and your generation were not even
around for.
5 Identified as Im [sic] offended. Im [sic] Persian.
Middle Eastern I am Middle-Eastern, and despite my relatively
lighter skin tone I have never experienced life as a
white person.
2 Questioning Im [sic] curious as to how you got my racial
how racial identity.
identity was How and why was I selected to take this survey?
known
1 Questioning if Are you conducting a survey for any other races
survey was besides white students?
being done for
other races
Figure 6. E-mails received during part one.

* Full e-mail correspondence can be found in Appendix H, as well as the WRID stage of the sender, if survey was completed.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 41

This outpouring of engagement indicated that white students - whether relieved to have

the opportunity to engage, or displeased with being identified by their race - had feelings about

race.

Demographic breakdown of participants in part one and part two are indicated in Figure

7. Not surprisingly, participants in part one of the study were quick to claim black friends in their

broad social groups, but the majority claimed they only had a few black acquaintances (57%).

When prompted about black/African American friends in their close friend group (for the

purpose of this study, close friend group was defined as those with whom one socializes on a

regular basis), 82% said did not have many close black friends; they either did not have a close

black friend (28%), or they only had a few close black friends (54%). The number of participants

with black family (for the purpose of this study, family was defined as immediate or extended

relatives via blood or marriage) dwindled even further, with 80% reporting they had no black

family members. Participants predominantly identified as heterosexual (90%), and came from

middle class to upper class families (83%), representative of the general campus population.

Hartigan Jr. found that upper class whites have been able to divert accusations of racism by

distancing themselves from overtly racist working-class whites (2001). It is sensible then, that

the participant pool of middle to upper class students finds themselves predominantly in the

moderately developed pseudo-independence stage of Whiteness, a stage in which individuals

surround themselves with like-minded, progressive white people.

Demographic Participant Profiles

In the focus groups there was an over-representation of gay, bisexual, and another sexual

orientation, identities, making up 43% of the focus group, whereas non-heterosexual identities

only made up 10% of respondents in part one. This over-representation could be due to the fact
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 42

that these participants hold a marginalized identity and have been engaged in confronting the

societal norms in which they live and therefore may have been better able to recognize and

articulate the power and privilege that is associated with their racial identity. There were also

more participants in the focus groups with black family members (29%) than the part one

respondents (12.4%). Additionally, 100% of focus group participants claimed close black

friendships juxtaposed to part one respondents (82%). This interaction effect, or white

individuals who are exposed to different social groups are more likely to be ideologically

progressive, or more advanced in their WRID stage (Bonilla-Silva, 2003). Other factors were

relatively similar between focus group participants and part one respondents: 86% of focus group

participants came from middle class to upper class families, compared to 83% of respondents in

part one; 29% of focus group participants had more than half/almost all black friends in their

broad social group, compared to 27% of part one respondents.

Online Focus Group Focus Group


Questionnaire 1* 3
Respondents
Male 41% (n=209) 66% (n=2) 25% (n=1)
Gender

Female 59% (n=297) 33% (n=1) 75% (n=3)

Heterosexual 90% (n=457) 33% (n=1) 75% (n=3)


Gay 1% (n=6) 33% (n=1) 0% (n=0)
Sexual Orientation

Bisexual 3.5% (n=18) 33% (n=1) 0% (n=0)


Lesbian .7% (n=4) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)
Questioning or unsure 2% (n=8) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)
Another sexual .7% (n=4) 0% (n=0) 25% (n=1)
orientation
I prefer not to answer 2% (n=9) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)

<$21,000 2% (n=11) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)


Guesstim

Income
Family

$21,000 - $40,000 6% (n=31) 0% (n=0) 25% (n=1)


ated

$40,000 - $65,000 8% (n=38) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)


$65,000 - $105,000 23% (n=114) 33% (n=1) 25% (n=1)
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 43

$105,000 - $192,000 26% (n=131) 66% (n=2) 50% (n=2)


> $192,000 34% (n=171) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)

Yes 92% (n=464) 100% (n=3) 100% (n=4)


Black friends in
broad social
group?

No 8% (n=42) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)

A few 57% (n=288) 33% (n=1) 25% (n=1)


Black/African
many of them
If Yes, how

About half 8% n=42) 33% (n=1) 50% (n=2)


American?
identify as

More than half 4% (n=18) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)


Almost all/All 23% (n=116) 33% (n=1) 25% (n=1)
N/A** 8% (n=42) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)

None 28% (n=141) 33% (n=1) 0% (n=0)


as Black/African
friends identify

A few 54% (n=271) 66% (n=2) 100% (n=4)


How many of

American?
your close

About half 5% (n=26) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)


More than half 1% (n=6) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)
Almost all/All 4% (n=20) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)
N/A** 8% (n=42) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)

None 80% (n=403) 33% (n=1) 100% (n=4)


Black/African
How many of

A few 11% (n=54) 66% (n=2) 0% (n=0)


your family

American?
identify as

About half .2% (n=1) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)


More than half 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)
Almost all/All 1.2% (n=6) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)
N/A** % (n=42) 0% (n=0) 0% (n=0)

* Focus Group 2 is not counted, as the group decided to end the activity early, and only answered 14/50 questions. Additional
information about Focus Group 2 can be found in the Findings section of this study.

** N/A indicates the respondent answered No to the primary question Do you have black friends in your broad social
group? Subsequently, logic in the questionnaire skipped questions of black close friends and family.

Figure 7. Demographic information of participants in this study.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 44

Focus Group Participant Profiles

Focus group one. Three participants showed up for the first focus group. Their

demographic breakdowns are seen in Figure 7 (p. 42). Individual demographic information can

be found in Appendix B.

Identified as male according to the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, Brian

was concerned with gender-neutral pronouns, and called out the use of gender binary in the

WRIAS. He indicated he was gay on the questionnaire and also identified himself as a member

of the LGBT community during the focus group, is upper class, and the son of a doctor and

military personnel, growing up in the southern United States. He was the individual in the group

with the strongest ties to the pseudo-independence stage (averaged score of 3.75), despite a few

strong ties to both the Contact stage (i.e. strongly agreeing with the statements I think its

exciting to discover the little ways in which black and white people are different and I was

raised to believe people are people, regardless of race) and the Autonomy stage (i.e. strongly

agreeing with the statements There are some valuable things white people can learn from

Blacks that they cannot learn from other whites and I am not embarrassed to admit that I am

white. He is outspoken and very expressive.

Keira, a female student who identifies as bisexual, is a political science major, and

relatively outspoken. Her demeanor changed drastically when the principal investigator was in

the room; she was much more outspoken and much less guarded with her peers. She is from the

Midwest and was raised in a middle-class, single parent household. Keira was one of the

participants to write a tersely worded e-mail after receiving the survey in part one, indicating her

discomfort with the antiquated references to racial groups like blacks or whites, the

sweeping stereotypes used in the WRIAS questionnaire and had grave reservations about the
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 45

integrity of the study. She had relatively strong ties to the pseudo-independence stage (averaged

score of 3.0), but also had substantial averaged score of 2.75 in the contact stage (i.e.

somewhat/strongly agreeing with the statements I hardly think about what race I am, I think

its exciting to discover the little ways in which black people and white people are different and

I was raised to believe that people are people regardless of race).

Jonathan, a first-year heterosexual male student, is quiet and somewhat reserved. He is

from southern California, growing up in a two-parent, upper class family. He had relatively

strong ties to the pseudo-independence stage (averaged score of 3.0), with his averaged scores in

other themes being in the 1.65-2.25 range, indicating a lack of connection to those stages. His

demeanor, like Keiras, changed in the presence of the principal investigator. Once settled in

with his peers, he was quick to jump in, laugh and cajole, and challenge statements with which

he disagreed. With me in the room, he was much more measured, exhibiting head nods to what

others said, but rarely speaking himself.

Focus group two. Two women showed up to participate in the second focus group.

Their demographic breakdowns are seen in Figure 2 (p. 42). Individual demographic information

can be found in Appendix D.

Julia, who identifies as bisexual, is majoring in sociology. She is confident and admits to

often playing the role of facilitator for group discussions, but can oscillate from being quite

assertive to rather timid dependent on the topic. She grew up in a middle class, single-parent

household in central California, and is one of the students with whom I was familiar prior to the

study. She had a strong tie to the pseudo-independence stage (averaged score of 3.75), and had a

strong tie to the autonomy stage as well (averaged score of 3.25, strongly agreeing with

statements There are some valuable things white people can learn from Blacks that they cannot
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 46

learn from other Whites and I am not embarrassed to admit that I am white), with an

averaged score of 2.75 in the contact stage (i.e. strongly agreeing with the statements I think its

exciting to discover the little ways in which black people and white people are different and I

was raised to believe that people are people regardless of race). Julia is seemingly thrown-off

when joined by Soheila, the second woman to participate in this focus group.

Soheila is an international student from Iran; her phenotype is Middle Eastern, but she

identifies as white. Soheila identifies as heterosexual, and was raised by a two-parent, working

class family in Iran. Soheila struggles a bit with the questionnaire, as English is her second

language, and she often says she is having a hard time with [a] question. It is unclear if the

sentiment or the language is what challenges her. She has an equally strong tie to the pseudo-

independence stage (averaged score of 3.75), but has scores of 1.75-2.25 for others, showing a

lack of identity with those stages. However, Soheila has an averaged score of 3.5 for the contact

stage (i.e. strongly agreeing with the statements I hardly think about what race I am, I think

its exciting to discover the little ways in which black people and white people are different and

I was raised to believe that people are people regardless of race). She has a strong presence

about her, but interacts with her peer quite differently than she does with the principal

investigator. She is rather reserved and deliberate in her interactions with Julia, but becomes

quite assertive in her interactions with me. It is interesting to note that of all nine participants in

the focus group, Soheila is the only one who did not have any black friends in her broad social

group, nor subsequently in her close friend group or family.

Focus group three. Four participants showed up for the third focus group. Their

demographic breakdowns are seen in Figure 2 (p. 42). Individual demographic information can

be found in Appendix F.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 47

Holly is a heterosexual female from the Pacific Northwest, from an upper-class single

parent household. She is bubbly, extroverted, and has a huge smile; she steps in quickly to serve

as leader for the group. Her type-A personality and her desire to complete the survey often puts

an end to conversation, and she does not offer much time for her peers to consider the statements

as she tries to steer the group to consensus. This can be seen when a peer would try to vocalize

an opinion and Holly would respond with so are you like a one [strongly disagree] or a two

[somewhat disagree]? She is one of the students with whom I was familiar prior to the study.

She has a strong averaged score of 3.25 in the pseudo-independence stage, but has a score of 3.0

in the contact stage (i.e. somewhat/strongly agreeing with statements such as I hardly think

about what race I am, I think its exciting to discover the little ways in which black people and

white people are different, and I was raised to believe that people are people regardless of

race).

Adam is a heterosexual male from the Pacific Northwest, from a middle class, two-parent

household. He is Hollys boyfriend, and the two often find themselves agreeing on statements,

although there were instances in which they had very different responses and were not afraid to

go against one another. I have met Adam once, when Holly introduced us. Adam is sociable,

and even-keeled. Of the group, he has the strongest pseudo-independence score (averaged score

of 3.75), despite strong ties to both the Contact stage (i.e. strongly agreeing with the statements

I hardly think about what race I am, I think its exciting to discover the little ways in which

black and white people are different and I was raised to believe people are people, regardless

of race) and the Autonomy stage (i.e. strongly agreeing with the statements When a black

person holds an opinion with which I disagree, I am not afraid to express my viewpoint, There
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 48

are some valuable things white people can learn from Blacks that they cannot learn from other

whites and I am not embarrassed to admit that I am white.

Brooke is a first-year female student from a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From a

working class background, she is both polite and opinionated. She is considerate, demonstrated

by her openness and respect for the others in the group whom she strongly disagrees with. Rather

than be frustrated by peers with differing opinions, Brooke often reiterates, Weve just had very

different experiences. She is much more vocal with her peer groups than she is with the

principal investigator. She disclosed her sexual orientation as other, and Brooke has an

averaged pseudo-independence score of 3.25, and strong ties to the autonomy stage, with an

averaged score of 3.0 (i.e. strongly agreeing with the statements like When a black person holds

an opinion with which I disagree, I am not afraid to express my viewpoint, and There are

some valuable things white people can learn from blacks that they cannot learn from other

whites.

Lindsey is first-year female student from southern California, from an upper class, two

parent household. She has a pseudo-independence averaged score of 3.0, but it is interesting to

note that of all the focus group participants, Lindsey is the only one with a tied score across

multiple stage identities. She received a 3.0 in the contact identity stage, the pseudo-

independence stage, and the autonomy stage. Lindsey is hesitant, as evidenced by her very

careful review of the consent form. She asked clarifying questions prior to signing, as the rest of

the group looked on. She is timid, quiet, and does not speak much once the group gets

underway. Throughout much of the activity, visible cues indicate Lindsey disagrees with the

conversation, but rarely asserts her dissenting opinion.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 49

Participants by WRID Stage

The study was designed around the reintegration and pseudo-independence stage, as I

predicted many college students might enact frames of liberal racism. Therefore, I was not

surprised that the majority of participants placed into pseudo-independence. 50% (n=251) placed

into solely pseudo-independence, and 18% (n=93) had pseudo-independence as a top-tied stage.

Furthermore, it was not surprising that the second largest percentage of students placed into

solely autonomy stage (20%, n=101) and an additional 16% (n=80) had autonomy as a top-tied

stage, as Bonilla-Silva and Forman pointed out that white individuals tend to be less racist on

paper than they are in person (2000).

I was surprised to find that only one student placed into the reintegration stage, however.

My initial thoughts had placed a majority of college students in moderately developed racial

identity stages (reintegration and pseudo-independence stages), but throughout the study, it

occurred to me that a certain type of white student would take the survey and sign up for a focus

group: those that were in the very early stages and were curious about racial exploration and

those that were advanced enough in their racial identity development that they saw value in

exploring race and privilege as a way to help fix the inequities they witnessed. Students in

reintegration stage tend to be in the tumultuous throws of racial identity development, angry and

agreeing with statements like white people have bent over backwards trying to make up for

their ancestors mistreatment of Blacks, now it is time to stop, or society has been unjust to

blacks, but it has also been unjust to whites. It then is no wonder that students who feel race

and racism are a thing of the past would be frustrated and unwilling to engage in a questionnaire

about race.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 50

As Helms reminds researchers, it is most beneficial to use all subscales as a profile for a

participant, rather than a single score on a subscale as an indicator (Carter, 1996). Therefore, it

is not surprising to see the complexities in Figure 8, with many students placing equally into as

many as four stages. A critique of Helms stage model is that participants rarely fit into one

stage, as evidenced not only in Figure 8, but also in participant behavior and language

throughout the focus groups.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 51

Questionnaire Participants by WRID Stage

Participants with
equal scores in
>1 stage
(n=105)

Figure 8. Breakdown of participants by primary WRID stage, based on their highest averaged

score from responses to the WRIAS questionnaire.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 52

Throughout the focus groups, there were some prevalent themes that emerged (Figure 5,

p. 38). A very interesting, albeit expected, deduction from transcription review is that the more

overtly racist the statement, the response from all individuals was both quicker and stronger, and

it was easier for the group to reach consensus. However, when the WRIAS statement was a

more coded form of racism, participants became very uncertain in their responses and were

visibly uneasy. It became clear that the power of the intra-racial peer group was tangible when

participants were enacting Whiteness.

Discomfort in racial conversations

All nine participants in all three focus groups verbalized or physically demonstrated

discomfort during the un-moderated focus group. Examples of discomfort in verbal cues were

long pauses, uncomfortable laughter, exasperated exhales, vocalized statements of this is hard,

or I dont [sic] know, and even complete silence from certain participants at certain points of

the conversation. Physical cues of discomfort were headshakes, leaning back in chair, and lack of

eye contact. For instance, when the statement I have come to believe that black and white

people are very different was read, it was met with a seven second pause by Brian, Keira, and

Jonathan in focus group one. Their discomfort came from the word very, uncertain as to how

their response would be perceived.

Jonathan: I would strongly disagree.

Brian: But were [sic] different

Keira: Im [sic] gonna [sic] say somewhat disagree. Because we talked about ideological

differences, and like different viewpoints but like biologically, absolutely not. Like

[sic], you dont [sic] sunburn, great.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 53

Brian: The word thats [sic] stressing me out is very I dont [sic] think were [sic]

very different [emphasis in original].

Jonathan: Yeah.

Brian: I may have to agree with Jonathan on strongly disagree.

Jonathan, being more soft-spoken than the other two in group one seemed unwilling to contribute

to the conversation, especially after peers had vocalized very strong opinions. For instance, when

Im not embarrassed to admit that Im white was read aloud:

Brian: (very quickly and in very loud and firm tone) Strongly disagree [emphasis in

original].

Keira: I mean, you look at me (sticks out arm) and ding! [sic; emphasis in original]. Im

[sic] white. You need sunglasses to look at me!

Brian: Yeah. No hiding it.

Jonathan: Silence

Jonathans silence, and Brian and Keiras unwillingness to engage a potential dissenting group

member, exemplify how uncomfortable white students can be when discussing race. Keiras

comment about needing sunglasses to look at her pale complexion goes in direct opposition to

her stating she was not embarrassed to admit she was white. Mocking her complexion was a way

to sidestep the discomfort; an attempt to convince herself and her peers that she was comfortable

in her white skin.

Furthermore, when participants were uncomfortable with a statement, they were quick to

blame semantics or a misunderstanding of the WRIAS statement. Brian and Jonathan got into a

debate about their differing answers to the statement I used to believe in racial integration, but

now I have my doubts. Brian interprets the question to be asking if there are doubts that racial
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 54

integration is possible and answers that he strongly agrees, whereas Jonathan interprets the

question to be asking if there are doubts that racial integration should have happened, to which

he strongly disagrees. They continued to be in disagreement about how to respond to the

statement, asked each other pointed questions, and finally, in an attempt to move past the

discomfort and reach consensus, Brian offered up, I think were [sic] interpreting the question

in different ways. Jonathan confirms, saying because of the ambiguity of the question.

Julia and Soheila make similar comments about the ambiguity and complexity of the

questions.

Soheila: So, I have a hard time coming up with one answer. These answers are binary

Julia: Its [sic] a complex question with a number as an answer

When the statement, Sometimes jokes based on black peoples experiences are funny

was read in focus group three, the group had a very difficult time answering the question, as they

did not want to be misunderstood.

Brooke: That depends on whos [sic] making the joke and who the audience is and whos

[sic] laughing. Thats [sic] a little loaded for me.

Holly: Should we say somewhat disagree then? I just feel like when people make jokes

about black peoples experiences, it makes me [emphasis in original] feel uncomfortable.

Brooke: Really?

Holly: Yeah, because I dont [sic] think its [sic] something to joke about.

Adam: I think it depends on the audience and whos [sic] the target audience as well.

Brooke: Like [sic] a majority of my friends are black, so to me, its [sic] a contextual

thing like [sic] , theyre [sic] making jokes about their experiences, where as if I were
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 55

surrounded by like [sic], a bunch of white people that I didnt [sic] know and they wanted

to make a joke, Id [sic] be like Ok. Really?

Lindsey: because its [sic] meant in a different way.

Brooke: If youre [sic] making a joke about your own experiences

Lindsey: Its [sic] self-deprecating

Brooke: Exactly. If its [sic] made at the expense of, then I cant [sic]

Lindsey: Yeah, then youre [sic] laughing at someone [emphasis in original].

Holly: Im [sic] gonna [sic] star it and we can come back to it.

Adam: Yeah, maybe if there were a neutral option

Lindsey: Maybe we can put some other symbol for the ones that are too vague versus the

ones we cant [sic] reach consensus on.

This desire to maintain neutrality, blaming context and ambiguity when an uncomfortable

answer arises in which the group may not reach consensus, is a preservation tactic in order for

the group to maintain congeniality.

During the second focus group, Julia and Soheila were so uncomfortable with the racial

conversation they skipped over statements entirely. Their time together was peppered with long

pauses, long exhales and uncomfortable laughter. To each uncomfortable statement, Julia offers

to star it and come back to it later, to which Sohelia agrees. When the statement I used to

believe in racial integration, but now I have my doubts is read, Julia very timidly offers up a

soft-spoken I dont [sic] really know what that means. Her statement is left hanging, and a

five second pause ensues. Soheila then says, I agree, to which Julia, eager to avoid

confrontation and discomfort jumps in with a quick I think I agree too, and moves on to the
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 56

next question. Like Jonathan and Adam, Julia was sometimes unwilling to engage in confronting

her peer if it meant upsetting the current amiable state of affairs.

White guilt

Participants occasionally referenced white guilt explicitly, but more often than not white

guilt was manifested by humiliation and subsequent degradation of Whiteness. For instance,

when the statement I feel as comfortable with whites as I do with blacks is read in focus group

one:

Keira: Sometimes Im [sic] scared that Im [sic] not being respectful. Sometimes Im

[sic] afraid that me just being a person is going to come off worse because there is a

difference in race, if that makes sense. Because sometimes, um [sic] , thats [sic] how

people articulate conflicts even though that isnt necessarily the case. So it depends on

the situation I think. Like, at my job

Brian: Wheres [sic] your job?

Keira: Minnesota (laughs).

Brian: Oh [sic] (laughs).

Keirs: Sometimes I work at the food court in my mall, and when kids are horsing around

and you have to yell at them or whatever, it makes me feel uncomfortable when its [sic]

a group of people of color because I think this sounds sad but I think that its [sic]

going to be taken as me singling out because theyre [sic] a group of people of color.

Keiras initial comments demonstrate white guilt by indicating that if she treats white people and

people of color equally, she will be seen as racist, when she does not feel that is the case.

Additionally, when mentioning her home state of Minnesota, a state with a white population over

85%, Keira seems to be embarrassed by its overwhelming Whiteness and attempts to distance
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 57

herself by laughing. Brian chirps in with laughter as well, further reiterating that they are

somewhat humiliated by Whiteness.

This mocking of Whiteness is further demonstrated when the statement I feel hostile

when I interact with blacks is read. Brian immediately jumps in, imitating a southern accent:

Brian: Oh, thats [sic] totally me [emphasis in original]. I have a confederate flag on the

back of my truck.

Jonathan: Laughs

Keira: You bring your shotgun too?

This scorning and mocking white people further reiterates college aged liberal white students

displeasure with being white.

Group three also mocked Whiteness, when the statement I limit myself to white

activities was read. Lindsey asks, What are white activities? to which Brooke quickly retorts,

The KKK. The whole group laughs, and immediately moves on to the next question, strongly

disagreeing with the statement. This minimization of Whiteness into a singular, overtly racist

white person negates the possibility of developing a positive white identity. With only one kind

of white identity in mind, the group is quick to be humiliated by and devalue being white.

Despite contrasting observations of devaluing Whiteness and publically vocalizing that

the group is comfortable to admit that they are white, when I feel depressed after Ive been

around black people is read, it is immediately met by laughter by focus group one.

Brian: Where did that come from?

Keira: I dont [sic] know maybe you feel bad?

Brian: but why?

Jonathan: You know guilt.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 58

Brian: Oh, ok.

This acknowledgement that black people, simply by being black, can make white people feel

guilty, indicates that all three participants have experienced white guilt and potentially, as a way

to cope with past or present white guilt, laugh and initially hint that the statement as absurd.

In her debrief with me, Julia was flustered because she felt that Soheila left the activity

thinking she [Julia] was a racist.

Julia: I just long exhale. (Long pause) She had it was like I was a racist to her. I was

definitely a racist person to her. And Im [sic] sure Im [sic] a racist in some ways that I

dont [sic] know about, but in America, were [sic] all racists, if thats [sic] how were

[sic] defining it but I could just tell, she thought I was racist. And I was like Thats

[sic] fine. I get it. That didnt [sic] offend me at all shes [sic] not that far off if she

thinks white people in America are racist.

Julias comments indicate her view that all white people are racist, underrating the possibility of

positive, anti-racist white identities. The unconditional equation of white to racist is something

that may subconsciously cause shame and guilt for individuals with moderately developed white

racial identities.

In group three, when asked to come to consensus on the statement, I am not

embarrassed to admit that I am white, the group tries to distance themselves from white guilt,

while simultaneously reaffirming it.

Brooke: Is it like white guilt?

Adam: I feel like, from our perspective, we dont [sic] have to think about it on a daily

basis.

Brooke: Like white privilege?


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 59

Holly: Im [sic] embarrassed about white privilege, but I wouldnt [sic] say Im [sic]

embarrassed to be white.

Brooke: You cant [sic] change that.

Adam: Yeah, so

Holly: Somewhat disagree? Like [sic] , Im [sic] kind of embarrassed by white

supremacy and how white people have treated people.

Lindsey: But thats [sic] not what the question says its [sic] not asking if youre [sic]

embarrassed by white privilege or white supremacy.

Adam: But its [sic] associated with it. Like theres [sic] a stigma thats [sic] been

created because of those individuals.

Holly: I think it just comes along with being whiteI think thats [sic] what it means.

Hollys comment that she is embarrassed by white privilege but does not experience white guilt

is counterintuitive. Additionally, she comments that she is embarrassed by how white people

have treated people, which is the very essence of white guilt. Adams correlation of Whiteness

and stigmas of white supremacy further indicate the lack of understanding of a positive white

racial identity, as all three focus groups only reference racist white identities. To the participants,

a non-racist white identity is one in which there is no identity in Whiteness at all. With this

devaluation of the role Whiteness played in their current experiences, these participants were

able to deny their role in race relations.

Colorblindness

If was intriguing to see how frequently students in the pseudo-independence stage

referred to colorblindness, an indicator of the contact stage of racial identity development.

Colorblindness, which has been seen as overtly racist, has morphed and shape-shifted into a new,
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 60

coded racism. Where as colorblindness in the past has been conceived as when a white person

says something like I dont see color, colorblindness in these millennial participants was

evidenced when they employed a white normative center, and minimized the importance of race

for themselves and for their inter-racial friend groups.

Julia employed a white normative center, or the assumption that white is synonymous

with American, when she tells Soheila its [sic] not that people are born racists, or that

Americans are racists well they are. Julia is referring to white Amerians when she states that

they [white people] are racists. The tension in focus group two is heightened by Soheilas

Middle Eastern phenotype. Julia comments, The thing is we are definitely coming from

different places; different majors, different backgrounds, different experiencesI dont [sic]

know.

In her debrief with me, Julia shares: It was tough but first off, I didnt [sic] think of her

as white. I mean, she may identify as white, but in America, she wouldnt [sic] be white, she

wouldnt [sic] be thought of as white. So I knew going in like, I know this is going to be

different, because Im [sic] a prototypical white person. She continues, I dont [sic] think of

her I didnt [sic] think of her as white when I first saw her. Sorry. This equation of white

being synonymous with American subconsciously reiterates that white is the norm, and people of

color are the outliers.

Additionally, in focus group one, Keira, Jonathan and Brian discuss the community at

this university, and refer to people of color as diversity when referencing the most recent

incoming class.

Jonathan: I feel like theres [sic] some diversity here though.

Brian: The new freshman class had a resounding 45%.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 61

Keira: I could feel it though I could tell the new class was more diverse. And I was

like (snaps).

Despite seemingly celebrating the increase of racial diversity at the university, the

interchangeable use of diversity for people of color reaffirms that to these participants, white

is the norm and people of color are an unexpected (even if celebrated) departure from the norm.

While simultaneously celebrating diversity, there is a thread of minimization of race

throughout all three focus groups. In responding to In many ways blacks and whites are similar,

but they are also different in some important ways, Jonathan in focus group one retorts, How

are they different though? Lindsey in focus group three displays colorblindness when she says

I dont [sic] think about it as race like, whites will hurt blacks, blacks will hurt whites, whites

will hurt whites in response to the statement I get angry when I think about how whites have

been treated by blacks.

Focus group three also enacted this minimization of the importance of race when the

statement I wish I had a black friend came up.

Brooke: Laughs

Holly: Thats [sic] a hard one, because what if you already have a black friend?

Adam: I would disagree on that one.

Holly: But I dont [sic] want to disagree and have it seem like I dont want black

friends

Brooke: True.

Adam: I just dont [sic] wish to have a certain race as a friend, you know?

Brooke: Like [sic] , that just doesnt [sic] occur to me.

Lindsey: I think I would cross out a and write more.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 62

Holly: Thats [sic] true I wish I had more black friends.

Lindsey: ... Or just more friends.

Brooke: I just feel like when you write it down, it has a negative connotation, but its

[sic] like No. Thats [sic] not even something [I think about]

Reiterating that they do not pursue friendships because of race, nor is race something that is

thought about when making new friends, focus group three is demonstrating both colorblindness

and a minimization of the importance of race for people of color. By saying that race doesnt

occur to me, they are dismissing the most salient part of their black friends experience.

The participant who espoused the most colorblind narrative was Soheila. Focus group

two had such trouble throughout the activity that after answering only fourteen statements of the

fifty included in the WRIAS, Soheila asked to stop the activity. She vocalized difficulty

understanding the questions, and it is unclear if it was the language that she was challenged by or

the statements themselves. When the statement When a black person holds an opinion with

which I disagree, I am not afraid to express my viewpoint, is read, the following interaction

transpires between Soheila and Julia.

Julia: I would say that I agree with this, because I tend to privilege black peoples

opinions more than my own.

Soheila: I totally disagree with the question. It doesnt [sic] matter what color that

person is. I dont [sic] care about the color.

Julia: I dont [sic] care about the color, but if I had an opposite opinion in class, if a

black person were to raise their hand and tell me about their opinion in my Race and

Ethnicity Class, I would disagree with it, but I would hold it higher than my own

opinion like [sic] I would think, really listen to what they think.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 63

Soheila: Would you do the same for white people?

Julia: No. If its [sic] a white person, its [sic] white, white, white, whatever. But if its

[sic] a black person and theyre [sic] speaking up in class about something and their

opinion is different than mine, Im [sic] going to listen because I know they have a

completely different viewpoint that needs to be heard Im [sic] really privileged in that

my voice is always heard, so I have this viewpoint that comes from a background of a life

that is easier than most black people

Soheila: I hear what youre [sic] saying. I cannot honestly get into I dont [sic] care.

Everyone is equal. I understand that if someone has a different opinion than me, I would

share my opinion. Because youre [sic] separating them too. Lets [sic] give them time,

lets [sic] hear them, somehow youre [sic] separating them, and degrading them I

somehow call it United States of Racist America. Its [sic] like the black and whites

there are different groups. But placing those little groups and referring back to black and

white boundaries between themYoure [sic] drawing a line.

It is interesting to note that Julia says she would listen to a black classmate in a Race and

Ethnicity class, making the distinction of which type of class she would place a black peers

opinion in higher esteem. We see her making the assumption that race is something that people

of color are experts in, and that white people are not raced and therefore do not have as valuable

of contributions. Soheila exemplifies colorblindness throughout the conversation, with

statements like I dont [sic] care about color. Soheila asserts that the reason race is an issue in

the United States is because Americans keep talking about it and pointing out differences;

therefore she believes that all it takes to be a post-racial society is to just stop seeing color and

stop talking about race. Later in the conversation, she asks Julia:
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 64

I just have a question for you. Assume you have a boyfriend for two to three years, long

time [sic]. And then you break up with that person. What helps you get over that

person? Saying bye, not thinking about that person anymore or just keep [sic] saying, I

will forget him. I will forget him. Would you ever forget him if you just keep repeating

that or no? You just its [sic] painful, but lets [sic] not talk about it and just move on

or repeating yourself every five minutes that I will move on.

Soheila compares the traumatic and tumultuous history of race relations in the United States with

an intimate relationship that ends, and implies that the easiest way to get over the past is to

simply stop talking about it and move on, just as one would with an ex-partner. The

simplification of this analogy reiterates that Soheila does not see racism present in the systems

and structures of the United States, but only in individual racist behaviors and actions, and only

by ignoring race and shelving our racist history will we have positive race relations.

It was at this point in the dialogue the two got heated, and Soheila requested to end the

activity. When I came into the room and asked what had happened, it became clear the

conversation had turned a corner and was no longer constructive. Soheila vocalized that she had

a fundamental problem with the design of the study, and reiterated that I was being disrespectful

and perpetuating racism by continually comparing blacks and whites. I graciously thanked her

for her thoughts and reminded both participants that this focus group was entirely voluntary, and

at any point could end the focus group, if they so desired. Soheila got up and left, and Julia asked

if she could stay to debrief, as she was visibly shaken and misty eyed.

This clash was a reminder that race is a complicated and challenging topic of discussion,

and that qualitative research is needed to understand race, as each individual has a distinct truth

from which they are operating.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 65

Liberal racism

While these aforementioned themes were presented time and time again in all three focus

groups, none were as prevalent as liberal racism. In particular, all nine participants had an

incredible desire to distance themselves from perceptions of overt racism.

Distancing from overt racism. Hartigan Jr. discussed how affluent whites were quick to

distance themselves from racism by comparing themselves to stereotypes of blatantly racist

working-class whites, allowing upper-class, educated whites to define their identity in opposition

to those overtly racist whites (2001). This is also true for the young white liberals who

participated in these focus groups and see themselves as progressive; by continually placing

themselves in contrast to what they perceive to be overtly racist, they become non-racists. In an

era when buzz words like inclusion and diversity are prevalent on college campuses, white

students have the desire to reiterate to one another and to their peers of color that they are the

good whites by comparing themselves to the racist, bad white people, including distancing

from members of their own families.

Holly: I think its [sic] crazy, because for some, I think we all thought thats [sic] such a

crazy question, but people probably feel the complete opposite.. Its just weird to think

that people are feeling depressed after hanging out with black people

Brooke: Or that blacks and whites can date, but shouldnt get married my dad would

probably agree with that, actually.

Holly: Yeah. My familys [sic] the same. My family would probably agree with that too.

But its just weird to think that so many people are so backwards in their thinking and

feel that way.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 66

All three focus groups were littered with examples of distancing from overt racism, and

the participants desire to not be taken out of context for fear of being seen as racist. This

apprehension drove many of their comments, actions, and responses; the more overtly racist the

statement, the response from all individuals was both quicker and stronger, and it was easier for

the group to reach consensus.

Whether it was responding to I get angry when I think about how whites have been

treated by blacks, Theres nothing I want to learn from blacks, Id rather socialize with

whites only, groups were very quick to strongly disagree with phrases associated with the

reintegration stage of White Racial Identity Development (WRID).

When focus group one got to the statement White people have bent over backwards

trying to make up for their ancestors mistreatment of blacks, now it is time to stop, Brian,

before the sentence could even be finished, bursts out in a loud buzzer noise.

Brian: Buuuzzzz [sic]. Wrong! [emphasis in original]

Keira: Yeah [sic].

Jonathan: Yeah [sic]. Thats [sic] definitely a strongly disagree.

Brian: I remember reading that question and I literally gagged.

Keira: I e-mailed her [principal investigator], because I was like what is this survey

about? I was just like What? I get it, education or whatever. But I was stressed

[emphasis in original].

Brian took a moment after the I see out new experiences, even if I know a large number of

Blacks will be involved in them, statement to share the following:

Brian: Ok, I feel like were [sic] all similarly politically open-minded it would have

been super interesting to be sitting here with a person who was like (funny voice,
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 67

impersonating uptight conservative white person) Umm Im [sic] not going to get

involved if theres [sic] black people involved.

Keira: Thats [sic] why I was nervous to come to this, because I thought I was going to

have to be up in arms today.

Brian: She [Keira] said someones gonna [sic] have to put some hands up! Because if

they say something stupid

Keira: Literally. When I was reading these questions but Im [sic] interested to see

how people on campus responded Because

Jonathan: I feel like they wouldnt [sic] have even taken the survey.

The three, in their debrief with me, reiterate that a very specific type of white person

would take the survey and show up, and they all wonder how different the activity would have

been if they had a less progressive, not-like-minded white person in the room. Keira shares that

she does not really find herself around people like that [overt racists], and Brian reiterates that

he cannot put those types of people in his social groups, because he would be constantly in a

state of alarm and would be perpetually arguing. This desperation to be seen as the good white

has led these participants to exclusively engage with like-minded white people, a symptom of the

pseudo-independence stage. As they are not comfortable being white, and are not fully accepted

by black people, white people in the pseudo-independence phase surround themselves with like-

minded white people.

Julia also distanced herself from overt racism in her debrief with me, by saying:

Its [sic] hard because Im [sic] a white American, but Im [sic] not a typical white

American in that I study this [race], so that was something that if wed [sic] had a larger
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 68

group wouldve [sic] been good I kind of felt bad coming into this, because I was like

I already know a lot about race. So, Im [sic] not typical.

Again, by equating Whiteness and racism, as discussed in the white guilt findings, Julia is

quick to distance herself from who she sees as a typical American: a white racist who is not well

informed about race, inequity, or social justice. At the end of our debrief, she hammers home the

point that she is a good white by stating, because I know Americans are very sensitive to

being spoken down to but she cut me off a lot, and I dont [sic] really mind being cut off, but

when its [sic] about race, Im [sic] like I need to get my point across to you. By studying

sociology and having explored racial identities for the last two years, Julia is desperate to

distance herself from the perception of a racist white person.

Holly, in response to I dont understand why black people blame all white people for

their social misfortunes, distances herself from overt racism by saying Its [sic] sad because

some people probably strongly agree with that.

Another way that participants distanced themselves from overt racism was by mentioning

the current political climate in the United States, with the recent election of President Donald

Trump in January 2017. By referencing that racism and negative race relations is a result of a

controversial conservative presidential candidate taking office, students were quick to speak

negatively of the growing divisiveness in this country, and saw themselves as the liberal social

entrepreneurs that could upset the status quo. However, by surrounding themselves with like-

minded white people, participants are engaging in liberal racism, staying in a place of passive

non-racism, rather than engaging in the challenging and difficult work to help themselves

develop an actively anti-racist identity. Liberal racism can lull white individuals into a false
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 69

sense of security, as they operate in a bubble with like-minded progressive white people,

becoming complacent and content.

Abstract liberalism. While distancing from overt racism made most participants

distance themselves from disintegration or reintegration stage behavior, there was one instance

when Lindsey from focus group three very clearly articulated sentiments of the abstract

liberalism frame of liberal racism. In response to the statement Society may have been unjust to

blacks, but it has also been unjust to whites,

Lindsey: I would say its [sic] been more unjust to blacks then it has to whites [emphasis

in original].

Holly: But do you also believe its been unjust to whites?

Lindsey: Slightly like, its [sic] way harder for a white male to get scholarships or

money for college than it is for a black male, because he has the racial component.

Holly: Right now?

Adam: I dont [sic] know about that Id [sic] have to look at the statistics. But that

could be due to systemic racism, trying to make up for lost wages and stuff like that.

Lindseys referral to affirmative action being unjust because it treats black and whites unequally

is indicative of her belief in individualism, enacting the abstract liberalism frame. It is

interesting to note that Lindsey is the only focus group participant who had a tied top score from

her WRIAS questionnaire, with a 3.0 in both contact and pseudo-independence stages. This can

be seen in her view of racism being an individual enactment of bias, rather than a structural and

systemic inequity. Subsequently, Lindsey believes that social and economic forces should not be

implemented to make up for individual biases.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 70

Cultural racism and minimizing the importance of race. Viewing race as culture is

another form of liberal racism, and was seen in focus group two, when Soheila shared her

thoughts on the United States:

I never grew up [thinking about] who is black, who is white, outside the U.S., I was never

exposed to it. But people in the U.S., even if people say we are trying to not give the

black and white meanings [sic] to people, they were exposed to that I know that its

[sic] a huge racism problem black people, Asian people, white people, different

people but I just dont [sic] go with she is black, she is white. I would go with

Americans against others. That makes more meaning for me. Its [sic] a cultural problem.

Furthermore, Lindsey, in responding to the statement In many ways blacks and whites are

similar, but they are also different in some important ways, she responds with If different

means culture [sic] This replacement of race with culture allows for a white individual to see

differences in culture as race, and subsequently explains cultural differences as a set feature of a

racial group, and different features can then provide a white individual a dangerous justification

for differential treatment.

As discussed, despite being in the pseudo-independence stage of their White Racial

Identity Development, participants frequently enacted behavior and utilized language associated

with the early stages or racial development, particularly the contact stage (colorblindness, white

normative center, and discomfort racial conversations). Figure 5 (p. 37) indicates which White

Racial Identity Development (WRID) stage corresponds to the aforementioned themes/codes,

and examples of the observed behavior and language. The stage most often perceived as overtly

racist, reintegration, was very rarely utilized in focus group discussion, an attempt by individuals

to be perceived as the good (i.e. non-racist) white person. Figure 9 demonstrates the frequency
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 71

of enacted behavior and utilized language associated with each WRID stage in all three focus

groups combined.

Manifestation of WRID Stages in Focus


Groups

Pseudo-Independence
WRID Stage

Reintegration

Disintegration Usage of language


linked to WRID
Stage
Contact

0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160


Number of times behavior/language witnessed

Figure 9. Number of times focus group participants utilized language or behavior associated with

codes in each stage.

By clustering the codes in Figure 8 by WRID Stage, I was able to quantify the frequency

of manifestations of each WRID stage during the focus groups.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 72

Shifts in enacted Whiteness

Another way of looking at the themes that arose during the focus groups is by comparing

how individuals responded to WRIAS statements in part one with their group responses to

WRIAS statements in part two. How easily a student defended their stance or conceded an

opinion may have been dependent on a wide variety of factors that could include personality

type, gender, age, sexual orientation, and socio-economic class. Additional time to conduct in-

depth interviews with individual participants and regression analysis would be needed to identify

if there is a correlation between other identities and shift in racial ideologies. What this study has

shown is that racial ideologies did shift between the individual and the group. When surrounded

by white peers, the navigation and enactment of Whiteness varied as drastically as three points,

meaning that a student went from strongly disagree when responding as an individual to strongly

agree when responding with the group. Are white individuals more, less, or equally racist than

when they were with their white peer groups? Figures 10 13 demonstrate these shifts in

opinion.

It is important to note that in Figure 7 and Figures 10-13, only responses from focus

group one and three are included, as they were the only two groups to complete the full

questionnaire. Focus group two only answered 14 of 50 questions before ending their session,

and consequently is only discussed qualitatively in the findings section.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 73

Responses to Contact Stage Statements


50%
45%
Percentage of Responses

40%
35%
30%
25%
20% Individual Responses
15%
Group Responses
10%
5%
0%
Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly Agree
Disagree Disagree Agree
Responses

Figure 10. Comparison of individual response to group response.

This figure demonstrates that there were substantial shifts from individuals who strongly

agreed to contact stage statements, to groups that somewhat agreed, and strongly disagreed to

contact stage statements.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 74

Responses to Disintegration Stage


Statements
100%
90%
Percentage of Responses

80%
70%
60%
50%
40%
Individual Responses
30%
20% Group Responses
10%
0%
Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly Agree
Disagree Disagree Agree
Responses

Figure 11. Comparison of individual response to group response.

This figure demonstrates that there was a swing from participants who somewhat

disagreed/somewhat agreed as individual respondents, to groups that strongly disagreed with

disintegration stage statements.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 75

Responses to Reintegration Stage


Statements
100%
90%
Percentage of Responses

80%
70%
60%
50%
40%
Individual Responses
30%
20% Group Responses
10%
0%
Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly Agree
Disagree Disagree Agree
Responses

Figure 12. Comparison of individual response to group response.

This figure demonstrates that there was a shift of participants who somewhat

agreed/strongly agreed as individual respondents to reintegration statements, to groups that

strongly disagreed.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 76

Responses to Autonomy Stage Questions


70%

60%
Percentage of Responses

50%

40%

30%
Individual Responses
20% Group Responses
10%

0%
Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly Agree
Disagree Disagree Agree
Responses

Figure 13. Comparison of individual response to group response.

This figure demonstrates that there was a substantial shift from participants who strongly

disagreed as individual respondents to autonomy statements, to groups that strongly agreed with

autonomy statements.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 77

Discussion, Recommendations and Implications

As I was designing this study, there were many things that were deeply vexing. I

considered modifying a few of Helms statements in the White Racial Identity Attitudes Scale

(WRIAS) to read person of color instead of black person due to the lack of Black/African

American presence on the university campus in this study. I decided, however, that many of the

statements had significant loss of/change in meaning and decided to keep Helms original

statements as is. This caused many participants to be uncomfortable with the language, as it felt

antiquated, and offensive, as Helms wrote the WRIAS questionnaire in the 1990s (as seen

in e-mails, Appendix H). I am still interested to see if respondents reactivity to statements would

have been less severe if language that has been deemed overtly racist in more recent years (i.e.

blacks and whites) had been replaced with more comfortable coded race talk (people of

color and Caucasian people).

Additionally, I wrestled with how to best design focus groups. I considered hosting an all

female and all male focus group; an exclusively first-year focus group and sophomore year focus

group; focus groups by socio-economic class (i.e. working to middle class, upper-middle class to

upper class); and focus groups with individuals who had tied-scores with other WRID stages. I

was interested to investigate if I could manipulate the power dynamics of the group by

rearranging the focus groups by one of these aforementioned sub-identities (i.e. gender, age,

socio-economic class, WRID stage). However, since racial language is coded, it became of the

utmost importance to re-produce a real stage for white students to discuss race in real time.

Heterogeneous groups allowed for the closest replication of these white students daily

experiences when walking across campus, engaging with classmates, and fraternizing with their
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 78

friend groups. I determined that heterogeneous focus groups were sensible because it simulated

real life.

I also considered framing certain questions around the current political and social climate

in the United States with the recent controversial inauguration of President Donald Trump in

January 2017. I contemplated whether situating these racial notions in current events and news

cycles would make the sentiment more applicable to the participants lived experience;

ultimately I decided that in the context of this study, politicizing race would be too triggering for

many participants and this might dissuade them from participating. Despite trying to negate the

effects of the socio-political climate by not situating these racial notions in current social and/or

political events, I recognize that conducting this study on the heels of the recent election still

made timing a variable in some way.

It is also important to note that while I considered member checking, I ultimately did not

member check this study as I believed that participants would be hypersensitive to critique of

their racial understanding, and would feel that I misrepresented them, their statements and

intentions, despite being an objective observer and researcher.

Limitations

A potential limitation that affected this study was the voluntary basis for which students

participated in the focus groups. I attempted to control this in part one of the study, as the

demographic questionnaire also asked interest in continued participation in the study.

Furthermore, as race is contextually dependent, this case study does not have external validity, as

results could be impacted by numerous factors (i.e. geographic location, political climate, news

cycle, campus events, etc.). This case study was only an attempt to understand how white

students negotiate their racial identity individually, in intra-racial peer groups, and with figures
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 79

of authority at a small, private, predominantly white, and religiously affiliated university in

southern California. Additionally, as racial matching between facilitator and participants

minimizes the participants perceived need for politically correct responses, it was pertinent that

I, as a white woman, conduct the focus groups and interviews (Bonilla-Silva and Foreman,

2000).

Other limitations included time, as there were only 13 weeks to get Institutional Review

Board approval to conduct the study, arrange and distribute the Qualtrics survey, organize the

focus groups, analyze the data, and write up my findings. Because of this very tight timeline, I

was unable to conduct regression analysis of variables/identities that impacted the WRID stage.

It also was unmanageable to conduct as many focus groups as would have been desirable; if time

permitted, I would have conducted additional focus groups to have at least 30 individuals

participate out of the 117 invited (26%).

Recommendations for Further Study

Future studies could be conducted to better understand the correlation between other

identities and racial identity development. This could be done by conducting homogenous focus

groups based on gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, and/or age. It would also be of

interest to follow-up these focus groups with one on one interviews with participants to better

understand how the complexities of their identities, personality, and experiences impacted the

role they played in the focus group. If a participant is a peace-keeping middle-child, averse to

conflict, how might that have inhibited them from demonstrating a dissenting opinion with

peers? The limitations of group think, and further exploration of the dynamics of the group that

influenced behavior would prove fascinating. Future studies could also look at how to engage

students in the reintegration stage, as those students were rather absent in this study.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 80

Implications for Practice

This study was controversial; asking students to talk about a topic that is challenging,

uncomfortable and often upsetting. Asking about Whiteness upset numerous groups on campus:

white students, administrators, and students of color. Some white students were upset that I

identified them by their race, and believed that simply by pointing out that they were white, the

study was flawed and racist. Full e-mails are included in Appendix H, but excerpts from various

students can be seen below.

You among many others are the reason for this countrys racial issues because instead

of wanting to bring others together and letting color just be color, you are forcing race to

be seen as a disadvantage and a problem. This survey is absolute bullshit [sic].

Another student e-mail stated, It is a little triggering and offensive to blame me for others

problems, especially when it was over a hundred years ago [slavery] and wasnt [sic] even my

relatives (like that matters). And finally, a third student sent the following e-mail:

In my entire life, I have never once seen or experienced real racism in the United

States and I am from the South Eastern U.S. (stereotypically perceived to be a racist

part of the U.S.) and now thanks to you, I see racism is alive and well, propagated by

people like you. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached color blindness.Skin color does

not affect the inner contents of an individual, yet you believe because of my skin color I

should have to either agree or disagree (there was no neutral option) on your racist and

leading questions. Rewrite your survey and replace white with black and tell me if you

perceive it to be racist. Ill [sic] go ahead and let you know in advance, its [sic] racist

both ways [emphasis in original].


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 81

As evidenced, there was a heightened sense of emotion for these students as I asked them to

discuss their white race. For them, the study was both triggering and problematic.

Administrators reached out over phone and via e-mail requesting to see my IRB proposal

to better understand the goals of conducting a study on Whiteness. Finally, students of color

who were triggered when they heard about the survey, reached out to administrators and faculty

as they thought a survey on Whiteness was associated with white supremacy. One such e-mail

from a faculty member stated,

Im [sic] e-mailing you because one of the instructors shared with me that one of their

students shared in class that some students received a survey to talk about their White

[sic] experience. The student identifies as a student of color and was asking for context

since he got [sic] triggered by knowing his survey was sent to students. The instructors

were not aware of this e-mail so Im [sic] reaching out to see if you can help me out by

providing context, purpose, and/or any information I can share with the instructors.

The fact that there were numerous factions frazzled by the idea of discussing Whiteness

reiterated the need for this campus to engage in more racial conversations, particularly ones that

encouraged white students to see themselves as raced. It is only when a white student sees

themselves as raced that they have the potential to see their role in race relations.

As it stands, how students feel about Whiteness, their race in relation to current campus

climate, and how they perceive their identity in relation to positive or negative impacts on

campus culture is underexplored. Based on the amount of negative feedback received

throughout the duration of this study, it would be much easier to continue to study students of

color than it is to study white students. However, Whiteness and its influence on college climate

is of tremendous importance in order to better understand the increased strain on race relations
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 82

on American college and university campuses. Diversity strategies have been focused on

supporting students of color, however, this traditional form of multiculturalism [has] not offered

a space for whites to rethink their identity around a new progressive, assertive, counter-

hegemonic, antiracist notion of Whiteness (Maher and Tetreault, 1998, p. 29). Both white

students and students of color continue to equate Whiteness with racism, despite numerous

examples of anti-racist white activists throughout history. The longer that race is seen as an

issue for people of color (i.e. not white), the harder it will be to begin to engage white students in

the formation of a healthy, active, anti-racist white identity.

From a meta-perspective, despite this study being controversial, if it made people think

about their own thinking around race, I cannot help but to wonder what powerful change could

ensue. Notions of racism get passed down by developing new ways of coding racism; beginning

to teach young white people to recognize their utilization of subliminal or consciously coded

racism is the only way in which we can stop the lineage of racism from being passed down to yet

another generation. Many college students may be in the reintegration stage of White Racial

Identity Development; I believe those are the hardest students to reach, as they believe that race

and racism are a thing of the past, and therefore are frustrated and unwilling to engage in racial

conversations. Therefore, we need to have conversations with the ones that are the most open,

those in the pseudo-independence and autonomy stages, because as evidenced by this study, they

are the individuals who are most impactful in educating their white peers. If colleges and

universities can adequately identify students in the pseudo-independence and autonomy stages,

and mentor, encourage, and prepare them to engage in conversations with peers in less advanced

racial identity stages (contact, disintegration, and reintegration), an incredibly powerful change

could be put into motion. This could be done by engaging the lowest hanging fruit (i.e. pseudo-
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 83

independence students) in white racial identity workshops, providing examples of healthy, anti-

racist white identities throughout history, and assigning aware white administrators and faculty

mentors to students who are interested in cultivating their racial identity.

These young people in the pseudo-independence stage are at a crossroads: one path leads

them to a state of complacency, surrounding themselves with like-minded whites, content in their

passive non-racism, taking comfort in their liberal political agenda and distancing themselves

from bad white people, or individuals they see as overtly racist. The other path, the one less

traveled, is one that commences a painful self-reflection, starting a process of self-discovery.

Students embarking down this second path begin to ask themselves What does it really mean to

be white? or How can I be proud of my race without being racist? This shift from fighting on

behalf of people of color to wanting to change racist white attitudes provides a platform of

emotional and cognitive restructuring, initiating a form of catharsis, acknowledging feelings and

experiences that may have been formerly denied (Carter; 1996; Helms, 1990; Smith, 2014). This

denial of Whiteness and racial experience was witnessed in these focus groups by the distancing

from overt racism and the minimization of race and racism. Once these negative emotions have

been expressed, a white student may begin to feel a sense of euphoria and these positive feelings

help build a newly burgeoning positive white identity. The coming-of-age and identity

development that happens in college may dictate how that individual engages with difference in

the future, which begs the question: are colleges and universities cultivating passive non-racist

white students, or are they pushing the exposure and study of Whiteness to create active anti-

racist white identities? After all, these students are the leaders of tomorrow. What do we want

the race relations of tomorrow to look like?


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 84

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HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 88

Appendix A

Helms White Racial Identity Attitudes Scale (WRIAS) was employed in both part one and two
in various ways. Part one was a modified version, with only questions in bold distributed to the
sample group via e-mail. Part two utilized the full version, with all fifty questions distributed to
the focus groups for an unmediated activity.

Participants were asked to respond on a four-point, forced choice Likert scale (i.e. Strongly
Disagree, Somewhat Disagree, Somewhat Agree, Strongly Agree).

White Racial Identity Attitudes Scale


(Re-named Social Attitudes Scale, when distributed to participants to avoid respondent
reactivity)
______________________________________________________________________________

This questionnaire is designed to measure peoples social and political attitudes. There are no
right or wrong answers. Please be as honest as possible, even if some of these statements or
responses are uncomfortable.

Use the scale below to respond to each statement. For each statement, click on the answer that
best describes how you feel.

1. I hardly think about what race I am. (Contact)


2. I do not understand what Blacks want from Whites. (Disintegration)
3. I get angry when I think about how Whites have been treated by Blacks. (Reintegration)
4. I feel as comfortable around Blacks as I do around Whites. (Pseudo-Independence)
5. I involve myself in causes regardless of the race of the people involved in them. (Autonomy)
6. I find myself watching Black people to see what they are like. (Contact)
7. I feel depressed after I have been around Black people. (Disintegration)
8. There is nothing that I want to learn from Blacks.(Reintegration)
9. I seek out new experiences even if I know a large number of Blacks will be involved in them.
(Autonomy)
10. I enjoy watching the different ways that Blacks and Whites approach life. (Pseudo-
Independence)
11. I wish I had a Black friend. (Contact)
12. I do not feel that I have the social skills to interact with Black people effectively.
(Disintegration)
13. A Black person who tries to get close to us is usually after something. (Reintegration)
14. When a Black person holds an opinion with which I disagree, I am not afraid to express
my viewpoint. (Autonomy)
15. Sometimes jokes based on Black peoples experiences are funny. (Autonomy)
16. I think it is exciting to discover the little ways in which Black people and White people
are different. (Contact)
17. I used to believe in racial integration, but now I have my doubts. (Disintegration)
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 89

18. Id rather socialize with White only. (Reintegration)


19. In many ways Blacks and Whites are similar, but they are also different in some
important ways. (Pseudo-Independence)
20. Blacks and Whites have much to learn from each other. (Pseudo-Independence)
21. For most of my life, I did not think about racial issues. (Contact)
22. I have come to believe that Black people and White people are very different.
(Disintegration)
23. White people have bent over backwards trying to make up for their ancestors
mistreatment of Blacks, now it is time to stop. (Reintegration)
24. It is possible for Blacks and Whites to have meaningful social relationships with each other.
(Pseudo-Independence)
25. There are some valuable things that White people can learn from Blacks that they cant
learn from other Whites. (Autonomy)
26. I am curious to learn in what ways Black people and White people differ from each other.
(Contact)
27. I limit myself to White activities. (Disintegration)
28. Society may have been unjust to Blacks, but it has also been unjust to Whites.
(Reintegration)
29. I am knowledgeable about which values Blacks and Whites share. (Pseudo-Independence)
30. I am comfortable wherever I am. (Pseudo-Independence)
31. In my family, we never talked about racial issues. (Contact)
32. When I must interact with a Black person, I usually let him or her make the first move.
(Disintegration)
33. I feel hostile when I am around Blacks. (Reintegration)
34. I think I understand Black peoples values. (Autonomy)
35. Blacks and Whites can have successful intimate relationships.(Autonomy)
36. I was raised to believe that people are people regardless of their race. (Contact)
37. Nowadays, I go out of my way to avoid associating with Blacks. (Disintegration)
38. I believe that Blacks are interior to Whites. (Reintegration)
39. I believe that I know a lot about Black peoples customs. (Pseudo-Independence)
40. There are some valuable things that White people can learn from Blacks that they cant learn
from other Whites. (Autonomy)
41. I think that its okay for Black people and White people to date each other as long as they
dont marry each other. (Contact)
42. Sometimes Im not sure what I think or feel about Black people. (Disintegration)
43. When I am the only White in a group of Blacks, I feel anxious. (Reintegration)
44. Blacks and Whites differ from each other in some ways, but neither race is superior.
(Pseudo-Independence)
45. I am not embarrassed to admit that I am White. (Autonomy)
46. I think White people should become more involved in socializing with Blacks. (Contact)
47. I dont understand why Black people blame all White people for their social
misfortunes. (Disintegration)
48. I believe that White people look and express themselves better than Blacks.
(Reintegration)
49. I feel comfortable talking to Blacks. (Pseudo-Independence)
50. I value the relationships that I have with my Black friends. (Autonomy)
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 90

Appendix B

Table 1

Focus Group 1 Participant - Brian


Name Brian
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.75
Focus Group 1
Gender Male
Sexual Orientation Gay
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) $105,000-$192,000
Single Parent Household No
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Airforce and Pharmacist
Home State Virgina
Among your broad social group, do you have any Black Yes
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? About half
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as A few
Black/African American? (Closest friends, for the purpose of this
survey, are defined as those with whom you socialize on a regular
basis)
Among your family, how many of them identify as A few
Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)

Table 2

Focus Group 1 Participant - Keira


Name Keira
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.00
Focus Group 1
Gender Female
Sexual Orientation Bisexual
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) $65,000-$105,000
Single Parent Household Yes
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Cashier and Laborer in
North Dakota oil fields
Home State Minnesota
Among your broad social group, do you have any Black Yes
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? Almost All/All
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as A few
Black/African American? (Closest friends, for the purpose of this
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 91

survey, are defined as those with whom you socialize on a regular


basis)
Among your family, how many of them identify as A few
Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)

Table 3

Focus Group 1 Participant - Jonathan


Name Jonathan
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.00
Focus Group 1
Gender Male
Sexual Orientation Heterosexual
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) $105,000-$192,000
Single Parent Household No
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Civil Engineer
Home State California
Among your broad social group, do you have any Black Yes
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? A few
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as None
Black/African American? (Closest friends, for the purpose of this
survey, are defined as those with whom you socialize on a regular
basis)
Among your family, how many of them identify as None
Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 92

Appendix C

Table 1

Collective Responses (Consensus) of Focus Group 1 to WRIAS Questionnaire


WRIAS Statement Group Response
I hardly think about what race I am. Somewhat Agree
I do not understand what Blacks want from Whites. Strongly Disagree
I get angry when I think about how Whites have been treated by Strongly Disagree
Blacks.
I feel as comfortable around Blacks as I do around Whites. Somewhat Disagree
I involve myself in causes regardless of the race of the people Strongly Agree
involved in them.
I find myself watching Black people to see what they are like. Strongly Disagree
I feel depressed after I have been around Black people. Strongly Disagree
There is nothing that I want to learn from Blacks. Strongly Disagree
I seek out new experiences even if I know a large number of Strongly Disagree
Blacks will be involved in them.
I enjoy watching the different ways that Blacks and Whites Somewhat Agree
approach life.
I wish I had a Black friend. Strongly Agree
I do not feel that I have the social skills to interact with Black Strongly Disagree
people effectively.
A Black person who tries to get close to us is usually after Strongly Disagree
something.
When a Black person holds an opinion with which I disagree, I Somewhat Disagree
am not afraid to express my viewpoint.
Sometimes jokes based on Black peoples experiences are Strongly Disagree
funny.
I think it is exciting to discover the little ways in which Black Somewhat Disagree
people and White people are different.
I used to believe in racial integration, but now I have my Somewhat Disagree
doubts.
Id rather socialize with Whites only. Strongly Disagree
In many ways Blacks and Whites are similar, but they are also Somewhat Agree
different in some important ways.
Blacks and Whites have much to learn from each other. Strongly Agree
For most of my life, I did not think about racial issues. Somewhat Disagree
I have come to believe that Black people and White people are Strongly Disagree
very different.
White people have bent over backwards trying to make up for Strongly Disagree
their ancestors mistreatment of Blacks, now it is time to stop.
It is possible for Blacks and Whites to have meaningful social Strongly Agree
relationships with each other.
There are some valuable things that White people can learn Strongly Agree
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 93

from Blacks that they cant learn from other Whites.


I am curious to learn in what ways Black people and White Somewhat Agree
people differ from each other.
I limit myself to White activities. Strongly Disagree
Society may have been unjust to Blacks, but it has also been Strongly Disagree
unjust to Whites.
I am knowledgeable about which values Blacks and Whites Somewhat Agree
share.
I am comfortable wherever I am. Somewhat Disagree
In my family, we never talked about racial issues. Somewhat Disagree
When I must interact with a Black person, I usually let him or Strongly Disagree
her make the first move.
I feel hostile when I am around Blacks. Strongly Disagree
I think I understand Black peoples values. Somewhat Disagree
Blacks and Whites can have successful intimate relationships. Strongly Agree
I was raised to believe that people are people regardless of their Strongly Agree
race.
Nowadays, I go out of my way to avoid associating with Strongly Disagree
Blacks.
I believe that Blacks are inferior to Whites. Strongly Disagree
I believe that I know a lot about Black peoples customs. Somewhat Disagree
There are some valuable things that White people can learn Strongly Agree
from Blacks that they cant learn from other Whites.
I think that its okay for Black people and White people to date Strongly Disagree
each other as long as they dont marry each other.
Sometimes Im not sure what I think or feel about Black people. Somewhat Disagree
When I am the only White in a group of Blacks, I feel anxious. Somewhat Agree
Blacks and Whites differ from each other in some ways, but Strongly Agree
neither race is superior.
I am not embarrassed to admit that I am White. Strongly Agree
I think White people should become more involved in Strongly Agree
socializing with Blacks.
I dont understand why Black people blame all White people for Strongly Disagree
their social misfortunes.
I believe that White people look and express themselves better Strongly Disagree
than Blacks.
I feel comfortable talking to Blacks. Somewhat Agree
I value the relationships that I have with my Black Strongly Agree
friends.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 94

Appendix D

Table 1

Focus Group 2 Participant - Julia


Name Julia
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.75
Focus Group 2
Gender Female
Sexual Orientation Bisexual
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) $65,000-$105,000
Single Parent Household Yes
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Teacher, Cop
Home State California
Among your broad social group, do you have any Black Yes
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? Almost All/All
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as A few
Black/African American?
(Closest friends, for the purpose of this survey, are defined as those
with whom you socialize on a regular basis)
Among your family, how many of them identify as None
Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)

Table 2

Focus Group 2 Participant - Soheila


Name Soheila
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.75
Focus Group 2
Gender Female
Sexual Orientation Heterosexual
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) < $21,000
Single Parent Household No
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Builder
Home Country Iran
Among your broad social group, do you have any Black No
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? N/A
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as N/A
Black/African American? (Closest friends, for the purpose of this
survey, are defined as those with whom you socialize on a regular
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 95

basis)
Among your family, how many of them identify as N/A
Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 96


Appendix E

Table 1

Collective Responses (Consensus) of Focus Group 2 to WRIAS Questionnaire
WRIAS Statement Group Response
I hardly think about what race I am. No consensus reached
I do not understand what Blacks want from Whites. Somewhat Disagree
I get angry when I think about how Whites have been treated by Strongly Disagree
Blacks.
I feel as comfortable around Blacks as I do around Whites. Somewhat Agree
I involve myself in causes regardless of the race of the people Strongly Agree
involved in them.
I find myself watching Black people to see what they are like. Strongly Disagree
I feel depressed after I have been around Black people. Strongly Disagree
There is nothing that I want to learn from Blacks. Strongly Disagree
I seek out new experiences even if I know a large number of Strongly Agree
Blacks will be involved in them.
I enjoy watching the different ways that Blacks and Whites No consensus reached
approach life.
I wish I had a Black friend. Strongly Disagree
I do not feel that I have the social skills to interact with Black Strongly Disagree
people effectively.
A Black person who tries to get close to us is usually after Strongly Disagree
something.
When a Black person holds an opinion with which I disagree, I No consensus reached
am not afraid to express my viewpoint.
Sometimes jokes based on Black peoples experiences are No consensus reached
funny.
I think it is exciting to discover the little ways in which Black Somewhat Agree
people and White people are different.
I used to believe in racial integration, but now I have my Strongly Agree
doubts.
Id rather socialize with Whites only. Strongly Disagree
In many ways Blacks and Whites are similar, but they are also At this point, Soheila
different in some important ways. chose to end the focus
group
Blacks and Whites have much to learn from each other.
For most of my life, I did not think about racial issues.
I have come to believe that Black people and White people are
very different.
White people have bent over backwards trying to make up for
their ancestors mistreatment of Blacks, now it is time to stop.
It is possible for Blacks and Whites to have meaningful social
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 97

relationships with each other.


There are some valuable things that White people can learn
from Blacks that they cant learn from other Whites.
I am curious to learn in what ways Black people and White
people differ from each other.
I limit myself to White activities.
Society may have been unjust to Blacks, but it has also been
unjust to Whites.
I am knowledgeable about which values Blacks and Whites
share.
I am comfortable wherever I am.
In my family, we never talked about racial issues.
When I must interact with a Black person, I usually let him or
her make the first move.
I feel hostile when I am around Blacks.
I think I understand Black peoples values.
Blacks and Whites can have successful intimate relationships.
I was raised to believe that people are people regardless of their
race.
Nowadays, I go out of my way to avoid associating with
Blacks.
I believe that Blacks are inferior to Whites.
I believe that I know a lot about Black peoples customs.
There are some valuable things that White people can learn
from Blacks that they cant learn from other Whites.
I think that its okay for Black people and White people to date
each other as long as they dont marry each other.
Sometimes Im not sure what I think or feel about Black people.
When I am the only White in a group of Blacks, I feel anxious.
Blacks and Whites differ from each other in some ways, but
neither race is superior.
I am not embarrassed to admit that I am White.
I think White people should become more involved in
socializing with Blacks.
I dont understand why Black people blame all White people for
their social misfortunes.
I believe that White people look and express themselves better
than Blacks.
I feel comfortable talking to Blacks.
I value the relationships that I have with my Black friends.
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 98

Appendix F
Table 1

Focus Group 3 Participant - Holly


Name Holly
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.25
Focus Group 3
Gender Female
Sexual Orientation Heterosexual
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) $105,000-$192,000
Single Parent Household Yes
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Manager
Home State Washington
Among your broad social group, do you have any Black Yes
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? About half
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as A few
Black/African American? (Closest friends, for the purpose of this
survey, are defined as those with whom you socialize on a regular
basis)
Among your family, how many of them identify as None
Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)

Table 2

Focus Group 3 Participant - Adam


Name Adam
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.75
Focus Group 3
Gender Male
Sexual Orientation Heterosexual
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) $65,000-$105,000
Single Parent Household No
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Work for Boeing
Home State Washington
Among your broad social group, do you have any Black Yes
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? Almost All/All
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as A few
Black/African American? (Closest friends, for the purpose of this
survey, are defined as those with whom you socialize on a regular
basis)
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 99

Among your family, how many of them identify as None


Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)

Table 3

Focus Group 3 Participant - Brooke


Name Brooke
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.25
Focus Group 3
Gender Female
Sexual Orientation Other
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) $21,000-$40,000
Single Parent Household Other
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Tax accountant and
Janitor
Home State Pennsylvania
Among your broad social group, do you have any Black Yes
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? About half
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as A few
Black/African American? (Closest friends, for the purpose of this
survey, are defined as those with whom you socialize on a regular
basis)
Among your family, how many of them identify as None
Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)

Table 4

Focus Group 3 Participant - Lindsey


Name Lindsey
Pseudo-Independence Score 3.00
Tied with Contact Stage
score of 3.00
Focus Group 3
Gender Female
Sexual Orientation Heterosexual
Best Guess of Average Yearly Income of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) $105,000-$192,000
Single Parent Household No
Profession of Parent(s)/Guardian(s) Administrator, Master
Electrician
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 100

Home State California


Among your broad social group, do you have any Black Yes
Friends?
If Yes, how many of them identify as Black/African American? A few
Among your closest friends, how many of them identify as None
Black/African American? (Closest friends, for the purpose of this
survey, are defined as those with whom you socialize on a regular
basis)
Among your family, how many of them identify as None
Black/African American?
(Family, for the purpose of this survey, is defined as immediate or
extended relatives via blood or marriage)
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 101

Appendix G
Table 1

Collective Responses (Consensus) of Focus Group 3 to WRIAS Questionnaire
WRIAS Statement Group Response
I hardly think about what race I am. Somewhat Agree
I do not understand what Blacks want from Whites. Strongly Disagree
I get angry when I think about how Whites have been treated by Somewhat Disagree
Blacks.
I feel as comfortable around Blacks as I do around Whites. Strongly Agree

I involve myself in causes regardless of the race of the people Strongly Agree
involved in them.
I find myself watching Black people to see what they are like. Strongly Disagree
I feel depressed after I have been around Black people. Strongly Disagree
There is nothing that I want to learn from Blacks. Strongly Disagree
I seek out new experiences even if I know a large number of Strongly Agree
Blacks will be involved in them.
I enjoy watching the different ways that Blacks and Whites Strongly Agree
approach life.
I wish I had a Black friend. Somewhat Agree
I do not feel that I have the social skills to interact with Black Strongly Disagree
people effectively.
A Black person who tries to get close to us is usually after Strongly Disagree
something.
When a Black person holds an opinion with which I disagree, I Strongly Agree
am not afraid to express my viewpoint.
Sometimes jokes based on Black peoples experiences are Somewhat Disagree
funny.
I think it is exciting to discover the little ways in which Black Somewhat Agree
people and White people are different.
I used to believe in racial integration, but now I have my Strongly Disagree
doubts.
Id rather socialize with Whites only. Strongly Disagree
In many ways Blacks and Whites are similar, but they are also Strongly Agree
different in some important ways.
Blacks and Whites have much to learn from each other. Strongly Agree
For most of my life, I did not think about racial issues. Somewhat Agree
I have come to believe that Black people and White people are Strongly Disagree
very different.
White people have bent over backwards trying to make up for Strongly Disagree
their ancestors mistreatment of Blacks, now it is time to stop.
It is possible for Blacks and Whites to have meaningful social Strongly Agree
relationships with each other.
There are some valuable things that White people can learn Strongly Agree
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 102

from Blacks that they cant learn from other Whites.


I am curious to learn in what ways Black people and White Somewhat Agree
people differ from each other.
I limit myself to White activities. Strongly Disagree
Society may have been unjust to Blacks, but it has also been Strongly Disagree
unjust to Whites.
I am knowledgeable about which values Blacks and Whites Somewhat Agree
share.
I am comfortable wherever I am. Somewhat Agree
In my family, we never talked about racial issues. Strongly Disagree
When I must interact with a Black person, I usually let him or Strongly Disagree
her make the first move.
I feel hostile when I am around Blacks. Strongly Disagree
I think I understand Black peoples values. Somewhat Agree
Blacks and Whites can have successful intimate relationships. Strongly Agree
I was raised to believe that people are people regardless of their Strongly Agree
race.
Nowadays, I go out of my way to avoid associating with Strongly Disagree
Blacks.
I believe that Blacks are inferior to Whites. Strongly Disagree
I believe that I know a lot about Black peoples customs. Somewhat Disagree
There are some valuable things that White people can learn Strongly Agree
from Blacks that they cant learn from other Whites.
I think that its okay for Black people and White people to date Strongly Disagree
each other as long as they dont marry each other.
Sometimes Im not sure what I think or feel about Black people. Strongly Disagree
When I am the only White in a group of Blacks, I feel anxious. Strongly Disagree
Blacks and Whites differ from each other in some ways, but Strongly Agree
neither race is superior.
I am not embarrassed to admit that I am White. Somewhat Disagree
I think White people should become more involved in Strongly Agree
socializing with Blacks.
I dont understand why Black people blame all White people for Strongly Disagree
their social misfortunes.
I believe that White people look and express themselves better Strongly Disagree
than Blacks.
I feel comfortable talking to Blacks. Strongly Agree
I value the relationships that I have with my Black Strongly Agree
friends.


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 103

Appendix H

E-mail Correspondence 1 Sender did not complete WRIAS survey


_____________________________________________________________________________
Dear Ms. Eves,

This survey that was e-mailed to most if not all white students was perhaps the most racist thing I
have ever been exposed to. In my entire life, I have never once seen or experienced real racism in
the United States and I am from the South Eastern U.S. (stereotypically perceived to be a "racist"
part of the U.S.) and now thanks to you, I see racism is alive and well, propagated by people like
you. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached color blindness. Our skin color is only indicative of our
different cultures which should be celebrated, but this survey outlined the extreme
misunderstanding of the civil rights movement, that is, singling out a person for their skin color.
Skin color does not affect the inner contents of an individual, yet you believe because of my skin
color I should have to either agree or disagree (there was no neutral option) on your racist and
leading questions.

Rewrite your survey and replace white with black and tell me if you perceive it to be racist. I'll
go ahead and let you know in advance, it's racist both ways.

XXX

E-mail Correspondence 2 Sender is in the Autonomy stage (2.75 score)


______________________________________________________________________________

I was about half way through with this survey when I got to the statement about making up for
ancestors mistreatment of blacks. Like most Americans, my ancestors migrated here, with family
originating in Spain, Europe, and Mexico (and one side bred with Cherokee Indians).

It is ridiculous to think people who are alive today who have never seen true oppression like in
the 1800s through 1900s can be so offended by ancestors who are assumed to be mine, that I
need to compensate them in any way. I will continue the survey if possible, but I found it
hilarious how biased against white people this campus culture is. I don't deny oppression in the
past, but I'll tell you, I never worried about the race of my Filipino girlfriend, black cousins, or
Mexican relatives so much until I came to this school and was told I was privelaged [sic].

My folks are dead and I worked for what I have. It is a little triggering and offensive to blame me
for others problems, especially when it was over a hundred years ago and wasn't even my
relatives (like that matters). #triggered

Sincerely,
XXX

White and proud


HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 104

E-mail Correspondence 3 - Sender did not complete WRIAS survey


______________________________________________________________________________

Tess,

First of all, I come from a hardworking family of Italian immigrants. With that being said I am
deeply offended by your survey on my, "Experience being white". It is sad to see that some
people in this day and age have diverged so far from what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. I
encourage you to refresh yourself on his very famous words, "I hope one day that my children
and my children's children will be judged not on the color of their skin but by the content of their
character". Why don't you do a survey on all the kids who get free handouts and free rides to
college because the color of their skin, or the people who are hired over other people with more
qualifications simply because of their color. I believe we are all made equal and should be
treated that way, and be judged off the content of our character and our integrity. We are all
made the same and all capable of the same injustice and evil. There is no such thing as "reverse
discrimination" there is only discrimination and unjust. Good day to you.

Respectfully,
XXX

E-mail Correspondence 4 Sender is in the Contact/Pseudo-Independence stage (tied 3.5 score)


______________________________________________________________________________

To whom it may concern:

I only took this survey hoping there was a comments section at the end so I could give you my
opinion on this survey, and I hope you take them to heart. First of all, I'm having a hard time
understanding the purpose of this survey, since you have solely targeted "white" and African
Americans and how you can generalize an entire color of people under "white". Secondly, I do
not consider myself "white" but an Italian American and proud of it, and if you think its okay to
generalize light colored ethnicities into one simplified category then you are beyond ignorant.
Instead of focusing on the positive parts of being different races and from different cultures, you
have pinned this so called generalized "white" group against African Americans asking questions
if i feel uncomfortable because of differences that I have never even considered and if i feel guilt
for slavery, something my and your generation were not even around for. You among many
others are the reason for this country's racial issues because instead of wanting to bring others
together and letting color just be color, you are forcing race to be seen as a disadvantage and a
problem. This survey is absolute bullshit [sic].

Sincerely,
XXX
HOW WHITE STUDENTS NEGOTIATE RACIAL IDENTITY 105

E-mail Correspondence 5 - Sender did not complete WRIAS survey


______________________________________________________________________________

Dear Miss Eves,

I take great issue with your survey. I've read some of the questions and find them to be very
leading, assumptive, and narrow-minded. And to be frank, I find the fact that your questions are
solely about Black people disturbing. I'm sure that your intentions are noble, but the survey
questions that you've written are racist and misguided. I strongly suggest that you reconsider the
survey that you sent out before you do more damage to the [name of university] environment,
student body, and your own reputation. I ask that you do not contact me again with regards to
this survey or any other matter in the future.

Sincerely,
XXX

E-mail Correspondence 6 Sender is the Pseudo-Independence stage (3.0 score)


______________________________________________________________________________

Hello Tess Nunn Eves,

I am a participant of your study, and although you mention in your e-mail the general idea of
your study, I am interested more in your research question. Is the point to assess White student
conceptions of self within the broader context of [name of university]? Or is it more geared
toward bolstering White identity in a political climate engaging in conversations about
socioeconomic mobility for people of color?

I am specifically inclined to ask because some of the wording in the questions was troubling,
particularly sweeping stereotypes about people of color and antiquated references to those racial
groups like "blacks" or "whites." If those were not intentionally included to for the sake of
research, I am concerned about the integrity of this investigation and question its existence at the
University.

I hope you can understand. Thank you.


XXX