An Uneven Playing Field: Campus protests backed by research

Nearly 300 UConn students gathered on Fairfield Way to show solidarity with movements against racism happening on other campuses across the country on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

A recent study regarding whites and non-whites in higher education shows that rampant racial campus protests are grounded in statistics.

The research, conducted by the JED Foundation, the Partnership for Drug Free Kids and the Jordan Porco Foundation, discovered that, among other phenomena, black students “are more likely to keep the difficulty of college to themselves” than white students, by a margin of 75 percent to 61 percent.

Data from the 2015 nationwide survey also found that black students more often find that college does not achieve their expectations than white students do (57 percent to 46 percent, respectively), that white students think themselves to be more academically prepared than black and Hispanic students (50 percent of white students surveyed thought themselves prepared, 36 percent of black students and 39 percent of Hispanic students).

Thirty-five percent of white students said they consider themselves emotionally prepared for their first term of college compared to 23 percent of black students and that black students (52 percent) and Hispanic students (49 percent) are more likely than white students (41 percent) “to say that it seems like everyone has college figured out but them.”

William Richardson, an eighth-semester journalism and Africana studies double major at UConn, found these numbers to be “simply staggering.”

“The assumption is that all college students are on the same playing field for the first time, regardless of class or ethnic standing,” Richardson said. “Some of the data could be skewed because they didn’t ask the same amount of students for each racial group, where whites had almost 51 percent, but it shows just how entrenched the problem is in our society.”

The survey took place between March 25 and April 17, questioning 1,502 students who had graduated high school, were 17-20 years old, were currently attending four-year and two-year colleges in the U.S. and were in their first or second terms of college.

The JED Foundation and the Steve Fund are coming together to use this research to attempt “improving support for the mental health of students of color on college campuses,” as was written in a joint press release.

The JED Foundation is a nonprofit organization that works to “protect the emotional health of teenagers and college students,” according to the foundation itself. The Steve Fund “is the nation's only philanthropic organization focused on promoting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color,” according to the group.

Kwasi Wrensford, a sixth-semester ecology and evolutionary biology major at UConn, agreed with Richardson in reference to the extent of racial inequality in higher education, calling it “deep-seated.”

“Often, it seems, white students have better access in their grade school years to effective college preparatory guidance than disadvantaged students, usually being low-income students and/or students of color,” Wrensford said. “I personally have had the benefit of having well-educated parents who are heavily involved in higher education, and their personal experience made up for the deficit many of my peers suffered at my high school in Georgia, where 70 percent of the student population was black.”

UConn student Josh Marriner, also a running back on the UConn football team, holds up a fist while walking in the "March for Justice, Empowerment and Solidarity" on Fairfield Way in Storrs, Connecticut on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The FiveThirtyEight blog wrote that there is “a big gap in the number that ultimately matters most: ‘educational attainment.’” Some figures that prove this are that, in 2013, 20 percent of 25 year-old to 29 year-old blacks had a bachelor’s degree or higher, 15 percent of Hispanics of the same age had a bachelor’s degree or higher, as opposed to 40 percent of whites of that age who had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Richardson spoke specifically to his experience at UConn as an “African-American man,” which he called “pretty fulfilling for the most part.”

“But I won’t deny that I could have been more prepared in high school, emotionally. The teachers didn’t really warn us at all,” Richardson said. “It was more standardized testing and just to get into a college/university. My freshman year wasn’t necessarily the best, emotionally and academically, especially moving from Miami, Florida, to here.”

Wrensford went into the pressure that goes along with being a person of color at an institution of higher education.

“As a black student at UConn, I am often reminded, usually by older African-Americans, that my being at a predominantly white institution, especially as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) major, is something exceptional, but also a burden,” Wrensford said. “I feel that often, we as students of color feel this added burden, that our being students here is often more than just getting a degree. You feel like you are representing the people who lack this opportunity to learn and socially advance, whether it be your family or your people as a whole.”

According to FiveThirtyEight, in 2013, blacks from ages 25 to 29 who had attained a college degree faced an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent. With no college degree, the unemployment rate stood at 17.8 percent.


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.