Higher education institutions are often cited as being extremely liberal entities in society, however, many students and staff continue to experience racism at very high levels. This perplexing phenomenon has left many students feeling out of place and not accepted at their institutions. Higher education is a key step on the path to social progress and mobility for individuals in the United States, so it is important to make sure that it is geared toward all types of students, not just those of a certain race or socioeconomic status.
To address these concerns, UConn students from the Peer Allies Through Honors (PATH) program hosted an event titled “A Conversation on Racism in Academia” to discuss BIPOC experiences in research and academia. Sana Gupta, a second-semester statistics major, and Dwaritha Ramesh, a second-semester mechanical engineering major and events coordinator for PATH, facilitated the conversation that explored how racism affects many facets of society, most notably higher education. The conversation touched on many important aspects of this topic ranging from the underrepresentation of women in STEM majors to how colonial violence is related to racism in academia.
“Racism is prevalent in all fields of academia, but I think specifically in engineering and STEM, it’s definitely, I would argue, a lot more prevalent,” Gupta said.
UConn has taken steps in the past few years to work toward creating a campus community that allows students of different genders, races, cultures and backgrounds to feel represented and understood by their peers and professors. The six cultural centers and programs at UConn, which include the African American Cultural Center, Asian American Cultural Center, Native American Cultural Programs, Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, Rainbow Center and the Women’s Center, offer safe spaces for students that are focused on support, guidance and advocacy.
The UConn class of 2024 was the university’s most diverse class to date and was comprised of about 45% students of color and 51% female. Each year, this trend seems to continue, however, there is still a lot of progress to be made to ensure that all students can truly feel at home at UConn.
Last year, a survey titled “The UConn Racial Microaggressions Survey” found that 43% of students who completed the survey said they felt as though they needed to minimize certain aspects of their racial and ethnic background to fit in. Furthermore, 45% of students said that race relations at the university range from somewhat to extremely problematic.
The results of this survey show that UConn, in accordance with other higher education institutions, still has a lot of work to do to ensure that minority students can freely express their cultures and ethnicities without fear of judgement or lack of understanding from their peers. This is also a problem that is prevalent at the high school, middle and elementary school levels.
“I was the only non-white student in all but one of my AP classes in high school,” Ramesh said.
Ramesh shared a story about a friend of hers, who was also a person of color, who got very good grades but was told by her advisor not to take AP classes because they would be too difficult. Ramesh said how instances like this prevent students of color from moving forward and are examples of blatant racism within the education system.
Going forward, UConn will have to continue to take steps such as implementing additional course offerings that focus on educating students about the experiences of people from various diverse backgrounds to help foster a community that is rooted in acceptance and understanding.