Student protests at the University of Missouri and other campuses have raised questions about racial discrimination on college campuses. While some have welcomed this conversation by showing solidarity, such as joining, “Standing with Mizzou,” public opinion polling in Missouri suggests most people are not as sympathetic. The negative opinions are reflected in death threats aimed at black students, and the formation of “White Student Union” Facebook groups. While arguably a hoax, the “NC State White Student Union” Facebook page nevertheless has over a hundred “likes.”
PackPoll set out to determine how much racial discrimination non-white students at State believe they have experienced on campus. Given the backlash against the protestors at Missouri, we also wanted to know if white students felt aggrieved. Indeed, when we asked them, 43% of white students say they believe discrimination against them “has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”
Against that backdrop, 56% of black students, and 48% of all non-white students, say they have personally experienced prejudice on campus. To some, this might seem like a low percentage; to others, perhaps that figure is high. Regardless, it suggests non-whites student perceive differential treatment on account of the color of their skin.
The 43% of white student who believe prejudice against them is just as prevalent is surprising, since there are few data points to support the claim. Whites consistently score higher on almost every measure of social or economic well-being. That includes health, median household earnings, college graduation rates and homeownership. Even though there have been great strides to curb racial discrimination against blacks and minorities, disparities persist in our criminal justice system and job market. Whites might believe they face equivalent levels of discrimination, but it is hard to see why given their advantages in all kinds of outcomes.
So, why do nearly the same percentage of whites think discrimination against them is as big of a problem as the percentage of non-whites who say they have experienced it? It could be the result of students not understanding what discrimination actually is. Nowadays, “racism”, “prejudice” and “discrimination” are often used interchangeably even though they have distinct meanings. You can be racist or have prejudices against a certain race, but unless you act on these feelings you have done nothing discriminatory. Another plausible explanation is that students are misinformed. Contrary to popular belief, quotas are not part of affirmative action and a majority of scholarships are not specifically for blacks and other minorities. False narratives like these might perpetuate the idea of discrimination against whites.
The survey took place over the internet Nov 18-19, 2015. We drew a random sample of 3,500 undergraduate students, and supplemented that with a random sample of 538 additional black students. We over-sampled black students to make our comparisons with white students’ answers more reliable. Thus, 4,038 State students were invited to take the survey, and 1038 completed it, resulting in a 26% response rate.
Although self-identified black students are 7% of the undergraduate student body, they were 21% of our sample. When we describe what a representative sample of what all State students think, we apply a post-stratification weight to adjust for imbalance of respondents’ race. For the sample as a whole, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.98%. The sampling error is larger for estimates of sub-groups’ opinions, or when we split the sample to ask slightly different version of a question.
In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample because our measured demographics closely approximate the known student parameters for age, year in school, and gender. Weighting the data would be unlikely to change the reported results by more than 1-2% percentage points for any question results.
Click here to see the full set of results: Toplines Nov Race Poll