With many students using #TheRealUW to voice their experiences with racial prejudice on campus, a discrimination expert said there are caveats that come with greater media attention.
University of Wisconsin psychology professor Markus Brauer, an expert on discrimination, said greater visibility means students’ perceptions of racial prejudice on campus will have a concrete impact on the racial climate.
When dealing with instances of racial prejudice, Brauer said it’s important for people, and especially the media, to understand that not only are these actions unacceptable, but they are also only committed by a minority of people. He said studies have concluded when a population believes a behavior is widespread, the behavior’s prevalence increases, even if it is widely condemned.
“If I go and tell people, ‘Everyone is littering and it’s a problem,’ this will actually increase littering,” Brauer said. “But if I go out and say, ‘Oh my God, no one is getting mammograms,’ this will actually decrease the number of people getting mammograms.”
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At UW, Brauer said he has seen no evidence suggesting such explicit aggressions are a common occurrence, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. He said UW has done well addressing issues of race and intolerance considering the university’s fiscal constraints. But Brauer said he would like to see more approaches that have been proven through empirical research.
Karie Le, a UW freshman and victim of a recent incident in which she was spat upon and told to “go back to China,” said she believes there is still not enough attention being paid to the issue of racial prejudice. Le said prejudice driven incidents are happening everyday on campus, but most go unreported.
Despite UW’s continued claims it is committed to promoting acceptance and stopping instances of prejudice, Le said the university needs to take more action.
“It’s a lot of empty words; there are discussions and events, but it’s mainly multicultural students showing up,” Le said. “This needs to be a campus-wide effort. We as the multicultural community can’t do this alone.”
In an open letter addressed to the UW community Wednesday evening, Chancellor Rebecca Blank stressed the importance of initiating a campus-wide effort to improve the university’s climate, which she will work toward through student, staff and faculty partnerships.
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But even if UW was doing all it could now to promote respect and acceptance, Brauer said changes in campus climate don’t just happen overnight.
As to why UW is experiencing this spike in high profile incidents, Brauer said rhetoric at the national level, particularly in the presidential race, could be to blame, but noted there is no scientific evidence directly linking the two.
“The primaries are a setback because suddenly it’s become socially acceptable to say bigoted things and get people to vote for you,” Brauer said.