Gina Garcia discusses the existence of racism in college settings

Peter Wu Oct 31, 2016

President Suresh recently sent an email to the community in response to a racist message that targeted Chinese students at Carnegie Mellon. The message was distributed in a group chat that included 500 Carnegie Mellon students. Although the Chinese Students Association and Chinese Student and Scholars Association are cooperating with school officials to investigate this specific incident, it’s still crucial to recognize that racism and those who advocate for it still exist, even on our campus.

In addition to Monday’s email, President Suresh also sent an email regarding racism last December. In both emails, the same three words were used: “Racism is real”.

The university cares about academics, personal characters, and unbiased opinions, and these are topics that appear in our daily conversations, whether inside or outside the classroom. Just as we recognize diversity in religion and political opinions, do we also recognize diversity in race, and are we doing a good job of acknowledging it?

Gina A. Garcia, an assistant professor in the department of Administrative and Policy Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, doesn’t think so. Garcia’s lecture on microaggressions and exploring racism on university campuses comes at a very relevant time for the Carnegie Mellon community. She conducted studies on racism in universities and discussed her research at Carnegie Mellon on Thursday, Oct. 27. According to her, we’re facing two types of racism, individual racism and structural racism, both of which exist on our campus.

Garcia pointed out that structural racism, or institutional racism, has a deeper, more common, yet less recognized impact on us. Although behaviors that intentionally mock races, like race parties and hate speech might not be as common on our campus, the systematic difference of treatment of certain races still exists in our everyday lives. These microaggressions range from the college application process, where students of color are offered fewer chances to obtain the same quality of educational resources than white students, to the disproportionate number of administrators, faculty, and staff of color. People of different races are still treated differently both in terms of opportunity to get into school, and in terms of actual experience once they are here.

Garcia listed out some common practices caused by negative racial stereotypes in college settings, which include group exclusion, color-blindness, bias of origin, word choice, harassment, and assumptions. These may seem trivial and sometimes unintentional, but, as she put it, intention doesn’t matter in this case, only impact does. On both individual and institutional levels, these microaggression behaviors can cause mental and physical damage on citizens with varying degrees.
So how can we actually address these problems on our campus? Garcia proposed suggestions in several areas on institutional level. She suggested establishing a mission statement focused on equity and inclusion, promoting a climate and culture for equity and inclusion, enforcing equitable membership, allocating resources equitably, developing inclusive curricula and pedagogy, and distributing power in an equitable fashion.

The hateful message from last week forces us to face the fact that racism is real, even at Carnegie Mellon. Garcia believes that not only is it up to administrators to stop it, but students can also do their part. In organizations, classes, events, and even daily conversations, if you find behaviors racially biased, call it out and explain why it hurts or may hurt. With the help of everyone, we can definitely reduce racism, even in a place encoded with it.