Teaching Students about Racism and White Privilege

by margueritetremblay97 on November 10, 2016 - 3:53pm

Heinze & DeCandia’s (2011) study was performed to retest an experiment that had been previously conducted in 2008. Being that the initial experiment was not of empirical nature, the authors decided to recreate it in order to obtain measurable outcomes. Thusly, this study aimed to determine whether the teaching of certain themes (White privilege and racism) will positively influence students’ thoughts and attitudes regarding these themes. Being that the initial study’s teaching methods were successful, the authors hypothesized that their pedagogy was also going to be successful in making the students recognize and acknowledge racism and White privilege. The participants were 104 undergraduate students from a Multicultural Psychology course that consented to participate in the research. Data was collected from five different classes over a 4-year period, and only the subjects who identified as “White” (84/104) were included in the analysis. The authors were interested in measuring the participant’s attitudes and beliefs regarding racism and White privilege, in order to compare it to next set of results at the end of the semester. And so, they began by providing the subjects with a demographic questionnaire which addressed: their gender and age, what they identify as, the community they were raised in, and their family’s annual household income. Then, they gave the participants a 6-point scale self-report ranging from “true” to “false”, which assessed themes of White privilege and racism. The self-report contained items such as “poverty is a more important issue than race” and “I don’t consider myself to be racist”. One of the main findings is that at the end of the semester the students demonstrated a change of attitude regarding all of the items in the questionnaire. The item “I don’t consider myself to be racist” went from a mean of 1.64 (Time 1) to a mean of 3.48 (Time 2), demonstrating that subjects admitted to their racist attitudes. There was also a notable change in the item “I consider myself to be White”, as the mean went from 1.12 to 1.3; demonstrating that subjects began questioning their White identity. Consequently, the authors concluded that the teaching methods used were successful in student learning, and that overtime the students experienced a shift in consciousness and acknowledged their own racist tendencies.

The merits of this study is that it had a good intention and positive things arose from it. Through the White instructor disclosing his own racism, to the viewing of the movie The Color of Fear, and the reading of text White Privilege, the students experienced more openness towards accepting and appreciating concepts such as White privilege. As exploring themes of racism and White privilege eased the students into reflecting on themselves and discovering racist undertones within them, it also simultaneously allowed them to work on reducing the damaging attitudes and beliefs they had about other groups. Conversely, the drawbacks of this study is that it failed to identify which pedagogy was more effective in student learning. Knowing which technique was most influential would be extremely helpful, as teachers that want to help spread awareness about the reality of racism and White privilege would already know how to address the issue in the most successful way.


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Heinze, P., & DeCandia, G. (2011). Assessing the learning of white students on themes of white privilege & racism. Multicultural Education, 19(1), 20-23. Retrieved from ProQuest database.