Why College Campuses Need a “Pride and Prejudice” Approach to Inclusion

It’s fall, and universities and colleges have opened their doors for a new academic year and application cycle, freshly determined to brand their institutions as welcoming and inclusive for all. However, recent incidents of racial profiling on campuses are threatening their messages of belonging and these incidents can have far-reaching impacts.

Research suggests that when students perceive discrimination, they perform worse in school and suffer mental health consequences. Even when an individual isn’t the target, recent research shows that national incidents of profiling can harm the broader group that shares the identity background of the profiled individuals.

Unfortunately, examples of profiling and discrimination abound on campuses. At Yale University, a White student called law enforcement to investigate a Black student who was taking a nap in a common area associated with her student housing. At Smith College, a college employee summoned campus police to speak with a Black student who was eating her lunch on campus. And, at a University of Florida graduation ceremony, a faculty member, assigned to marshal the event, aggressively pulled Black students off of the stage for engaging in a celebratory dance as they walked to accept their diplomas.

These incidents, which occurred over the summer and late spring of 2018, sent a salient message: Black students do not belong, or at least their belongingness can be questioned. The fact that these incidents occurred during everyday, even hallmark, college experiences—napping, eating, and graduating—is a jarring reminder that race can still be a meaningful cue of not belonging within mainstream institutions.

Further complicating this picture of campus inclusion, academic leaders and policymakers are once again questioning the fairness of affirmative action policies intended to increase levels of diversity. Harvard University, for instance, is facing a lawsuit that claims its admissions procedures, designed to recruit students from Black and Latino/a/x backgrounds, disadvantage individuals from Asian backgrounds. The message here and in other recent critiques: diversity and inclusion is a zero-sum game.

On the contrary, my research suggests that institutions can promote inclusion and increase belonging across all groups. But doing so requires addressing not just prejudice—the attitudes, both implicit and explicit, that can drive discrimination—but also pride—the ideas and practices that offer elaborated, often counterstereotypical, understandings of the collective culture and histories of marginalized groups (e.g., Black and/or Latino/a/x Americans).

Addressing prejudice can include efforts to reduce or eliminate racism and structural inequality through policies like affirmative action, which increases the physical representation of groups like Black and/or Latino/a/x Americans. Such policies serve to remedy the structural aspects of prejudice and racism because one source of unequal access to educational resources—including having parents who have a college degree—is historic practices and laws that limited and prevented access to higher education for certain racial/ethnic groups. Moreover, institutional practices and policies that target prejudice serve as an important representational cue—an explicit signal that the presence of all racial/ethnic groups are welcomed on campuses.

My research suggests that institutions can promote inclusion and increase belonging across all groups. But doing so requires addressing not just prejudice but also pride.

Pride practices serve as a complementary yet distinct cue from prejudice practices. Pride policies and practices, for example, can include offering courses, extracurricular activities, and even physical spaces (e.g., cultural centers, dorms) that are inclusive of the history and culture of marginalized groups. Pride practices signal that racial/ethnic groups are not only welcomed but also that they are fully valued. They go beyond physical representation to the inclusion of ideologies, perspectives, and experiences that are associated with historically underrepresented groups. Together, pride and prejudice practices on college campuses can have positive implications for individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds and for facilitating effective intergroup interactions.

For instance, my research with Hazel Rose Markus, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, and Valerie Jones Taylor, an assistant professor of psychology at Lehigh University, found that addressing prejudice (by defusing possible effects of stereotype threat) and pride (by exposing Black students to a course curriculum that explicitly surfaced perspectives associated with their underrepresented group) significantly enhanced Black students’ academic problem-solving and persistence. My ongoing research is demonstrating the longitudinal benefits of pride and prejudice practices for Latino/a/x and African American college students on academic achievement and well-being.

Understanding, empathy, and allyship are essential to shift the zero-sum perceptions of diversity and to create inclusion for all.

It’s not just individuals from underrepresented groups who benefit from these practices. For instance, in a recent publication, my research found that taking a course or participating in an extracurricular activity related to Latino/a/x or African American studies was associated with more positive attitudes, including a sense of closeness to Latino/a/x and African Americans among White and Asian college students. It also found that engagement in such pride activities was associated with White and Asian students feeling that they were more prepared to interact with a diverse society—a highly prized skill in an increasingly diverse and interconnected social world. When students participated in pride activities, we also observed that they were more likely to acknowledge different forms of inequality, such as past and ongoing discrimination. They were also more likely to view affirmative action as beneficial for college environments. Notably, these results controlled for other types of intergroup contact and diversity exposure (e.g., having close friends who are Latino/a/x or African American, prior exposure to diversity in high school).

These findings align with previous experimental research I conducted with my colleague Gregory Walton, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University. We found positive effects when, for less than an hour, White and Asian students learned about the culture and traditions of a Latina-American peer’s Mexican cultural background. The effects of the brief yet cross-culturally rich interaction were immediate and long-term; participants became more interested in their cultural “out-group” and were more willing to participate in conversations with them, for instance. The intergroup benefits of this brief interaction also extended to implicit measures of bias. These positive intergroup effects remained when we followed up six months later.

The research is increasingly clear: pride efforts are an important part of building true campus inclusion. Yet addressing pride isn’t enough. We still need efforts that target prejudice, like affirmative action or reporting procedures to investigate incidents of racial profiling, which can remedy various forms of discrimination.

Prejudice-targeted remedies are about addressing the structural problems of racism, past and present, while pride-targeted solutions can create personal understanding, empathy, and allyship with groups that are the victims of historic prejudice and racism. This understanding, empathy, and allyship are essential to shift the zero-sum perceptions of diversity and to create inclusion for all.